QUESTION: Our rescue dog Paddy has been diagnosed with mange. He is very itchy. Can you please suggest holistic remedies?
T.R., via email
ANSWER: Mange is a common skin problem caused by tiny microscopic parasites called mites. There are two main kinds of mange: sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange. Both are still seen regularly in practice, but lately due to modern flea control products that also control mites, cases of mange appear to be on the decline.
This is a contagious skin condition that mainly affects dogs and is very rare in cats. It is caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei, commonly known as scabies. When this mite tunnels under the skin and leaves secretions, it triggers an allergic or hypersensitivity reaction that can be intensely itchy.
Tiny papules and grayish yellow crusting on the inside of the ear, elbows, hocks and adjacent skin are usually seen in this type of mange. By scratching, your pet may make them worse and also end up losing the fur in these areas.
This is also known as red mange and is quite different from sarcoptic mange because it is not a contagious disease—that is, it does not spread to others.
The mite Demodex canis is present in small numbers on the skin of healthy dogs without causing any symptoms at all, but if an animal has a compromised immune system or is genetically predisposed, then these mites increase in numbers and cause disease.
Demodectic mange can either be localized, where it affects only specific areas of the body, or generalized, where it affects the whole body.
Localized cases are typically seen in dogs under a year old; the face and forelimbs are usually affected, and there may by focal areas of hair loss, scaling and even some redness. Most of these cases resolve on their own without treatment.
The generalized form is seen in adult dogs and can look quite horrendous, with severe skin lesions. As the mites burrow, the hair follicles rupture, and the immune system launches a reaction causing widespread redness, itching, crusting and even furunculosis, a chronic inflammation of the hair follicles.
Affected dogs may stop eating and even develop a fever. Microscopic examination of deep skin scrapes obtained from affected areas will usually reveal a large number of cigar-shaped mites. This is one of the more serious skin conditions, second only to skin cancer, and requires immediate attention.
Diagnosis and treatment
Mange is diagnosed by identifying the mites or their eggs under a microscope. Multiple skin scrapings from the affected areas have to be examined, and special lab techniques may be necessary to isolate the eggs or mites in these samples.
If the lesions have become too thickened, a skin biopsy may be needed.
For both sarcoptic and demodectic mange, treatment with the pesticide amitraz may be prescribed to kill the mites. The antiparasitic medication ivermectin may also be given, unless the dog is of a breed in which this drug is contraindicated, such as a border collie or collie mix.
In cases of sarcoptic mange, since scabies can be contagious to humans, you may also need to treat your home and consult your doctor if you develop lesions. Not only the affected pet but those who are in contact should be treated.
Treatment of dogs with demodectic mange involves clipping or shaving the affected areas and bathing every two weeks with amitraz solution or benzoyl peroxide shampoos, along with a prescription for either ivermectin injections or oral milbemycin (another anti-parasitic).
Skin scrapes should be performed every two weeks to check if the mites are decreasing in number, and treatment must be continued for four weeks after a negative skin scrape.
Steroids must not be given to a dog with demodectic mange, even if he is very itchy, because the drugs will further compromise the immune system and exacerbate the infestation.
In addition to these measures, there are many natural options you can try at home to relieve Paddy's itch. Supporting the immune system can also help pets with mange recover faster and resist future attacks.
A safer alternative to pesticides and antiparasitic drugs is a lime sulfur solution like LymDyp (available from your vet), which is effective at killing mites. Dipping your pet once a week may be needed.
Dogs and cats that lack key nutrients in their food tend to contract mange. Home-cooked, natural foods that boost immunity are therefore very beneficial, as they are more likely to contain nutritionally balanced, good-quality ingredients. See my book You Can Heal Your Pet for a guide to the healthiest diet for your pet.
You can also feed Paddy bladderwrack canine/feline sea biscuits (see box, right). Bladderwrack is a type of seaweed that contains iodine, B vitamins, vitamin C, trace minerals, lipids, plant sterols, amino acids, omega-3 and omega- 6 fatty acids, antioxidants, polyphenols and flavonoids, which are all beneficial to the skin.
Many holistic vets believe that vitamins E and C help strengthen immunity and prevent itching by blocking histamine release, a cause of skin irritation. So adding these antioxidant vitamins to your pet's diet can be beneficial.
