Thursday, April 25, 2013

Demodex (demodectic mange)

Demodex. Sounds like a revolutionary synthetic-like fabric. Kinda like spandex, but it is anything but.

Our girl has a bald spot on the top of her head and some thinning patches of fur around her neck. The previous "family" that abandoned her told the rescue it was just seasonal allergies which recur yearly. I wasn't going on base myself on their words, so I got it checked out by our vet.

So the seasonal allergies bit was a lie. It's Demodex.

If you're a new dog owner like I am, you probably asked yourself...

"What's a Demodex"?

Demodex is a microscopic mite, a parasite, that almost all dogs carry on them since puppyhood without any issue whatsoever. It becomes a problem when a dog's immune system becomes suppressed or compromised and is unable to provide the necessary resources to maintain a healthy skin and coat. At that point the demodex mites are able to multiply and take over the skin in larger colonies (I don't know about you but just that word gives me the heeby jeebies)

The mites basically set up shop in the hair follicles and the hair starts to thin and fall out. When the demodex have reached this stage of creating patches of hair loss and scaly skin, the result is called demodectic mange.

Types of Demodex

If there are only a few spots it's called localized demodectic mange.

If there are more than 10 spots it's considered generalized demodectic mange.

Puppy vs. Adult Onset of Demodex

It seems that puppies get demodectic mange frequently and this is almost normal since their immune systems are still developing. This type of mange usually passes on its own with time as the pup's immune system catches up.

However, when an adult dog develops demodectic mange, especially the generalized type, it may be a cause for concern. It is a strong sign that the dog may at that time or within the next year be suffering from a serious illness which is taxing their immune system, such as diabetes, cancer or Cushing's disease. Heat cycles also affect bitches' immune systems, which is another reason why spaying and neutering are so important.

Now, how to treat Demodex?

The automatic reflex is, naturally, to want to treat the demodex, but that is only treating a symptom of the underlying problem. It is equally, if not more, important to get a full vet checkup to investigate the root cause and deal with any illnesses.

Feeding your dog a high-grade good-quality diet, ideally with some raw meats and vegetables will help boost your dog's metabolism. Has anyone noticed how much corn and filler is used in commercial dog food, especially grocery store kind? No wonder dogs get so sick!

I am no expert, but through my vet and Internet research (e.g. I learned that for localized demodex, a good 10-15 minute wash with benzoyl peroxide shampoo (e.g. Pyoben) daily or every other day will usually solve the problem.

For generalized demodex, the most commonly used treatments are:
-whole body Amitraz dips, which are laborious and have numerous side effects
-Ivermectin injections taken orally daily for 6-8 weeks but sometimes up to a year (though this is an off-label use)
-Revolution (an Ivermectin derivative) which doesn't officially treat demodex but it is sometimes used for that and also treats fleas.

Considering our pup also has mild sarcoptic mange, a different mite than demodex which burrows in the skin and causes intense itching, and that sarcophagus mange is very easily treated with a few doses of Ivermectin, we are choosing to go with Ivermectin for the demodex as well. Might as well kill two mites with one stone and kill 'em good.

This just leaves me with trying to find out *why* she developped this demodex in the first place and trying to boost her immune system so she can stay healthy and avoid a relapse. Can't help but worry though.

Has anyone else had to deal with demodex and which treatment did you use? What are your thoughts? Would love to hear back!


  1. One of our golden retrievers had demodex, and our veterinarian recommended we treat it with Revolution (3 months), which worked great, and we have not seen it since. However, I did not know that about the immune system,so now I will need to look into that. I need to see how long ago that it was she had it, but I think it was over a year ago,and she has been healthy ever since (so hope that makes you worry just a little less).

  2. Hi there, glad to hear your golden recovered perfectly! I read and our vet told us that localized demodex isn't a sign of an underlying problem but that generalized demodex that's managed to spread wide enough to create more than 10 spots is a sign the immune system isn't working at a high enough rate. Yoda seems to have had a litter before we got her and her needs were not taken care of, , so hopefully it's just stress related and as soon as she settles in her immune system will bounce back up... Def hope it's not actually something "real" to worry about!