Sarcoptes mange or “scabies” is a parasitic skin disease caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabei. It occurs mostly in dogs but other species too including humans. The microscopic mites burrows under the skin and cause an intensely pruritic (itchy) reaction.
We have seen an increase in scabies the past couple of years. This increase parallels the increase in the Long Island fox population. Foxes are considered the reservoir for Sarcoptes and in fact if you come across a fox that seems to be missing most of its hair, chances are it has scabies. Presumably dogs get scabies by passing through fox trails and holes. As such dogs diagnosed with scabies frequently are outside dogs or have been on a recent camping trip.
In dogs skin lesions are crusty, alopecic (bald) and red. They most commonly occur on the ear flaps, extremities and belly. Diagnosis is made by doing a skin scraping and looking for the mite under a microscope. However, it is very easy to miss and we are always suspicious of Sarcoptes in any itchy dog even if we do not find any mites under the microscope. Sarcoptes can present similar to allergic skin disease. Allergies are generally treated with steroids. If we treat an itchy dog with steroids and it does not respond this raises our index of suspicion for scabies even more. This demonstrates that follow up appointments for skin conditions is very important.
There are a number of effective and cost effective treatments for scabies. The hardest part is diagnosis. The disease can be transmitted from dogs to people and most commonly effects people in their lap and arms. These are contact areas between dogs and people.
Dr. David Roy Hensen, DVM, DABVP has been a Veterinarian since 1983. He opened Paumanok Veterinary Hospital in 1992 and is board certified in the American Board of Veterinary Specialists, canine and feline.