Suggested dosage: for pets less than 15 lb (7 kg): 100 IU vitamin E and 250 mg vitamin C daily; pets 15-40 lb (7-18 kg): 200 IU vitamin E, 500-1,000 mg vitamin C; dogs 40-80 lb (18-36 kg): 400 IU vitamin E, 1 g vitamin C; larger dogs: 600 IU vitamin E, 1-2 g vitamin C
Peak Immune (available from www.glacierpeakholistics.com) is a product containing alfalfa, astragalus, echinacea, eluthero and oatstraw green tops. It's usually given once a day for 10 days every three months, but for a pet with a compromised immune system it can be given on a schedule of 10 days on/10 days off.
Suggested dosage: follow label instructions
Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) can also be given to boost immunity.
Suggested dose: for dogs less than 20 lb (9 kg): give ¼ of the human dose; 20-50 lb (9-23 kg): ½ the human dose; 50-80 lb (23-36 kg): ¾ the human dose; larger dogs: full human dose
Anti-itch shampoos such as oatmeal shampoo can be soothing and helpful in relieving Paddy's discomfort. Try Earthbath Oatmeal & Aloe Shampoo, available from Amazon.
According to Dr Francis Hunter, author of Everyday Homeopathy for Animals, for pets that have very red skin and prefer the cold, use Sulfur 30C.
Suggested dosage: 2-3 times daily for 5-7 days and repeat after 2 weeks if there is improvement
For pets that prefer warmth and have scaly skin, use Arsenicum Album 30C.
Suggested dosage: 2-3 times daily for 1 week, then repeat after 10 days if there is improvement
Holistic vets believe that successful treatment of skin conditions also includes a focus on balancing emotional causes of itching. This involves playing soothing music, avoiding strange guests and reducing stress levels with regular exercise. Running or playing with pets for a half-hour without a break will distract them from scratching incessantly.
The acupoint GB 20 (Gallbladder 20) or 'windpond' is known to calm the animal. It is located below the back of the head, in a depression in the nape of the neck approximately halfway between the spine and the bottom of the ear. It feels like a dimple palpable on both sides when the head is moved up and down. Hold this point for 20 seconds to stop itching.
See my book You Can Heal Your Pet for full instructions on how to give acupressure to your pet.
Scabies mites can survive for several days even when off your pet's body, so it's important to vacuum rugs, sweep and mop floors and wash all your pet's accessories and grooming tools repeatedly.
Bladderwrack sea biscuits
1 ¼ cup (140 g) self-rising flour
1 large free-range egg
3.5 oz (100 g) dried seaweed, such as bladderwrack, kombu or dulce
2 Tbsp bladderwrack-infused oil (see recipe below)
These are a lovely treat and easy to make. If you'd prefer to use different culinary dried sea vegetables, there are many seaweed varieties, including sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca) and dulse (Palmaria palmata), available in some supermarkets and specialist shops, or online from suppliers like Maine Coast Sea Vegetables (www.seaveg.com) or Seagreens (www.seagreens.co.uk).
1. Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C. Grease an 8 × 11 inch (20 × 29 cm) baking sheet.
2. Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl to form a soft dough. Spread mixture a half inch (1 cm) deep on the baking tray. Bake for 25-30 minutes until just firm.
3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool, then cut into bite-sized squares.
4. Keep in an airtight, labeled container in the fridge for up to five days, or freeze for up to one month.
Bladderwrack-infused sunflower oil
1.75 oz (50 g) dried bladderwrack (or other herb)
16.9 fl oz (500 mL) sunflower oil
This recipe can be adapted by substituting the seaweed for other pet-friendly herbs instead, such as catnip, chickweed, calendula (marigold), mint, nettle or rosehip. However, it's important to use only one herb in each batch of oil—don't combine two or more in the same infusion.
1. Place the dried bladderwrack in a dry, sterilized glass jar and cover completely with sunflower oil—keep pouring until you reach the upper slope of the jar, leaving a small space for the oil to breathe.
2. Screw the lid on tightly and leave the jar in a warm place, or in direct sunlight, for four to six weeks or until the oil has taken on the color of the plant material. Shake the jar vigorously every day.
3. After the oil has infused, strain the seaweed off and put the oil in a preferably dark, sterilized bottle.
4. Label, date and store in a cool, dry place. Use within three months. If unsure, smell and taste the oil and do not use if rancid.
Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT
Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House UK, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com