Demodicosis, or demodectic mange, is an irritating skin disease caused by Demodex mites. These external parasites exist in small numbers on most pets and cause no harm, but when the equilibrium that usually exists between the mites and the pet is disturbed by a compromised immune system, the mites can multiply, take over, and cause serious skin problems.
The symptoms of demodicosis are not only unsightly, they are also extremely uncomfortable for a pet. Here we will review the most common symptoms of demodicosis in dogs and cats.
Symptoms of Demodicosis in Dogs and Cats
Demodicosis is rare in cats; the disease is usually seen in dogs under 18 months of age. Young dogs are the most affected because they have immature immune systems that allow mites to proliferate. When the disease appears in older pets, it is usually because of a defective immune system caused by an illness, medication, or old age.
The symptoms of demodicosis are truly awful for a pet and usually include:
- Persistent itching, often as a result of a secondary bacterial infection
- Skin lesions and sores
- Foul odor (coming from the skin lesions)
- Hair loss and bald spots
- Skin redness
- Skin scaling/scabbing/crusting
Forms of Demodicosis in Dogs and Cats
There are three forms of demodicosis: localized, generalized, and demodectic pododermatitis.
- Localized Demodicosis: Localized demodicosis occurs on only a few areas of the body. It usually appears as small, scaly bald patches on the face and/or legs. Localized demodicosis is very common in puppies, and in 90% of cases the condition resolves with no need for treatment.
- Generalized Demodicosis: Generalized demodicosis occurs over a pet’s entire body. This may mean large patches of affected skin, spot-like lesions covering the body, or an entire body that is bald or patchy, scaly, and infected. Generalized demodicosis is more common in younger pets than older pets, and 30-50% of younger pets will recover spontaneously without any treatment (though treatment may be recommended to facilitate recovery). In older pets, however, generalized demodicosis usually signals a more serious underlying medical condition. Dogs with chronic cases of generalized demodicosis should not be bred because there is a hereditary component.
- Demodectic Pododermatitis: Demodectic pododermatitis is a form of demodicosis that is confined to the paws. When a pet has generalized demodicosis, the paw is often the most difficult area to treat. Bacterial infections usually accompany demodectic pododermatitis, and severe cases are often seen in Old English Sheepdogs and Chinese Shar-Peis.
Treatment for Demodicosis in Dogs and Cats
Treatment for demodicosis will depend on which form of the disease your pet has as well as their overall health. Any underlying conditions that may be responsible for causing the disease will need to be treated, and additional treatments may be used to clear up persistent cases or aid recovery. Common treatments for demodicosis include benzoyl peroxide shampoos, dips, anti-parasitic medications, topical ointments, and antibiotics to treat bacterial infections.
Demodicosis is a painful and irritating condition for your pet to suffer. Contact your veterinarian if your pet ever exhibits symptoms.
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