DEMODEX: What You Need to Know

gigi-gartner-sadie.pngDemodectic Mange - A Special Kind of Hell

Demodicosis a complex and often confusing disease. An amazing amount of misinformation surrounds the condition. Most of it comes from well-meaning people but becomes more distorted with each repetition, but some of what trained professionals say (and don’t say) is just plain shocking. We commend you for digging this deep to learn all you can about what it takes to heal your beloved pet. 

Demodectic mites (Demodex canis) cause Demodectic mange, also known as demodicosis, follicular mange, red mange or puppy mange. These are naturally occurring mites and all dogs dog have some. They acquire them from their mother when nursing. We don’t know why nature intended them to be there but we do know that she intended for the immune system to control them on order to keep the population low.


If a dog has an underdeveloped, suppressed or compromised immune system it can’t keep up. The mite population progressively goes wild and mange develops. When a dog develops mange, it is always the immune system. Any one, or a combination of hundred immune-compromising possibilities, can tip the scale to the point where immune health declines to the point that the mites are unopposed and they overrun the dog. We review the key areas of the immune system that are most relevant to Demodex here. It’s well worth reading to learn how best to help your dog beat mange.

Key facts:

  • Outside factors beyond your control are 100% on your dog’s disease
  • Other health conditions compromise immune health and increase likelihood of developing Demodex
  • The digestive system is intrinsically involved in improving immune health 
  • Demodex dogs have yeast problems whether the dog is symptomatic or not. Yeast is an inevitable companion 
  • It is not contagious. People & other pets can’t catch it 
  • The mites do not spread throughout the house. No special cleaning or item disposal is required
  • They are microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye
  • They burrow deep under the skin & protect themselves with layers of oxidized waste and debris that must be removed with benzoyl peroxide shampoo
  • Puppies & juveniles under 3 years of age are the most common victims
  • Can be a progressive disease

Collie with demodectic mange

Dramatic before & after photographs of a Collie puppy recovering from demodectic mange

While there are some classic features, every situation is somewhat different for each dog. Symptoms vary between none, an assortment, and all. All three types of mange have overlapping or similar symptoms. It makes diagnosis truly confusing. Our Symptom Checker can help you narrow down which type your dog has. Demodectic mange symptoms can also resemble other medical conditions, which is one reason behind its high rate of misdiagnoses.


Demodectic mange can cause dry, thickened or elephant skin, flakes, hair loss, variable itching, redness & irritation, inflammation, rashes, acne-like bumps, sores, scabbing, rashes, skin discoloration, secondary infection, unpleasant odors, loss of appetite, lethargy, and swollen lymph nodes. Each takes a toll on immune health and major body systems causing a downward spiral and a domino effect of health issues can result.

Key facts:

  • Symptoms develop illogically as the immune system re-allocates resources
  • Localized form involves 1-2 body regions and no more than 4-5 isolated patches on the whole dog
  • Localized Demodex has the best chance of spontaneous recovery
  • Generalized form affects the majority of the dog is affected
  • Generalized form often accompanied by secondary skin and/or yeast infections
  • Typically progressive
  • Itching often worse at night

collie with demodectic mange

Diagnosis & misdiagnoses
Skin scraping is the most common diagnostic tool. However, scrapings are notoriously unreliable. Demodectic mites burrow deep and are well barricaded. A positive scrape is actually a blessing because 80% of scrapes are negative and many of those dogs do have mites. Other diagnostic methods are biopsies, hair plucks and tape tests.

kenzie-left.pngDiagnosis is challenging because the outward symptoms of Demodex look just like many other unrelated disorders. When mites are not detected, the vet has to find some reason for the presenting symptoms. Nine times out of ten the diagnosis is allergies. Dermatitis is another common shot in the dark.

