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Demodectic Mange - My Dirty Dozen Reasons for Detesting It

By Dr. Patty Khuly

Demodectic mange is a common skin disease in dogs and appears to be an emerging parasitic problem for cats too. Also referred to as “demodicosis” or “red mange,” it’s the result of a notorious species of mites known as Demodex.

Unfortunately, the disease state this bug induces is far more complicated than you might expect. Which is probably because this disease is largely characterized by the interaction between the animal’s complex immune system and the mange mites themselves. So it is that all dogs live with demodex, but only some dogs get the disease they cause.

Does that make sense? This frustratingly complicated explanation is Exhibit A in my long list of reasons for hating demodectic mange. But there are more. At least a dozen more. Consider the following reasons why I detest demodex:

  1. Because no one likes bald spots on their pet –– especially given that said spots can be itchy, are sometimes raw, and are always the result of what’s arguably one of the ugliest bugs to grace the veterinary microscope.
  2. Because pet parents hate the word “mange.” You may as well have said “pubic lice” for all the goodwill your brilliant diagnosis brings.
  3. Because owners of demodex pets are inevitably frustrated over the fact that it may take weeks to months go completely away.
  4. Because it’s impossible to tell them exactly how much time will elapse before they have an “unmarred” pup—if ever (life is uncertain).
  5. Because it’s impossible to tell many of these same owners whether their pet’s disease is definitively of the kind that goes away permanently. (A small percentage of pets will suffer demodicosis for life.)
  6. Because demodex sometimes gets worse before it gets better, or vice-versa, in spite of all our ministrations.
  7. Because susceptibility to disease as a result of demodex mites is considered a genetic condition, diagnosis often brings angry calls from breeders who disbelieve it. (No breeder wants their breeding stock’s offspring to suffer any genetic anomaly.)
  8. Because owners are sometimes unconvinced that it won’t infect their children, their other pets, their spouses, themselves, etc.
  9. Because owners of affected pets may go home and read up on the condition online, digesting only the worst bits and consequently returning to me in full-on freak-out mode. (I do try to forestall this by doling out info on only the most responsible websites, but it can be a tough thing to control.)
  10. Because a tiny percentage of dogs can become weak and maybe even succumb to the disease’s complications. So it is that I have to explain this fact to even the most minutely affected creature’s parents (so #9 does not happen).
  11. Because every expert has a different take on which demodex-affected pets should and shouldn’t be bred in the future. Surprisingly, this can be a huge sticking point for my clients, many of whom had no intention of breeding their pets anyway but are now upset that their pet is considered sufficiently genetically diseased to preclude procreation.
  12. Because it’s a pain to treat. Dips, drops, shots or pills… pick your poison. All have their side effects and some may even be extra-toxic to certain breeds. And what’s worse is that most are expensive –– more so when you consider that their diligent application must continue for the weeks to months it takes the process to run its course.

So there’s the dirty dozen for you. Sorry for the curmudgeonly attitude, but here’s one annoying parasitic disease I could live happily ever after without. But then, I guess you could say that about any disease, no matter what it looked like under a microscope.

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