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Early Stage Mange in Dogs: 3 Best Home Remedies

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I remember when I worked in a vet clinic as an assistant before I went to veterinary school. In those days, we treated every dog with Demodectic mange by shaving the entire body and putting the dog through a series of toxic Mitaban dips. The scary home remedies people tried like used motor oil and kerosene were even worse than Mitaban!

The best home remedies for early stage dog mange in dogs (that actually work) are :

  • Topical treatments including benzoyl peroxide,
  • Good nutrition
  • Immune system support

These remedies are effective for localized or early stage mange in dogs (Demodex). Generalized demodicosis almost always requires a stronger treatment as discussed below.

This article addresses demodectic mange only. I won’t be addressing sarcoptic mange is less common and requires different specific treatment. We also won’t cover the even less common cheyletiellosis mange which is also contagious to humans and other animals.

However, you can use the general health interventions applied to help dogs with either Demodex or Sarcoptic mange. Since I know everyone wants answers A.S.A.P, I’m going to talk about home remedies first. Later in the article, I’ll discuss what mange is and how it’s diagnosed.

1. Topical Remedies for Mange That Actually Work

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is an oxidizing compound used in dermatological medications. It has the effect of “flushing” out hair follicles. Since Demodex canis mites live in hair follicles, benzoyl peroxide is one of their enemies.

Veterinarians recommend using 5% benzoyl peroxide gel applied to localized, i.e. early stage mange lesions. Just rub a moderate amount onto the hairless area a couple of times a day. Watch for redness and irritation and back off using it or get a weaker version if this occurs.

For dogs with generalized demodicosis (more than a couple of spots), benzoyl peroxide shampoo is a more practical way to go. After lathering up your dog with the shampoo, let it soak for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing. Benzoyl peroxide is not a stand-alone treatment but can help get rid of stubborn cases of Demodex with other treatments.

Boston Terrier puppy with early stage mange on top of head
Typical early stage mange lesion on the top of a puppy’s head.

Goodwinol

Goodwinol is the brand name of an ointment containing Rotenone. Rotenone is a broad-spectrum insecticide derived from plants.

It’s been around for a long time and is available without a prescription. Vets sometimes still prescribe Goodwinol for application to spots of early stage mange from Demodex.

Neem Oil

Neem oil comes from the seeds of an evergreen tree native to India. Neem oil is used for organic pest control including localized demodectic mange in dogs.

Although it has a funny odor, it is mild enough to be used for spot treatment of demodectic mite infections. Some people have good luck adding neem oil at about a 1:20 ratio into the medicated shampoo they use to bathe their dog.

I recommend you take some additional basic actions to help your dog beat mange. All of the following steps work to strengthen your dog’s immune system so he won’t need as many harsh chemicals to win the mange battle! You can use nutrition and immune support for dogs with either localized early stage mange or the generalized form.

Puggle dog (early stage mange in dogs)

2. Good Nutrition Helps Dogs Beat Mange

There are so many decent puppy and dog foods available these days, you just about can’t go wrong. However, if you have a puppy struggling with a parasitic disease, a premium diet will make her stronger and more able to beat the bugs!

Choose a high-quality puppy food made by a major national brand. Choices include Purina, Iams/Eukanuba, Nutro, Science Diet and Royal Canin. Look on the label for a statement that the food has been tested for puppies using a feeding trial. That’s the gold standard and it means that live puppies did well eating the food over a period of time.

Include both canned and dry foods in your pup’s diet. The wet version helps hydrate his skin. You can also choose a commercially made dehydrated “fresh” food like this one from The Honest Kitchen:

Why not add some cooked eggs to your pup’s daily meals for some added high-quality protein? Just lightly fry or scramble ½ to 2 eggs (depending on the size of the dog) using minimal oil and mix it in with kibble or moist food. Almost all puppies love eggs, so it makes it even easier to add them.

3. Support the Immune System to Fight Early Stage Mange

Many dogs have a few Demodex mites but only a few have problems with them. The reason Demodex mites cause problems in some puppies and not others is that the T-cells of symptomatic pups don’t attack the mites the way they should.

