Demodicosis is a mite infestation. Small populations of the mite, Demodex canis, inhabit the hair follicles of normal dogs – and generally do not cause problems. If the mite population becomes very large, however, it can cause a severe skin disease called “mange”. Affected dogs may suffer from hair loss, painful or itchy skin, and bacterial skin infections. Cats can also develop demodicosis. One form, caused by Demodex cati, usually affects cats with an underlying disease. Another form, caused by Demodex gatoi, usually results in excessive grooming and hair loss. Which pets get demodicosis?
If most dogs harbor Demodex mites, why don’t they all develop mange? It appears that a normally functioning immune system is crucial for keeping the mite numbers low. So when we diagnose dogs with demodicosis, we always have to consider any underlying conditions that might be affecting their immune function. Young dogs, less than 18 months old, sometimes develop demodicosis before their immune system fully matures. Most show only small patches of hair loss, commonly on the face or legs. This form, called “localized” demodicosis, often resolves without treatment. Others develop a “generalized” form affecting many areas of the skin. Because this form is heritable, it is important to always spay or neuter affected dogs. It must be treated medically to ensure a cure. In a study of over 3,719 cases of generalized demodicosis in young dogs presented in 2009, Dr. Plant identified the most susceptible breeds and identified other risk factors. Sometimes, demodicosis develops for the first time in adult dogs. These dogs also require medical treatment for their condition to resolve, and we always
recommend a screen for underlying conditions that may be suppressing their immune system. How is demodicosis diagnosed?
Demodicosis can only be definitively diagnosed by a veterinarian, because many skin conditions in dogs look so much alike that they cannot be differentiated based on appearance. In most cases, we perform a simple in-office test called a skin scraping. This quick test also allows us to monitor our therapy on subsequent visits. The screen for underlying diseases may include blood tests, a review of the dog’s medical history, and other procedures. How is demodicosis treated?
We treat demodicosis using an integrated approach. First, we institute anti- parasitic therapy to kill the mites. The mites can be killed either using a series of medicated dips, spot-on products, or a course of oral medication – the therapy is tailored to each patient with consideration given to many factors. Antibiotics and medicated shampoos may also be prescribed. Second, we address any concurrent diseases that are present. The course of treatment for the mites may be lengthy, ranging from weeks to months, and adjustments to therapy are often needed. Follow-up care from a veterinarian is crucial to achieving a cure and preventing a relapse. Is it safe for my family to be around a dog or cat with demodicosis?
Yes. The mite does not spread to humans or to other species of animals. The canine forms of demodicosis are not transmittable (all dogs have small numbers already, acquired in the first days of life), but D. gatoi appears to be contagious between cats. Instructions for pet owners for the treatment of demodicosis in dogs
Mitaban dips (by prescription only) can be performed in a veterinary clinic, grooming establishment, or in a well-ventilated area at home. The dip needs to penetrate the hair follicles in order to work.
• Medium or long-haired dogs are clipped prior to dipping, to decrease the
toxicity and increase the efficacy of the Mitaban .
The dog is bathed with the prescribed shampoo to “flush” the hair follicles, but must be thoroughly dried before the dip is applied. One bottle (10.6 mL) of the Mitaban dip is diluted in 2 gallons of water. The dip must be used the same day because the toxicity of Mitaban increases once it is opened and diluted. The dip is poured and sponged over the entire dog. Please be sure to wear gloves. Do not rinse the dog, and allow him to air-dry. If the feet are affected, allow the dog to stand in the dip for at least 15 minutes. We may also prescribe a solution to use on “problem” areas in between dips: 0.5 mL of Mitaban diluted in 1 oz of propylene glycol solution or mineral oil can be applied to the areas every 48 hours. Make a new batch of this solution every time you open a bottle of Mitaban for dipping. Repeat the dip in 1 to 2 weeks, as directed. Mitaban is a potentially toxic medication. Side effects of Mitaban are fairly common and we often see a mild to moderate degree of sedation for 24 to 48 hours after a dip. Small breed dogs are particularly susceptible. Some dogs also become itchier. Please contact us or your veterinarian if your dog exhibits marked depression or lethargy. Most importantly, take measures to minimize your own exposure to the dip. Oral Ivermectin or Milbemycin
Although Mitaban dips have been used the longest for the treatment of demodicosis, many owners prefer the convenience of oral medications. Oral ivermectin solution or oral milbemycin tablets are usually given once daily for the treatment of mites. Although these medications are safe in most dogs, they can cause incoordination, depression, or other untoward side-effects that you may notice. Dilated pupils are sometimes the only sign that indicate possible toxicity. Ivermectin can be extremely toxic to some breeds of dogs (such as Collies), so never use this drug without the supervision of a veterinarian, or to treat an animal for whom it was not prescribed. A laboratory test is available to determine if your pet is susceptible to ivermectin toxicity. These are considered “off-label” uses (not FDA approved for this purpose) of these drugs. Spot-on Advantage Multi® or Promeris®
Two spot-on treatments have also shown some benefit in the treatment of canine demodicosis. Promeris® is now an approved treatment in the United States, and Advantage Multi® for Dogs is approved in some other countries. The convenience of these treatments is appealing, but they may not be effective in more severe cases. Promeris® has a very strong eucalyptus odor that many people find offensive. Lime Sulfur for Feline Demodicosis
Cats with demodicosis are usually treated with weekly lime sulfur dips. This treatment is very safe, but smelly. It is not effective for the treatment of dogs with demodicosis. Progress Examinations
With either topical or oral therapy, it is crucial to continue treating longer than the time it takes to kill the mites. Remember that the mites can persist long after the skin looks normal, and stopping therapy prematurely often leads to a relapse of the disease. It is very important for us to monitor the progress of the treatment by performing skin scrapings, because mites may be present even when the skin looks normal. We usually schedule rechecks every 2 to 4 weeks until two negative skin scrapings are obtained.
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