Ding Ding Ding! The Demodex Mange Bath

Being able to communicate with your dog goes a long way in eliminating their stress. Our dog Sierra came down with a case of demodectic mange within days of taking steroids for an inexplicable swelling on her head.

We were on vacation and Sierra developed a small swelling over her eye, and over the course of the next couple of hours, it began to expand. Pretty soon we were calling emergency vets trying to find one that would take us, and believe it or not, several said no. For us it was an emergency, but many of the veterinarians were near closing time, or booked solid, and they said no, suggesting other vets that were in a big city an hour away.

It didn’t help that we were vacationing in the boonies so nothing was close to us. Being on vacation, you don’t have a regular vet to call, so all you can do is search them out on the internet and start calling them one by one.

By the time we arrived at a veterinarian 45 minutes away, her face and neck had swelled up so much that she was unrecognizable, and she almost died. This is what happens with an allergic reaction, or a poisonous snakebite, but she’d been indoors and there was no sign of a snake bite or an insect bite or any other explanation. We were baffled, as was the vet, and all she could do was treat the symptoms.

Bless her heart, this woman got down on the floor to examine Sierra, not wanting to distress our dog more by lifting her up on the table. She prescribed antibiotics and steroids, gave Sierra an injection, and sent us on our way with a bunch of pills. It worked. The swelling went down, but the steroids triggered an explosion of demodex mites, and before long our dog had pimples and crusts and hair falling out.

They say that all dogs have demodex mites, but that the mites only blow up into mange if your dog has an underlying illness, or takes steroids of any kind. Not all vets agree with this, but it is the current traditional thinking that dogs do not “catch” demodectic mange from other dogs.

This was our third road trip in just a few months, each one staying at dog friendly cottages and motels. She’d stayed at three cottages and two motels, all of which had a parade of dogs passing through, leaving their mites and fleas and worms and whatnots behind for the next dog to pick up. As it turned out, she’d also picked up worms and in spite of me treating her as a precaution after each trip, they got into her anyways.

I didn’t realize that many over-the-counter dewormers that you find in pet stores often have deceitful packaging. The one I bought advertised that it treated all types of worms: whipworms, hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms.

What I didn’t know was that it wasn’t designed to REALLY kill all those worms, having only one ingredient. So I treated her after every vacation just in case she’d been infected, but the dewormer was useless against the worms she’d picked up, and by the time she showed symptoms she had a pretty good load of them. And this exacerbated the demodectic mange by stressing out her immune system.

And so began the long road to wellness. There is no quick fix for generalized demodectic mange in an adult dog, which is also known as red mange, black mange, and puppy mange. A friend of ours adopted a dog from a shelter knowing that the dog had mange, and it took a whole year before the mange was gone and all the hair was grown back. They’d opted out of the Amitraz dips and went with the daily oral Ivermectin, plus baths, and it took a year.

We opted for home remedies, being medicated baths which Sierra grew to hate. She’d always been such a clean dog that she rarely needed a bath, but here we were giving her baths three times a week, and then two times a week, and for her that got old fast.

She dreaded the bathtub even though we bathed her indoors where we could regulate the water temperature. Our shower head was on a flexible hose, so I could sit comfortably on the edge of the tub and bathe her.

Now here’s the thing with medicated mange baths, you have to leave the medication on for 10-15 minutes. So you lather them up, and then sit there waiting… tick tick tick…

That was the part she hated. Not the medicated shampoo, but the waiting. Just standing there for 10 or 15 minutes, and waiting. I sang to her, I massaged her, I talked to her, anything to pass the time and keep her from getting antsy. But then I hit on the Golden Ticket to relieving her stress…

I had a wind up kitchen timer which I used to time the treatment, and at the end it rang loudly, startling her. The blaring of the alarm in a closed up small bathroom really echoed. It bounced off the walls and amplified. So at the end of her excruciating wait between the shampoo and the rinse off, that thing blasted through the bathroom scaring the bediddle out of her.

Then I wised up, and two minutes before it went off, as I was talking to her I’d say “ding ding” very quietly a few times throughout whatever monologue I was entertaining her with. Then when it got to less than a minute, I made a big deal out of it. My voice went up several octaves and I’d say: “Ding ding ding ding DING!” like a game show host.

It didn’t take long for her to catch on. The first quiet “ding dings” were a heads up that the wait was almost over. Then the game show DING DING DINGS! let her know that the bell would ring any second for the final rinse, and then we’d be done. The minute the last game show DING rolled off my tongue, I was getting the sprayer ready, and when the timer alarm rang, I began to rinse her immediately. And instead of being startled, she was prepared.

She still didn’t like the medicated baths, but it made all the difference in her stress level while we waited, because she knew that all she had to do was listen for me to say Ding Ding. Which meant that she listened acutely to every word I said as I chattered away, trying to make the time go by for us both.