We can support a dog’s immune system with supplements in hopes that it will get stronger and beat the mites.

Plant Sterols Boost Skin Immune Function

Phytosterols are derived from plants and available as an over-the-counter oral supplement. There is some evidence that plant sterols increase the activity of lymphocytes in humans.

Veterinary research is lacking, but anecdotal evidence suggests plant sterols can help dogs with various dermatological conditions, including demodectic mange (2). The one I recommend is Moducare Vet by Thorne.

Probiotic supplements are widely used for dogs with stool problems. The entire immune system may benefit from a healthy set of GI flora. Probiotics are pretty inexpensive, are easy to mix with your dog’s food and have minimal risks involved. Proviable DC is a good one made just for dogs and cats and it doesn’t have a bunch of other unwanted ingredients.

Can Vitamins Help Dogs with Mange?

Vitamins and minerals are required for cells to do their work properly. Make sure you’re feeding your dog a complete and balanced diet and you’ll be covering 90%+ of his need for vitamins. For dogs with health challenges, a little extra might help them power through better.

An antioxidant combination will give your pup a boost of important vitamins like E, C, and B6. Cell Advance is a good option and it contains a good mixture of minerals like magnesium, copper and selenium to aid cell metabolism.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Are Great for a Dog’s Skin

You’ve probably heard that fish oil is good for your health. The reason is that fish oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids that cells require to keep inflammation in check. A dog’s normal diet is often low in omega-3 fatty acids and adding just a bit of fish oil can make a big difference for some.


Learn how to dose your dog with fish oil safely: Fish Oil Dosing for Dogs.


Medicinal Mushrooms  

Medicinal mushrooms contain several natural compounds that have immunomodulating effects. Proteoglucans and betaglucans from mushrooms stimulate immune cells called macrophages and natural killer cells (3).

There are several mushroom supplements made specifically for dogs. The one I’ve used the most is called CAS Options. These chewable tablets contain Reishi, Turkey Tail, Maitake and Shiitake mushrooms as well as vitamins A, C and E.

Chinese Herbs for Dogs with Mange

The Chinese herbal formula, Xiao Yao San, also known as Rambling Ease Powder, contains a combination of seven different herbs. The combination increases blood flow to the skin. Because the increased blood flow exposes Demodex mites to immune function (4).

Practitioners of traditional Chinese veterinary medicine find it helpful for dogs with localized demodicosis and the generalized form. Kan Herb Essentials makes a Xiao Yao San formula for dogs called “Happy Wanderer.”

Acupuncture Boosts Immune Function

Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into active points on the body for the purpose of pain control, blood pressure control, and immunomodulation among other things. Scientific research supports the idea of using acupuncture to boost the immune system (9).

Astragalus–an Herb for Immunity

Astragalus membranaceus is a traditional Chinese herb that comes from a plant also known as Mongolian Milkvetch. In addition to thousands of years of traditional medicine, controlled studies demonstrated that astragalus increases compounds associated with cellular immunity in dogs (6).

Staffordshire terrier in a field

Home Remedies That Do NOT Work for Dog Mange

I feel like I’ve heard about every home remedy ever tried for dog mange. These include apple cider, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic, baking soda, aloe, lemon, honey, borax, yogurt, coconut oil, Listerine, baby oil, sulfur shampoo, diatomaceous earth, mayonnaise, Dawn dish soap, used motor oil, Windex, PineSol, pyrethrin/permethrin, malathion, and CBD oil.

Let me put it to you straight. Vets would love it if simple food items could successfully treat Demodex. We hate prescribing medications that have side effects! If apple cider vinegar actually worked, I would absolutely tell every dog owner to use it. It doesn’t work and is a waste of time!

People who say these food items and garage shelf substances cured their dog’s skin problems probably have their heart in the right place, but can’t prove anything. The fact that most localized lesions go away with absolutely ZERO treatment of any kind within a month or two makes it seem like yogurt is curing it. It’s not.


