Demodex in puppies (demodectic mange)

There’s a lot of crazy information about puppy demodex floating around, and so I thought it might be a good idea to address it since Kate’s puppies are all hitting the age where it’s normal to find one or two tiny spots.

I’m going to start with a couple of little illustrations that have nothing to do with puppies or mange:

A very long time ago (as in decades) my sister’s dog, a young black Lab bitch, got hit by a car and broke her hip, and then ran into the woods or under the garage or somewhere we never really did figure out (my parents figured she was dead) and hid there. She came back out after more than a week of not eating. She was taken to Angell in Boston and had surgery to pin the hip. After the plate was taken out, the hair over the surgery site and where the pain patches had been grew back completely white. Over the months that followed, black hair gradually replaced the white and she ended up looking normal. I remember her skin looking absolutely horrible during her recovery and she may actually have had some mange there too, but I was a lot younger and stupider at that point and my parents paid $10 for a 40-lb bag of kibble, so take that for what it’s worth.

Not so very long ago, Clue also got hit by a car and also was gone for more than a week. After she came back, she shed for six solid months. It honestly looked like she was a chemo patient; if you pinched her hair anywhere on her entire body, you could pull out the entire tuft with no effort. Her hair was never more than an inch long and most of it was substantially shorter than that. She also grew no undercoat. It’s only in the last few weeks that she is beginning to look like a normal Cardigan again, with some length of coat.

Bronte’s major Lyme infection, combined with the physical demands of nursing and probably also the stress of the house fire, literally turned her hair (the topcoat) white. She had lost her undercoat weeks ago and what was left was the straight, hard black hairs of her topcoat. But those were not black anymore. If you parted her coat over her back or sides, the inner two-thirds was dead white. She had multiple small white spots where the bleaching had reached the tips of the hairs. After three weeks on doxycycline, her body is completely cycling the coat – I strip out piles and piles of hair every day, all of it bleached. She has zero ruff or tail left, but what’s growing in is soft, glossy black straight to the skin.

Besides the obvious lesson that wow do I need a vacation from traumatic things happening to my dogs, what does this have to do with mites? The answer is that when the body is stressed, when the immune system is focused elsewhere, when the dog is in recovery from a disease, when there’s been nutritional demands beyond what the dog could handle, the dog’s body is very wise. It abandons non-essential systems (skin and coat) to focus on maintaining heart, digestion, brain, etc. The skin and coat are pretty much the first to go, and body doesn’t throw resources back into the skin and coat until the other stuff has recovered.

That’s exactly what happens when a puppy gets mange.

Here’s what’s going on:

1) Every dog has demodex mites. They are a completely normal part of what lives in and on the dog. The mites live in the hair follicles and eat all the delicious things that are on dog skin – skin flakes, fungi, sugars, etc.

2) Most of the time the dog’s immune system keeps the mites under control. However, sometimes the dog’s immune system is directed elsewhere – when the dog is dealing with a vaccination, a bacterial infection, etc., OR the dog is stressed by a poor diet or vitamin deficiency – and it battens down the hatches and the skin isn’t supported. When that happens, an overpopulation of the mite can occur and a puppy will get a small hairless spot, usually on the head or paw, where there’s a mite overgrowth.

(The puppy can also get other skin stuff, by the way – when I was raising Dane puppies they all got “puppy pimples” at this age, which is a staph infection for the exact same reason – staph is common on skin, and it takes over during the times when the puppy is growing fast and dealing with vaccines. Never seen a Cardi with puppy pimples, but Cardis get demodex pretty frequently.)

3) If the puppy’s immune system is CRITICALLY poor, for example if he or she has Addisons or Cushings, or if the nutritional lack or environmental stress has been extreme, the mite can take over the whole body. The dog’s skin becomes naked, red, swollen, and cracked (some of this is the mites and a whole bunch of it is the bacteria that colonize the small wounds in the skin) and the dog is absolutely miserable. Generalized mange in shelter populations where overcrowding and poor food are the norm is extremely common.

4) One or two puppy demodex spots are COMPLETELY NORMAL. They seem to occur at four or five months, right around the time of the puppy shots, which is also when the puppy is growing the fastest, and they are a good hint that you have to support the puppy nutritionally but they are absolutely nothing I’d ever worry about.

