Sarcoptic mange (scabies) is a curable skin disease caused by the mite, Sarcoptes scabiei.
Mites live in the superficial layers of the skin where they burrow, breed and lay eggs. Scabies mites do not survive for prolonged periods without the host, so they are generally passed by direct contact with other dogs. However. in a number of cases, no known contact has occurred.
The hallmark of the disease is intense itching that may be only partially responsive to steroids or other drugs. To definitively diagnose this disease, the mites must be seen microscopically on skin scraping or fecal exam. However, becasue the number of mites may be very small, this may be very difficult to do. Inability to find mites does NOT eliminate this disease. Since these mites are contagious to other dogs and can affect people as well, if sarcopic mange is suspected, it should be treated.
There are a few options for treatment of scabies and all must be continued throughout the 21 day life-cycle of the mite. With all the treaments there may be an initial increase in itching with the first treatment and often dogs do not show improvement until after the second or even third treatment. It is important to continue treatment until there are no signs of sarcoptic mange and at least one month to break the life cycle. When effectively treated, this disease is cured and will only return if the dog is again infected from another animal with mites.