Check out my article on how probiotic supplements support immune function.


If you don’t want to use chemicals and drugs to cure your dog’s infestation, I suggest you do your best to optimize her diet. Give her some of the supplements I mentioned above. She will probably beat it in a short time.

But if your dog has severe, generalized Demodex, it’s very likely you’re going to have to use some strong drugs to help her get over it. There is no shame in this! It’s better to use the strong stuff for a short time than to let your dog suffer with a serious skin condition while you try to cure her with pantry items that just don’t work.

Illustration of a Demodex mite
Schematic drawing of a Demodex mite

How Can You Tell If Your Dog Has Mange?

Recently, my brother sent me a text asking, “Is it normal for puppies to lose fur?” He was asking because his new Boston terrier puppy had a little reddish bald spot on the top of his head.

After looking the pup over from head to tail, my brother noticed he had several other areas of hair loss on his rear legs and trunk. I told him I suspected the pup had demodectic mange.

Many Dogs Have a Few Demodex Mites

You may have heard the term “red mange” or demodicosis. Demodex canis is a microscopic mite that lives in the hair follicles and skin of many different mammals. That means even humans can have Demodex mites!

A few mites are normally present in most dogs, but in dogs with an immune system abnormality, the mites grow out of control. This leads to inflammation and secondary bacterial infection.

The one reassuring fact is that demodicosis is not contagious. If you have a healthy dog in the same house, they won’t get the disease from the affected dog.

Demodicosis Is an Inherited Tendency

It’s not clearly understood why Demodex infestations overcome some dogs but not others. There seems to be an immunological factor that is inherited from the parents.

The most common form of Demodex, or demodicosis, is juvenile-onset demodicosis. Dogs under about a year of age develop typical symptoms listed below.

Another less common form is adult-onset demodicosis. This happens when an animal is over one year of age and develops an overgrowth of the mites due to immune system compromise. It can happen if your dog is taking immune-suppressive doses of steroids (like prednisone) to suppress another disease.

Some Breeds Are Prone to Getting Mange

In a large study of dogs in North America, the overall prevalence of juvenile-onset demodicosis was 0.58%. That means it’s “common, but not that common” in the general population of dogs.

Certain breeds are over-represented in Demodex statistics. At-risk breeds including American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Chinese Shar-Pei. In my clinical experience, American Pit Bull Terriers, Pugs, Boston Terriers, and English Bulldogs also seem to be over-represented.

2 pit bulls sleeping, one has hair loss from mange
Classic patchy hair loss seen with Demodex.

Symptoms of Demodex Mange in Dogs

Do you know how to tell if your dog has mange? There are a few tell-tale signs to watch for:

  • Patchy hair loss that is commonly seen on the head and limbs, starting in small areas of maybe an inch diameter.
  • Red skin in areas of hair loss. This is not always seen, but especially as the disease progresses, the skin can become inflamed.
  • Thickened skin in areas of hair loss. As the disease progresses, the skin can get thick and crusty or scabby in areas of hair loss and sometimes the entire body.
  • Occasionally there is itchy skin. Demodicosis does not usually cause a lot of itchiness until it’s pretty advanced. However, some dogs may have increased scratching with mild disease.
  • Poor hair coat. In advanced stages, the pet is generally unhealthy and may have a dull, thin coat.
  • Lethargy, weight loss, enlarged lymph nodes. Again, these symptoms are seen in the advanced stages of the disease when the animal’s general state of health has deteriorated. Most cases never get to this point.

How to Tell if Your Dog Has Mange

The only sure way to tell if your dog has mange is with an examination of skin or hair under a microscope. You’ll need the help of a veterinarian for these tests:

Skin Scrape

This is the main test used to diagnose demodicosis. Your vet uses a semi-dull scalpel blade to scrape through the superficial skin layer to access the hair follicle where mites live. A microscope is used to look for Demodex mites. The procedure is annoying but not really painful to a dog.