5) Do not treat isolated demodex with dips, salves, or ivermectin. Not only is there no need, you can actually make the problem worse. If you hit the puppy with a whole bunch of ivermectin you’re opening him or her up to genuine problems (autoimmune is the biggie here –  adding ivermectin to a taxed immune system is a bad thing) and there’s absolutely no reason to kill mites that are supposed to be there in the first place.

6) Only treat a dog with generalized mange if they are not recovering on their own with increased support and nutrition. At LEAST give them a few weeks before you dump them in an amitraz bath. It’s much, much better if the dog can recover on its own.

7) I would say that every dog with mange should be on a raw diet. Of course, I think that EVERY dog should be on a raw diet, but it helps control mange because it lowers the level of sugar and yeast in the skin AND because it encourages a good strong immune system.

8 ) If you would like to treat the spots at all, the only thing you have to worry about is a secondary bacterial infection getting started because the skin is a little bit cracked. So you can wipe it with a little tea tree oil or a skin-safe grapeseed oil or something. No need to do anything else unless the area under the spot becomes red, swollen, or infected. In that case he or she may need some keflex or similar antibiotic, but antibiotics have nothing to do with mange. They only keep the skin under the mites from becoming infected.

9) It’s a great idea to support every puppy around the time of growth and vaccination. Berte’s Immune Blend is a very widely used product that gets a lot of great reviews, but it’s certainly not the only good one. You definitely want a B-complex in there and some vitamin C.

10) If you or your vet feel strongly that the localized version MUST be treated, or if you know that the puppy isn’t going to be able to mount an immune response quickly (for example, if you’re dealing with another illness at the same time), use Revolution (selamectin) rather than injectable ivermectin or amitraz (Mitaban). Revolution is a lower dose of an ivermectin type medication and it does seem to be effective.

11) You MUST BE PATIENT. It can take months for the localized patches to completely disappear. Just keep up diet and supplements and keep an eye on it. There’s no need to restrict the puppy’s activity or avoid contact with other dogs; localized demodex is not contagious (because the other dogs already have mites, almost certainly).


One of the biggest questions about mange concerns whether or not a dog or a puppy who has ever had mange should be bred. I’ve heard some truly WILD statements about this.

Here’s the deal: USE COMMON SENSE. The immune system is not like a pretzel, either whole or broken. It’s a living thing and there are times when it is in great shape and times when it’s not, and those have nothing to do with whether the dog is genetically normal and fit.

You want to remove animals from the gene pool if they have a genetic immune problem, not if the animal was just sick with something else, got a spot of mange because it was sick, and went on to completely recover. The RECOVERY is what is critically important.

If the animal, properly supported with diet and supplements and (if necessary) antibiotics to knock down the secondary skin infection, takes back its own skin and makes a complete recovery, that’s an immune system WIN. That dog’s immune system is functioning well.

If the dog could not recover, even when optimally supported, or if a well-maintained dog has mange as an adult, then you start to look at systemic immune problems. But don’t forget to see the forest for the trees – the mites are a SYMPTOM, not a disease. Don’t treat the mites; find the cause of the blow to the immune system and solve THAT. If the cause of the immune problem turns out to be Cushings, Addisons, or another autoimmune disease, then (obviously) the dog is not a candidate for breeding. If it turns out to be Lyme, a bacterial infection, or something treatable, solve it and the dog should get rid of the mange on its own.

Some articles for you to read: (ignore the brand name recommendations) (skip down below the thyroid stuff to vaccines and nutrition)

8 thoughts on “Demodex in puppies (demodectic mange)

  1. Thank you so much, Joanna. As I’m sure Kate has told you, I’m losing my freaking mind over Maizey (and Tex, and even Deuce, to a lesser extent). I’ve been meaning to mention her “small bald spot over her eye” but I kept forgetting because everything else seemed so much more important, and then the drama with the vet… anyway thank you for the post. I’ll treat with TTO when I get back. Can you address proper raw feeding, I’m thinking that maybe I’m not getting Maizey (or Deuce and Tex) all the proper nutrition they need.

    • With what she’s been going through with her bacterial infection and antibiotics and diet change and so on, I would bet her immune system is pretty taxed! Now that she’s getting back to normal it should fade over the next few weeks.