As for the treatments, I did find an OTC dewormer with three ingredients that actually does kill all four types of worms. It’s called Quad by Bayer. It’s pricey but worth it.

Sierra is still in treatment for the mange and I’m using several different shampoos and spot treatments, not just one.

Douxo Chlorhexidine PS dog shampoo helped to clear up the pimples and crusts, though it doesn’t kill mange mites. Douxo Chlorhexidine Micro-Emulsion dog spray was good as a spot treatment in between shampoos, or if there was only one or two small spots to treat. Again, this is for scabs and crusts and pimples, not for killing the mange mites. Dogs get secondary infections, and an infection is just as important to treat before it turns into an ogre in and of its own. Mange skin infections can go systemic.

For the mites themselves, after trying a couple of highly touted home remedies, I settled into using pure Neem oil, adding it to her regular shampoo at about 20% (one part Neem and four parts shampoo). I also use Synergy Veterinary Formula Antiparasitic and Antiseborrheic dog shampoo, once as a full shampoo, other times just treating spots with it during her shampoo.

Nustock sulfur ointment is another remedy I’ve used as a spot treatment in between baths, and by all rights it should work better even than the shampoos, but I think I might have gotten a bad batch because I just didn’t have as good of luck with it. Most folks swear by it.

All of these treatments dry the skin out, so I rub pure coconut oil on the bald or bare patches after she’s dry. In the early weeks, I also pretreated the bad areas a couple of hours before the bath with a mixture of Neem oil and olive oil, a 50-50 mix. I just dabbed some on with a cotton ball.

You do have to be careful with any bath or ointment or external remedy, because dogs do lick themselves and you don’t want them ingesting something that could be harmful. That goes even for veterinary remedies. For some of the spot treatments I put an old shirt on her, or I limited the spot treatments to places she couldn’t get at. Working from home makes a big difference because she’s under my watchful eye to make sure she isn’t licking. Maybe it’s overkill, but at least I don’t have to worry about it.

Baths are THOROUGH. The objective is to get at all the mange mites, which means that I bathe her tail, and especially her feet and in between the toes. There’s a nasty form of foot mange that can take hold in their feet, and I didn’t want this to get her. I haven’t had to do her face because I kept it from getting to her face, and so far we’re doing good even with the omission.

She’s currently at the stage where all sores, scabs, crusts, and pimples are gone, and her skin is clear and smooth. The comedones (blackheads) are gone as well. Now we’re waiting for the hair to start growing back in. It’s trying. But lordy lordy it’s slow. This time of year seems to be the slowest for hair growth, even in normal circumstances. Fuzz, being the undercoat, feels like its sprouting on her back. And on the back of her neck, we can see little black hairs appearing in small patches.

It’s a long, slow, winding road, mostly uphill but we’re moving forward. I recommend that you keep a diary of treatments, symptoms, and milestones of achievement. I have a spreadsheet and a diary. One for all of the details, and the other for the quick view. It really helps to see what is and isn’t working, and to gauge progress. That way you can bail on treatments that aren’t working, and focus on those that are.

It also helps in those low moments when you wonder if you’re even making progress, to look back at the diary and realized that you are. Trust me, you will doubt. You will lose faith. And you might even blow it by bailing on the treatments too soon. The recurrence rate is high, mostly for that reason. People think their dog is cured when they see hair, but you cannot stop yet.

Our timeline is on track to match that of our friend who went the traditional treatment route, if not sooner. You better be prepared to be diligent, though, because you’re in it for the long haul. If you cannot guarantee setting aside time on a weekly basis, three times a week, and then two times a week, and then once a week, then you need to follow the path of our friend and opt for veterinary treatments.

* * * * *

Our other dog, Dakota, passed away not long before Sierra’s bout with mange. Dakota was eleven years old, and scans showed a growth on her esophagus. When a dog goes off their food and turns their nose away from cheese and hot dogs and tuna fish, you know they’re not well.

When we adopted Dakota in the summer of 2007, she was a semi-adult shelter dog who was the Queen of Bad Behavior and the Master of Dirty Tricks. I turned her first year with us into a book — Bad Dog to Best Friend. The book takes you from Dakota’s awful beginnings to her amazing transformation into a beloved member of our household.

Using some of the techniques we used with Dakota, training Sierra was easy peasy. My favorite came from the Monks of New Skete, who trained dogs by tethering them to the monk so that the dog must stay with the monk wherever he goes. Both Dakota and Sierra were leashed in the house to stay with me during all waking hours, until they trained enough to earn freedom. Sierra breezed through it, being a blank slate without any bad habits to overcome. She also picked up a lot of good habits by watching Dakota, earning her the nickname of Monkey Do in the early months.

Dakota’s Story

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