Hair Pluck

Sometimes simply plucking some hair from an affected area will reveal mites. A hair pluck is useful for lesions on the face that are difficult to scrape.

Skin Biopsy 

This more invasive procedure is not the first diagnostic tool used to find Demodex mites. But it may be necessary when the diagnosis is unclear. Local or general anesthesia is required.

Fecal Test 

A standard stool test for intestinal parasites will occasionally show mites the dog ingested while grooming. This is not a standard test for Demodex but something that shows up as a surprise now and then.

Shar Pei puppy

How Long Does Demodex Mange Take to Heal?

How long does Demodex mange take to heal? Most cases of localized Demodex heal within a couple of months. For dogs with generalized cases, there are several factors that contribute to the length of time it will take for your dog to have normal skin again.

First, if your dog is not healthy overall or if he has other issues, it will take longer than for an otherwise healthy dog. That’s why it pays to make sure your dog is free from intestinal parasites and is eating a high-quality diet.

Second, healing time will depend on which treatment you decide to use to put the Demodectic mange into remission. The newer conventional medicines will give the fastest healing time. Isoxazoline drugs usually clear the symptoms within a couple of months.

Natural and drug-free treatment can take longer. If you’re not seeing progress after four or five months, it’s worthwhile to re-evaluate your treatment plan.

Can Mange Go Away on Its Own?

Most cases of localized juvenile-onset demodicosis resolve without ANY treatment within a few months. As they mature, pups are able to control the mites with natural immunity. Benign neglect is the best “treatment” for localized, early stage mange in dogs involving only 2 or 3 small bald spots (do nothing).

Treatment is recommended for generalized demodicosis. Generalized demodicosis when there are more than 5 spots on more than one body area. One must also consider the overall state of health of the animal. If they are sickly with 4 or 5 lesions, it’s time to make some major changes to improve overall health, and maybe do a specific Demodex treatment.

Remember: demodicosis is a lifelong disease and can recur during times of stress. If your dog gets sick with another disease, he could develop Demodex lesions again. Corticosteroid treatment, especially at higher doses or used over a period longer than a few weeks may cause mange outbreaks, too.

Boxer puppy

Veterinary Treatment for Dogs with Demodex

Amitraz

This chemical sold under the name Mitaban, was used for many years as a dip applied to dogs with demodicosis. I remember it well. It smelled terrible. Sometimes the dogs would drool and act sick after getting dipped in Mitaban. Sometimes the people applying the stuff would get sick, too! Plus, for a while, it was recommended to shave the dog’s entire body so the dip would work better.

Shaving the entire dog turned out to be overkill. As it turns out the amitraz actually has a systemic effect on the dog rather than just being a topical the kills “bugs” in the skin. Not many vets recommend this treatment anymore due to the common adverse effects it causes.

Ivermectin

Ivermectin is a chemical derived from a bacterial metabolite. It’s commonly used in monthly heartworm preventives, Heartgard being the best known. When used to treat Demodex, it’s given in a much higher dose and used daily for weeks at a time.

Side effects include seizures, weakness, and nervous system abnormalities. When used at the levels needed to treat Demodex, these side effects are not that uncommon. Some dogs, especially seen in collie-types, are exquisitely sensitive and can die or get very sick as a result of exposure to high doses of ivermectin.

French bulldog (early stage mange in dogs)

Milbemycin

Milbemycin oxime is a drug similar to ivermectin. It is the active ingredient in the monthly heartworm preventive Interceptor. It is used to kill Demodex mites but at much higher doses and for longer times than for heartworm prevention. Milbemycin can cause similar neurotoxicity to ivermectin when used at high dosages.

Isoxazoline 

Isoxazoline is a chemical compound that affects a certain kind of neurological receptor in fleas and ticks. The compound has little effect on the same receptors in mammals. Products that use a form of isoxazoline include Bravecto, NexGard, Simparica and Credelio.

Vets discovered that isoxazoline products can also be used to treat the Demodex canis mite in dogs (10). Multiple studies have shown that isoxazoline was effective against Demodex infections and had few to no adverse effects on treated dogs (8).

