mange dog treatments before and after
General Dog Talk,  Rescue,  Wellness

Demodex or Scabies? All About Mange

If you have ever said, “Does this smell like demodex or is it scabies?” you are a Houston dog rescuer. You know it when you see/smell it. But for the rest of us, here are the basics.

What Causes Mange?

Mange in dogs is a skin condition caused by mites living on the skin.

Just like people, dogs naturally have mites living on their skin and in their hair follicles. It’s only when these mites begin to multiply and spread uncontrollably that they become problematic.

When the mites get out of control like this, the body can lose its natural defense against them. Any dogs with a weakened immune system are susceptible, and especially very young or older dogs.

Since many dogs in animal shelters and on the streets are malnourished, mange is more common in rescue groups and among foster dogs.

What’s the Difference Between Demodex Mange and Sarcoptic Mange (Scabies)

Demodectic mange (demodex) is caused by the Demodex Canis species of mite. Also known as red mange or puppy mange, this skin condition is more often seen in younger dogs.

Demodex mites are harmless to dogs in normal numbers, but when a dog is malnourished their immune system becomes compromised. When this happens, the mites begin to reproduce rapidly, causing itching. Puppies usually get this mite from their moms when they are nursing. You will first see it develop in puppies around the mouth and eyes.

Sarcoptic mange (scabies) is an intensely itchy skin condition of dogs caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite.

These mites are highly contagious among dogs. Dogs become infested when they come into direct contact with other infested dogs. Female mites penetrate the skin and lay eggs, causing intense itchiness. Once the eggs hatch, larvae tunnel under the skin, increasing the dog’s discomfort and leading to near-constant scratching.

How is Mange Diagnosed?

Mange is diagnosed through a skin scrape at the vet. This skin scrape will confirm the diagnosis and determine the type of mange and the treatment protocol. An experienced rescuer can usually tell just by looking.

If you don’t have experience with treating mange, it’s important to see a vet. There are other skin conditions that need to be ruled out including flea dermatitis, ringworm, and a fungal or yeast infection. Mange also commonly leads to secondary skin infections that require antibiotics.

What Does Mange in Dogs Look Like?

Sarcoptic mange most commonly affects the ears, elbows, face and legs of the dog. It can also result in hair loss, reddened skin, sores and crusty scabs.

Demodectic mange causes hair loss, bald patches around the mouth and eyes, and bald patches on the body and legs, spreading to cover the entire body. Leathery or wrinkly skin is almost always demodex.

The pictures in this article shows what mange looks like in dogs. And how gorgeous these dogs are after treatment. Basically, these dogs are a #diamondintheruff.

dog before and after mange treatment
Photo: Houston Humane Society

What Does Mange Smell Like?

Ah, that fabulous question we started out with. It’s hard to describe a smell, but Canna-Pet did a good job:

Dogs with mange often smell bad — not because of the mites themselves, but because bacteria and yeast take advantage of the situation. Mangy dogs will develop a strong, musty, unpleasant odor – with a particularly foul smell coming from their ears.

This symptom is canine seborrhea and it occurs when irritated skin over-produces a fatty substance called sebum. Bacteria and yeast feed on this substance and grow excessively, resulting in a pungent smell.

So which mange smells? To quote one rescuer:

They both smell to me but demodex you can smell the minute you walk in the room.

But another says,


I think they both smell and I can’t tell the smells apart but I love the smell LOL because I know it means a transformation is coming. . I do love it though!

And you know you’ve reached Grade A dog rescue level when you say,

What’s a little mange or ringworm when you are saving puppies? It’s puppies!!!

Don’t overlook a puppy with mange. With some love, Bravecto and coconut oil, they can be beautiful. (Photos: Jamie’s Animal Rescue)

What is the Treatment for Demodex Mange in Dogs?

The treatment for demodex mange is:

  • Bravecto or Nexguard. These are the go-to’s for treating mange because they kill skin mites in addition to fleas and ticks.
  • Sulfurated lime dip. The dog will then smell like rotten eggs in addition to mange. This combination of sulfur and lime kills bacteria, parasites and fungal infections and relieves itching. You will repeat the dip every 5-7 days.
  • Coconut oil in the food and on the skin
  • High quality dog food

Your Dog Advisor has also published a list of home remedies for mange that can help fight infection and sooth the itch.

What is the Treatment for Sarcoptic Mange in Dogs? (Scabies)

The treatment for sarcoptic mange is:

Local Houston shelters treat scabies with 2 ivermectin injections, 2 weeks apart. After the 2nd ivermectin treatment, the dog will be considered non-contagious.

Tiger was saved by Rescued Pets Movement! (Photo: Susan Hemmerich-Wetmore)

Over-the-Counter Shampoo Treatment for Mange

The number one way to treat mange properly is to get the correct diagnosis from a veterinarian. That way you can ensure you follow the correct treatment protocol. There are low cost veterinary clinics, and most animal shelters have a public clinic that is affordable.

That said, here are some over-the-counter shampoos that can help with the secondary infections and issues of mange.

Is Mange Contagious?

Demodex mange is not contagious.

Sarcoptic mange is contagious to other animals, and to humans. (P.S. It’s not going to kill you.)

According to, humans are not natural hosts for the scabies mite, and transfer to humans is not common.

However, you should work to avoid skin to skin contact, and wash your hands.

Can My Dog or Cat Catch Mange from My Foster Dog?

First off, thank you for fostering! There aren’t enough of you out there, and rescues across Houston thank you.

If it’s sarcoptic mange your dog or cat (or kids) can catch mange from your foster dog.

But, since you are observing a 2-week quarantine with your foster dog it should not be an issue. And, while scabies mites can be transferred to cats, these mites generally prefer dogs.

After 2 weeks of treatment with ivermectin, scabies is no longer contagious.

In the meantime, wear gloves and long sleeves when handling the dog, and keep him or her separate from your other animals. Wash your hands after all contact.

Does Motor Oil Treat Scabies?

Absolutely not. Motor oil is not a treatment for scabies.

The practice of using motor oil to treat mange stems from an ingredient that is no longer found in motor oil — sulfur.

Using motor oil to treat scabies is a sure-fire way to cause further damage to the dog, as petroleum byproducts seep into their skin and bloodstream.

The better approach for a low-cost treatment is to purchase a sulfur-based shampoo, which you can get at any pet-supply store or the local feed store.

The best approach? Go to a veterinary clinic to make sure you get the right diagnosis and treatment plan. If you can’t afford a regular vet, reach out to the animal shelter in your area and find out about low-cost vet clinics.

Are certain breeds more likely to get mange?

Unfortunately, any dog breed can get mange.

But yes, certain breeds are more susceptible to demodex mange. These breeds include: American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Collie, Chihuahua, Doberman Pinscher, English Bulldog, German Shepherd Dog, Great Dane, Old English Sheepdog, Pug and Shar-Pei.

Certain dog breeds have adverse reactions to many of the drugs used to treat scabies, if they carry a certain genetic marker, so watch out! These breeds — typically herding dogs — can have severe allergic reactions to anti-parasitic drugs like ivermectin. Dogs with this genetic reaction to ivermectin include Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and Old English Sheepdogs.

Hey Rescuers, let’s hear from you! Comment below with your favorite scabies treatment. 

Want more info?  Here’s an excellent online resource on mange in dogs.

Contributors to this article include:

  • Lyndi Heckaman, multi-dog foster
  • Susan Hemmerich-Wetmore, Rescued Pets Movement
  • Robyn Lee, Urgent Shelter Pets Houston

HoustonDogMom Rebecca G. is a Houston-based dog lover and shelter volunteer.