How is it possible that I have been in rescue this long and not have written a blog on Demodex? The bane of every rescue’s existence, Demodectic mites or “mange” as it is commonly called can be mild and easily treated to a full on Nightmare On Elm street variety. This is Chessie
She has the Freddy Krueger ridiculously neglected untreated version. To explain how she got this way, let’s talk about exactly what causes these little mites to unleash such terror.
Demodectic mites are normally found on a dog’s skin and hair follicles, we have no clue why, but they appear to be normal on many mammals. When you have a very young puppy who’s immune system is still developing, the mites can “overgrow” and cause a problem, like hair loss or thinning and sometimes, but not always, itching. It’s usually noticeable around the eyes and face. Some puppies simply outgrow demodectic mange once their immune system gears up against the mites. When a puppy is not taken care of properly, these localized mite issues can spread over the entire body. Chessie probably developed these small outbreaks of mites, but from what we can tell, it was probably ignored resulting in a generalized outbreak spreading over her entire body. The mites were not treated for so long that they even infected her toenails. As time passed, she became itchy and began to chew and scratch at herself over and over and over again. This itching and scratching causes breaks in the skin which bacteria can enter and cause infection. Chronic infection of the skin causes it to thicken and become red and inflamed and it can often turn a dark black color. This coupled with the incessant itching makes hair fall out and become thin and brittle and her toenails split and broke off. Naturally, this is a pretty painful condition at this point. So painful in fact, these dogs can’t even stand to be touched, lose weight and can get other illnesses. Here are some pictures of other dogs we have saved afflicted with this condition.
It’s frustrating to see the problem get this bad before treatment. When Chessie was brought to the shelter, she couldn’t even walk because her feet were so painful. We had to wrap her blankets for the first week just to pick her up because she would yelp in pain. Our vets were able to diagnose her condition by scraping the skin and looking at it under a microscope and spotting these little rod-shaped critters. Many challenges lay ahead with Chessie, starting with shampoos and medications to kill the mites, but that’s just the beginning. Due to the state of her skin, we have to treat her with antibiotics and anti-fungals for infections of the skin and keep her from scratching and biting and doing more damage as we try to get things under control. Luckily she is pretty tolerant of her “cone of shame” and her fosters have fitted her with t-shirts and toddler pajamas to keep her away from damaged skin. Her skin is getting dried out from all the baths and forming scabs and the dead unhealthy skin is shed as new hair and skin try to grow in.
These mites normally live in the hair follicles of all dogs and as long as your dog is healthy, they don't cause a problem. Luckily these mites are also not contagious to people. Older dogs can be susceptible to demodex infections if their immune system is compromised in some way. If your dog develops demodex, you should be sure to consult with your vet about the potential for a serious underlying condition. The good news is that dogs can recover from this condition with proper treatment. Here is a picture of Ernie after he recovered thanks to his wonderful foster home.
Chessie has a long way to go, but she's already feeling better thanks to NRGRR and our veterinary partners.
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