One nice thing about using isoxazolines to treat Demodex is that you don’t have to use higher doses than those used for flea and tick prevention. Most dogs with a mite infestation who are treated with isoxazolines are in remission within one to two months.

While the vast majority of dogs do fine with this newer drug, FDA has alerted us that very rarely dogs may experience neurological side effects including ataxia (wobbly gait), muscle tremors and seizures. Care should be used when treating dogs with a history of seizures as they may be at greater risk for these side effects.

Do the Drugs for Demodex Mange Cause Side Effects?

It’s true that all of these veterinary prescribed drugs can rarely cause unwanted side effects, like most medications. But, isoxazoline anti-flea/tick medications are used by millions of dogs and cats every day with no side effects.

Your dog has a low risk of having any problems with them, but there is a chance it could happen.

Other Considerations in Treating Dog Mange

Spay/Neuter Timing

Going through estrus (heat cycle) may make things worse for female dogs. You will need to weigh the stress of estrus against the benefit of achieving full physical and mental maturity by going through puberty. The surgery itself is also a stressor and can aggravate skin lesions in sensitive patients.

Vaccination

Each time your puppy gets a vaccine, her immune system has to respond to it. This stress may make the Demodex situation worse but you must manage risk if you decide to postpone vaccination. Keep unvaccinated puppies away from public places to avoid parvo and distemper virus infections!

Boarding and Grooming

Staying in a kennel or grooming shop can be very stressful, avoid or minimize especially while your dog has active lesions. Use a pet sitter. Learn to do your own grooming at home or at the very least use a mobile groomer so your dog is not in a noisy, confusing grooming shop for most of the day.

Summary

  • Most cases of demodicosis in dogs are localized and will resolve with no treatment. 
  • Optimizing diet and providing immune system support will help dogs get over mange faster.
  • Dogs with generalized demodicosis can become quite ill and need more aggressive therapy and support.

Photo credits CC BY 2.0:  Megan Ann and Anneheathen

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References

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  2. Bouic, P. J., & Lamprecht, J. H. (1999). Plant sterols and sterolins: a review of their immune-modulating properties. Altern Med Rev, 4(3), 170-7.
  3. Hetland, G., Johnson, E., Lyberg, T., Bernardshaw, S., Tryggestad, A. M. A., & Grinde, B. (2008). Effects of the medicinal mushroom Agaricus blazei Murill on immunity, infection and cancer. Scandinavian journal of immunology, 68(4), 363-370.
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  5. Moriello, K. A. (2011, May). Treatment of Demodicosis in Dogs & Cats. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.cliniciansbrief.com/article/treatment-demodicosis-dogs-cats.
  6. Qiu, H., Cheng, G., Xu, J., Zhang, N., Liu, F., Zhu, X., … & Zhang, Y. (2010). Effects of astragalus polysaccharides on associated immune cells and cytokines in immunosuppressive dogs. Procedia in Vaccinology, 2(1), 26-33.
  7. Saeidnia, S., Manayi, A., Gohari, A. R., & Abdollahi, M. (2014). The story of beta-sitosterol-a review. European Journal of Medicinal Plants, 590-609.
  8. Six, R. H., Becskei, C., Mazaleski, M. M., Fourie, J. J., Mahabir, S. P., Myers, M. R., & Slootmans, N. (2016). Efficacy of sarolaner, a novel oral isoxazoline, against two common mite infestations in dogs: Demodex spp. and Otodectes cynotis. Veterinary Parasitology, 222, 62-66.
  9. Yamaguchi, N., Takahashi, T., Sakuma, M., Sugita, T., Uchikawa, K., Sakaihara, S., … & Kawakita, K. (2007). Acupuncture regulates leukocyte subpopulations in human peripheral blood. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 4.
  10. Zhou, X., Hohman, A., & Hsu, W. H. (2020). Review of extralabel use of isoxazolines for treatment of demodicosis in dogs and cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 256(12), 1342-1346.

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