Guyanese and Caribbean pet caregivers and, I dare say, pet owners all over the English speaking world use the word “MANGE” to mean any skin condition the dog or cat may have. Of course, such opinion is quite incorrect. Obviously, if the diagnosis is incorrect, the ensuing treatment may also be very counter-productive. For example, if the ailment is caused by a fungus growing on the skin, the treatment with an anti-biotic ointment/cream would have a lesser chance of success, especially when the malady is caused by a mite living in the skin.
Having made this brief introductory comment. Let us now turn to the causes, symptoms and preventative and actual therapeutic interventions associated with specific skin problems.
SCABIES (Sarcoptic Mange)
Q: What is “Scabies” in our pets?
A: The best definition would be that Scabies is a perennially occurring highly contagious skin infection caused by dog specific, (Sarcoptes Scabiei, variant canis) burrowing mites, which create an intense itch-scratch condition. So, Scabies it is caused by mites living deep in the skin.
In cats (Feline Scabies or “Head Mange”), the mites causing the itching and scratching are of a different variant (from those infesting dogs), and these mites tend to infect the head and around the ears of adult male cats mostly. But I have seen entire litters of kittens infected as well.
Q: What are the symptoms?
A: Well, the major answer is to be found in the preceding paragraph, namely: Scratching.
Also, in both cats and dogs, the edge of the ears become thick and crusty; then the face; then the mange spreads to the entire head and neck – eventually covering the entire cat’s body.
Of course, with all this scratching, there will be a lot of hair loss in both cats and dogs. In dogs, the limbs, the underbelly and the chest seem to be the prime target, while the back is spared.
I should tell you that we (old vets) used to scratch the ears of the presented animal, and in so doing, within seconds, we would have unleashed a reaction with the hind legs moving furiously scratching the ear. At that point, the diagnosis was pretty certain.
Q: Can humans get Scabies from dogs and cats – and vice versa?
A: The answer is yes, but it occurs relatively rarely; and it is not a heavy infection. As soon as we kill the mites in the pets, the bumps and the scratching subside. And yes, the dog can be infected by the human Scabies mites. This, fortunately, is also a rare occurrence.
Q: What is the best treatment?
A: The best answer is to ask whether this Scabies infection has just begun (acute) or it has been going on for some time (chronic) before the owner decided to bring the animal with its encrusted, scratched and bleeding skin to the vet. Also, let me hasten to add that many caregivers would have listened to the well-meaning advice givers, whose treatment recommendations may be totally wrong, even worsening the ailment. Over the many years of practice and discussing skin ailments with colleagues, we have heard the assurance of neighbours that their methods against scabies have always been successful. For example, old engine oil (‘waste oil”) from an automobile is the most common “therapy”. Actually, the “waste oil” is toxic and might kill the dog/ cat, if it is licked off the skin or if it is absorbed into the animal’s body through the lesioned skin. The same goes for Seven Dust, Malathion, Triatox, lime-sulphur and organo-phosphates in general. Don’t use these toxic substances on your dogs (and never on your feline wards).
There are so many products on the market – all producing a successful rate of recovery. I know that Neem bush, and many other natural products can effect a total recovery for the animal with sarcoptic mange mites; but these remedies are themselves becoming expensive. Besides, not all-natural products have a great curative capability.
Finally, especially if the infection has been going on for weeks, the caregiver may need to deal with the secondary infections and the concomitant redness of the skin, etc. Allow your vet to advise you on the use of anti-inflammatory medication, and which antibiotic you should use, and which dandruff shampoo is best and how treatments should be implemented (if at all), and most importantly – which mite killers works best and quickest.
Look, the basic objective in this fight against Scabies mites is to permanently eradicate the mites from the surrounding areas in which your animals frequent. Of course, that is easier said than done. If it is possible for the caregiver to fence the sand heaps away from dogs, then do so. Also, you may wish to sanitize the environment with strong disinfectants like Jeyes Fluid or bleaches; obviously ensuring that these strong sanitizers do not come in contact with the pet’s skin. Using the pleasant pine-smelling chemicals will not do the job.
The other method that can be used to keep the mites away is to kill them while they are on the dog or cat. In so doing, you will be constantly diluting the mite population. This method of treatment and prevention clearly will take a longer time to have a mite-free animal; but, in the end it is worth it.
Next week we will discuss another mange mite, which is almost as destructive as the Scabies mite.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all Pet Lovers!