If Demodex is misdiagnosed, treating the wrong problem can actually make it the mange worse. More damage is done while valuable time is wasted (sometimes years) chasing the wrong thing. And certain commonly prescribed medications are sure to make everything worse. Steroids and antibiotics are routinely prescribed, both of which impact the immune system very negatively and the mange snowballs. However, when treatment for the wrong condition fails it can be interpreted as a diagnostic tool that you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Sadly, too many of our customers echo this scenario. When nothing else works they are forced to figure it out for themselves. If you find yourself in a situation where your dog has skin issues and your vet says it’s not mange, insist that steroids be omitted from the treatment plan. Regardless of diagnoses, before moving forward with any type of treatment, please research the risks of the proposed treatments as many can have unintended side effects.

Key facts:

  • A negative skin scrape does not guarantee your dog doesn’t have mites
  • Never allow steroids to be administered
  • Use antibiotics only in the presence of obvious, serious infection
  • Don’t agree to any treatment before you have time to research it 

The thing about puppies
Puppies and juvenile dogs under 3 years of age are the most frequent victims of Demodectic mange. They are born with immature, under-functioning immune and digestive systems, both of which are critical contributors to a puppy’s ability to control its mite population even in the best of times. Unfortunately puppies fast some of their most immune challenging stresses early in life such as re-homing, vaccines, neutering and more. Rescue dogs have the cards stacked against them higher because of the deficits and extra stresses they’ve endured.

Key facts:

  • Demodectic mange affects juvenile dogs under three years if age more than any other age group
  • The risk of a puppy developing chronic lifetime mange decreases dramatically with strong detox & immune support 

Almost all veterinary mange treatments are chemical pesticides delivered in the form of dips, medications and even flea treatments. All of these contain systemic neurotoxins that spread through the body, globally turning every cell into a poison bomb. Overall they fail about 1/3 of the time, have a high incidence of harmful side effects and recurrence is common because the root problems are not addressed. Side effects can range from digestive upset to wobbly legs to seizures and on rare occasions, death. Some owners have success and are comfortable with chemical treatments, some don’t know they have options and a growing number want nothing to do with them.

Today, more and more pet owners demand safer alternatives and seek a natural route. Sadly this concept is not embraced by clinicians who are grounded in pharmacology and information on natural options is scarce. Many vets are resistant or defensive and do not make their clientele aware that there are other options. There are many home remedies and commercial products available for treating mange available. We do not maintain data on the efficacy of other products but we do recommend following a holistic plan that kills mites and remediates Demodex’s underlying root problems.

There is a space for both chemical & natural treatments; the bottom line as to treatment choice is what’s best for you and your dog. Demodex is the most complicated (and serious) form of mange so when you take responsibility for your pet’s health we want you to be fully informed. Our free e-book has much more information than we can provide here. It’s sure to be of benefit as you guide your dog back to health. Download it here.

Key facts:

  • Chemicals are immunosuppressive & do not treat the root causes of Demodex
  • Herding breeds like Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Old English Sheepdogs, and others known to carry the MDR1 gene mutation should never be treated with chemicals
  • Mange can get worse during any method of treatment. Here’s a great blog post that explains it.

Beat the odds
Our natural approach safely kills mites without caustic or toxic chemicals. Mite Avenge's effectiveness is due to the holistic program that we preach. Mite Avenge is the most effective natural mite killer you can buy and Happy Dog Naturals is the only source that explains all the facts and offers a proven solution. We also have the supplies (all carefully vetted) to do it right and get them to your doorstep remarkably fast and usually free. We’re honest enough to be up front with what’s involved even though it costs us business from those not willing to undertake a multi-pronged approach. We built this company to help you be the best guardian-advocate a dog could have and the products we offer are selected to give you the expert tools to help you win the battle against mange. We want you to have everything you need throughout your journey.

Key resources:

  • Here’s our 6-step plan to treat Demodex (holistically!)
  • Here’s how to apply Mite Avenge like a pro
  • Here’s more on Mite Avenge, treatment duration & when to stop

Now, go forth and save your dog!