Originally planning something a tad more evocative for this column, those intentions were overcome by events in Ritchie County when someone dumped 31 dogs on the roadside, in dreadful condition, malnourished and suffering with severe Sarcoptic mange. Soon inundated with questions about the situation and mange in particular, I thought a little Mange 101 was in order.
The truth be told I wouldn't know about mange had it not been for my involvement in animal rescue so I shouldn't be surprised it is a mystery to many. Although I was surprised when my spell checker kept suggesting that Sarcoptic should be changed to "sarcastic." Maybe my dictionary knows me better than I thought.
Excuse me while I preach before I teach. Dumping animals happens every day. Whether along a road, on someone else's door step or even at a shelter after hours. It's so common it's almost expected. Maybe not 31 at a time, but it's an everyday occurrence. Most often done simply to avoid embarrassment or answering a few questions, some people think nothing of dumping helpless creatures on the side of the road or a puppy outside a shelter in the middle of a winter's night to eventually freeze to death, as happened in Marietta last year. Sure beats answering questions like "why are you getting rid of your puppy?" Much easier to let animals suffer. That's sarcasm!
OK, now to the facts. Mange is a skin disease caused by mites that can afflict dogs, cats, livestock and wild animals too. Mites in the skin are Sarcoptic mange and mites in the hair are Demodectic mange. With both, hair loss is prevalent. Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to animals and humans while Demodectic is not, except between mothers and their puppies.
In fact, almost all dogs raised by their mothers have Demodectic mange, but as long as they remain healthy they never show symptoms. Once grown, most are immune unless their immune system is weakened by age, illness or malnourishment. While cats are not immune, it is more common in dogs.
Sarcoptic mange is the sort of mange the dogs from Ritchie County had contracted and surely was the result of poor care and malnourishment. Often animals have a severe allergic reaction to the mites and lose their hair because of the intense itching. Skin infections can also be common and sometimes severe. Pets with Sarcoptic mange must be isolated as it's highly contagious. And while very treatable, in some cases animals are so badly affected that euthanasia may be a reality.
Actually my first exposure to mange was one such case. I will never forget the battered car that pulled in our parking lot with a rusty cage lodged in the trunk at a precarious angle that held what appeared to be some sort of animal. I remember all too well the sounds that came from the animal as the slanted cage provided no level footing and the pathetic creature was thrown against its sides at every turn and bump. His screams of pain were unbearable. As the cage was haphazardly carried it into the shelter, I realized from its size and shape that it was a puppy. Covered from his ears to the tip of his tail in bleeding sores and open scabs, the hairless puppy was obviously in excruciating pain. I remember vividly the puppy's owners were somehow laughing. Crying in sympathy for the puppy and revulsion at the people, I gathered him into my arms in a towel and rushed him to the vet. I remember a curious young boy in the vet's lobby wanting a peek at what was in my arms and the look I gave his mother that told her this was not something her son should see. I didn't want to see it either. All I could think about was getting this puppy relief. And for him, relief would come at the end of his life. The vet recommended the best we could do for this poor soul was put him to sleep. I cried for him then and again as I write these words as another life was lost because of careless ignorance and irresponsibility.
While not often this severe, we regularly see mange, mostly in dogs, arriving in our shelter and are able to treat it quite successfully. But even a well-cared for pet can have mange, so be on the lookout for odd hair loss and scaly bald patches usually on the face, ears or around the eyes, but also on the feet and between the toes. Treatment is affordable too. Talk to your vet to learn more about mange, its treatment and any other health issues with your pet. Acting early and quickly can often make a huge difference in the health of your pet.
Carrie Roe is president of the Humane Society of Parkersburg.