What Causes Scabies in Dogs and How Is It Treated?

·6 min read
dog with scabies scratching behind his ear
dog with scabies scratching behind his ear

Natee K Jindakum / Shutterstock

Although the word scabies might cause you to start twitching, this condition isn't really that common for most dogs. However, it's still important to understand this highly-contagious skin disease in case you notice some peculiar symptoms and wonder if it's time for a veterinary check-up. The answer? Probably!

Heidi M. Cooley, DVM, CHPV, CCXP, is the senior manager of client experience and advocacy at Banfield Pet Hospital. She tells Daily Paws that scabies in dogs, caused by microscopic mites, has been on the wane since 2017, mainly due to quality care and preventative measures. But this pesky skin condition happens in certain environments, so here's what you should know.

What Causes Scabies in Dogs?

The family of Sarcoptes scabiei, also referred to as itch mites or mange mites, infests many types of mammals, including cattle, dogs and wild canids, horses, and humans. More specifically, the Sarcoptes scabiei var. canis, also known as canine scabies, is common in wolves, coyotes, some foxes, and dogs. Cats are sometimes affected by this type of scabies pest, but they also have a dastardly one of their own, the Notoedres cati mite.

Sarcoptic mites are truly parasites of convenience. "These mites spread by direct contact with other infected pets, or with infested bedding or grooming supplies," Cooley says. This is why these teensy buggers can cause problems for your pooch if they've hitched a ride on other canines:

Even though mites don't live long in these environments, if your pet has close contact with infested dogs, he might be in trouble. The mites burrow beneath the skin, and once the mites' eggs hatch, the larvae dig new burrows. Then, they molt and become nymphs in two stages before reaching adulthood. This life cycle happens in as little as 3 weeks, so there are always more developing.

"It's not uncommon for the mites to be unseen, but that doesn't mean they're not present," Cooley says. The infestation prompts your poor pup to suffer an inflammatory response, usually in the form of intense itching.

Left untreated, scabies mites are one of two pests that cause mange—a severe and irritating skin condition that, because of relentless scratching, results in open sores, scabs, and extreme fur loss. It's also referred to as sarcoptic mange, and is highly contagious.

The other parasite, a demodex mite, lives in an animal's hair follicles and oil glands. It also causes mange if a dog (or, in rare circumstances, a cat) has a weakened immune system and can't fight off an infestation. Usually found in puppies or senior dogs, this form of mange isn't contagious.

A vet consultation helps determine which mite took a bite out of your pet.

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Signs and Symptoms of Scabies in Dogs

"Scabies in pets most commonly appears on elbows, ear tips, faces, lower leg, and chest areas, but severe cases can affect the entire body," Cooley says. "They can occur in any dog at any age."

Because of that whole burrowing under the skin business, doggos infested with sarcoptic mites are truly uncomfortable. Cooley says common signs include:

  • Excessive licking, chewing, or scratching

  • Red, swollen, or crusty skin, especially in areas where fur is already thin, such as the belly

  • Abnormal shedding

Here's what scabies looks like on a dog.

"These can also be signs of other skin issues, so it's important for pet owners to contact their veterinary team about any changes they notice," she adds. "Licking or rubbing of the infected area can cause skin irritation or wounds, which can lead to secondary infections." So if your pupper displays any of these symptoms, no matter how minor, schedule a professional exam as soon as possible before scabies gets worse.

People often ask if dog ear scabies is the same condition as ear mites, especially when they spot their pup scratching endlessly around their head. Ear mites, or otodectes cynotis mites, are actually another contagious mange pest that infests the external part of the ear. Their food source? Ear wax. Ick.

If your dog scratches only his ears or shakes his head a lot, or if his normally upright ears are droopy, he'll need a vet visit pronto. Ear mites won't spread to other parts of his body like sarcoptic mites, but can cause permanent damage to the ear canal if left untreated.

Scabies Treatment for Dogs

So here's the good news: scabies in dogs is totally treatable without much discomfort to your furry pal. You also don't need to do extensive decontamination of your home, with the exception of thoroughly cleaning all bedding and grooming products.

Now the not-so-good news: depending on the level of infestation, the treatment program is extensive. If you have only one dog, he can't be around any other pups during treatment. Additionally, Mar Vista Animal Medical Center indicates that if you have multiple dogs at home, they all have to be treated for scabies, even if only one presents symptoms.

"Multiple treatments or a combination of treatments are often necessary to control scabies, and may include topical medications, injections to kill the mites and treat itching, medicated dips, or oral medications," Cooley says. "There's a possibility of adverse reactions or side effects with such treatments. Your veterinarian can help you understand these risks and your options."

Generally, home remedies for scabies in dogs aren't recommended, as the rapid life cycle of the sarcoptic mite takes a long time to fully eliminate. But your vet may suggest soothing shampoos to help ease itching.

Can You Get Scabies From a Dog?

Yep, you'll likely get scabies from your dog if they're infected and you snuggle or sleep with them a lot (and who doesn't?).

"While most diseases pets carry aren't transmissible to humans, there are some that pet owners can contract from their pets, including a form of mange that is caused by the mite," Cooley says. "Although these mites prefer dogs, humans and other animals that come in contact with an infected dog may also become infected."

Cooley adds that diseases specifically transmitted from animals to people are called zoonotic diseases and can include everything from viruses to parasites to bacterial infections, among others.

Fortunately, since the canine mite is designed for a specific host, it can't complete its life cycle in people, so it will die in a few days. It may cause intense itching in the meantime, and possibly some welts or rashes. So you'll likely need medical treatment.

However, it's not always a dog's fault if you get scabies. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis is the human itch mite, and frequently infests people in areas and institutions with high populations and crowding, especially in humid, tropical areas.

How to Prevent Scabies in Dogs

If your pup is up-to-date with flea and tick prevention regimens, there's a possibility your vet administers a product that helps ward off mite infestations, too. Additionally, before boarding your pup or having him groomed, ask about the cleaning routines and policies about sharing bedding, blankets, or grooming products. But as the best form of prevention, Cooley suggests talking with your vet about any scabies outbreaks in your area and avoiding them.

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