I (Henri Bianucci) was recently asked, by a concerned client, if it was OK to adopt a puppy that she suspected had mange.
As a surgeon, I will readily admit that dermatology is not my strong suit. My dealings with skin are typically confined to cutting through it and suturing it up.
I was very busy that day, so I deferred, advising her to see her regular veterinarian to have the puppy examined. They could determine if it truly had mange and, if so, which type.
They could then fill in all the details of treatment, prognosis, etc. In effect, she could make her decision about adoption armed with facts. I had successfully dodged the issue.
As karma would have it, mange was going to pay me a second visit. This time quite personally.
The puppy we now call Mimi was dropped at our Mount Pleasant office by a good Samaritan. She was a stray that was found wandering alone on a recent cold Friday evening. She was both adorable and miserable looking.
About 7 weeks old, she was marked like a shepherd with scruffy fur. She was so sad, matted and smelly. The fur made her look like she weighed about 5 pounds, but it only belied her emaciated frame. She actually weighed only 3 pounds. Beneath the fur was another problem. She was flaky, scabby and incredibly itchy. The problem was all over but worst in the ears.
We had played with this puppy and she had interacted with all seven of our other dogs.
So I hoped against mange, and tried suggesting other possibilities, but my wife and Dr. Google were convinced otherwise.
The next day, we paid a visit to Dr. Lisa Akucewich and Dr. Randy Thomas of Southeast Veterinary Dermatology and Ear Clinic in Mount Pleasant.
They confirmed the diagnosis as sarcoptic mange, the bad kind, also known as scabies.
They also filled me in on what is new with treatment and refreshed my knowledge on the facts about this condition.
The bad news is that it's contagious. Scabies can spread to every other animal, including us, in the house. If the other dogs are exposed, they require treatment along with the puppy.
The good news is that scabies is what is known as species specific. This means that it can only live and reproduce on the dog.
When people are exposed, about 40 percent of them will develop symptoms, which are usually a very itchy rash. This usually develops around bra straps and belt lines but can be anywhere. These rashes range from mild to severe but are generally self-limiting, resolving in a week or two.
Scabies is very responsive to treatment. In puppies over 9 weeks of age, Ivermectin or several other products commonly used for fleas, heartworms and intestinal worms are effective.
Dips are also effective, but they are labor intensive, messy, and have an unpleasant odor. They have been largely replaced by Ivermectin, but in young dogs, or dogs of certain breeds, they may still be selected.
The age and breed of the dogs are major considerations in the selection of treatment protocols and should be left to the judgment of the veterinarian.
For example, Ivermectin can be fatal in certain Collie breeds, Shetland sheepdogs, and Australian shepherds at the recommended treatment levels. There is now a genetic test that can be performed to determine if an individual dog is at risk.
Scabies mites do not survive long in the environment. It is advised to wash bedding, but treating the whole environment, as with fleas, is generally not necessary.
I called Dr. Thomas to thank him and tell him that Mimi is a new dog since starting her treatment. As her disease resolved, it became even more apparent just how uncomfortable she had been.
Dr. Thomas reminded me about a case that my partner, Dr. Perry Jameson had seen. It was a middle-age German shepherd that was losing weight, anorexic and depressed. She also was scratching frequently. After a full workup had revealed nothing, Dr. Jameson turned to Dr. Akucewich. She diagnosed scabies. Once treatment began, the dog quickly returned to normal in every respect.
As for the question about adopting a puppy with scabies, I would say that although this condition has some unpleasant aspects, the newer treatment options have considerably lessened the impact of this disease.
It quickly resolves with treatment, and the medications are simple to apply. In some ways, this is a simpler problem than fleas. It's just a little creepier because you cant see them.
So in the end, yes, I would, and did, adopt a puppy with mites.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.