      I think that the two best-established raw diet methods are prey model and Billinghurst/BARF. In prey model, you do not feed vegetables or any other supplements; it’s all either whole prey (either grown yourself or sourced from some place like or “frankensteining” a whole prey (so the leg of a chicken, the head of a salmon, the liver of a cow, etc.). In prey model you have to source as many different organs as you can if you are not feeding whole animals. The basic proportions are 10-25% bone, 10-15% organ meat of as wide a variety as you can, and the rest is muscle meat. So a typical meal would be a chicken thigh quarter plus a tablespoon of ground beef and a section of liver. Next meal would be the other thigh quarter and a big chunk ‘o lamb lung. Next meal would be the chicken’s back, plus a tablespoon of ground beef and another piece of the liver. Over the week you’d try to feed, say, liver, heart, and lung, the entire chicken including giblets, and some ground beef for muscle.

      Billinghurst/BARF feeds veggies and supplements and doesn’t push quite as hard for muscle meat. Billinghurst has you feed 60-70% raw meaty bones (which are typically about 50% bone/50% meat), 10% organs, 25% veggie mix (which is pulped raw vegetables plus oils and supplements). The raw diet I have here is Billinghurst.

      The most foolproof method, if you absolutely don’t want the responsibility of getting the proportions correct, is to use something like Bravo patties. I have used Bravo extensively and, aside from the fact that the dog doesn’t get the satisfaction of chewing bones, it’s a good alternative.

      I’m using Sojos grain-free right now, in addition to Orijen kibble, while we have no freezer space. It allows me to feed a raw, grain-free diet with very little storage. It’s expensive and it would be completely rejected by prey-model purists because it uses dried veggies and powdered supplements, but the dogs are thriving and I think it puts on more muscle/weight than a grain-free kibble.

      If you post what you’d feed over a typical 2- to 3-day period, I can make some comments on where you might want to tweak it.

  2. thank you for this, very educational for me. yaaay!

    I was very happy to see you recommend using TTO or GSE, and have been meaning to ask if you recommend the use of essential oils for/on domestic animals, when, which, and how much (since I imagine some human dosages could be toxic for a smaller mammal). A friend found a tick on herself yesterday and dripped some TTO on it to get it off, which I thought was a great idea. So, can you add this to the list please, when & how to use essential oils in the pet home? I currently stock lavender, TTO, and GSE and probably don’t need any others for the human users in my home, but would happily add anything else that might be helpful for the canine & feline members of our family.

    • I am FAR from an expert. I use TTO (usually neat) to treat minor skin things and have found GSE very useful for keeping the germs at bay, but we have always had cats and so my experimentation has been limited by the fact that I can’t leave any stuff around (EOs are dangerous to cats unless you REALLY know what you’re doing).

  3. I wish this post was back about a year or two ago. Porter, my PWC, had a flare up with Demodex around his left eye. Poor guy loved to play fetch with a tennis ball but decided to get the ball as I threw it…he got the ball right over his eye. Within a few days, the mites got control and were taking over half of his face pretty quickly. Unfortunately, I was a undereducated Certified Vet Tech and went the Ivomec route due under the advice of the vets I worked with at the time. It was under control within a week or two.

    Fast forward to present–I am now looking to do things more naturally with my boys. I am no longer in a vet clinic, but working in the corporate world of veterinary equipment products. I am able to better educate myself out of the bounds of a clinic that does not like raw diets. The boys have been raw fed for two months now and I am looking for alternatives to flea/tick preventative.

    It is hard sometimes going against what I was taught in tech school, but I know there has to be better ways to keep my guys healthy. There are just too many chemicals out there being used and it is scary sometimes.

    • With an injury like that, if I knew his body would be very occupied with healing and if the mange was spreading, I probably would have done Revolution, to be honest. So I support you :). I DO use, and advise using, the meds we have when we need them. The issue is distinguishing between when we need them and when they’re just being given because people don’t have patience to let the body heal itself.

  4. thanks for this post! I’ve been away (with Stella) for a few days and with little access to internet. When I got home last night and saw the message about the demodex mange on Dex I must admit I was a little worried. I checked Stella all over and found no sign of any problems. (although the microchip under the skin on the back of her neck always makes me look again for a tick!) I’m feeding her EVO kibble(2-3xday) mixed with a little canned Wellness and water. She seems to be doing great on this and I hope it keeps her immune system in good shape. So far so good. And also, thanks for clarification regarding demodex mange flare up and breeding. Because after researching about the mange I thought for sure that meant this was a genetic predisposition. What you describe makes a lot more sense.
    I hope Bronte and Clue (and all) are finally on the mend with super strength immunity. Stella sends her love to mom and auntie!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s