What is mange?
Mange is a skin disease that is caused by mites, small insect-like parasites, almost invisible to the naked eye. Each species of domesticated animal has it’s own species of mange mites; and, with the exception of the sarcoptic mites, the mites from one species of animals cannot live normally on a different species. However, the sarcoptic mites are transmissible from one class of animals to another. The spread of mange is most often through physical contact, such as a pig touching another pig. Bedding that holds moisture (such as straw) and cold temperatures makes it easier for the mite to survive off the pig. The sarcoptic form of mange is the most damaging, causing severe skin irritation including itching, lesions, and crusting, as well as unthriftiness. The female mite attacks her host laying eggs for about two weeks. The eggs are hatched and the mites reach maturity in another two weeks. Therefore, a new generation of mites can be produced every fifteen days. This high rate of proliferation makes the eradication of mange difficult.
Mange was first identified as a pest in pigs 140 years ago. It continues to this day to be a challenge to veterinarians and remains a costly proposition in commercial pig operations. Don’t assume that because your potbelly is a pet in the house that the following information does not apply to your situation. The sarcoptes scabies var. suis is just as content to munch on your potbelly as a commercial pig.
Symptoms of mange can be anywhere from sub clinical to very subtle to obvious. Potbellies with sub clinical mange could be regarded as “carriers” with no visible signs of the parasite. These are the most difficult cases to spot. They do not rub or scratch nor do they have any discoloration of the skin. There are no “flakes” or dandruff. There are no lesions. However, when sub clinical potbellies are subjected to stress such as traveling to the vet or a show, a sudden cold or hot change in the weather, a new member added to (or subtracted from) a household, mange can spontaneously erupt. A gilt coming into their first heat can suddenly break out with mange. Symptoms of mange can be very subtle, but left untreated will develop into more obvious signs. Symptoms characteristic of mange infestation are as follows:
The pigs’s skin is dry and scaly, like “dandruff” (potbellies are known for their dry skin making it even more difficult to differentiate between mange and a normal dry skin condition.)
The pig begins to rub against objects – a black pig will leave white “tracks” on the body where it has rubbed against furniture, etc.
Tiny bumps and/or scabs appear just under the surface of the skin most often found behind the ears, under the front legs and on the chest, between the back legs and on the ankles just about the hard hoof. These bumps become more prevalent anywhere the skin is thin or moist or both.
These same moist areas take on an orange cast in color, more easily seen on pigs with white skin, but present on black pigs as well. The orange color will wash off only to reappear in two or three days.
Ears begin to exude excessive amounts of reddish-brown debris. Ears sometimes have a bad smell.
Eyes have the same reddish-brown, crusty matter in the corners and sometimes on the eyelashes.
Eyes begin to tear, sometimes to the point of leaving tear “tracks” down the face. The pig looks like he is crying.
A pig may have all of the above symptoms without having started to scratch or rub. A pig may rub or scratch a lot with only one or two of the above symptoms. Some pigs just have filthy ears and eyes that “cry” but no other symptoms. As with most syndromes, some pigs seem to have a higher resistance threshold while other pigs are super sensitive to mange infestation.
Left untreated, a pig with some or all of the symptoms above will develop a “chronic” condition that is classic and easy to recognize. Aside form the stated indicators of mange, there are some additional signs to look for:
scaly, scabby, thickened skin
coat thin and/or actual hair loss
black skin becomes dark gray
orange cast is more prevalent
on top of the back between the shoulder blades will be a greasy patch due to constant localized irritation.
Since chronic and/or obvious cases of mange are more prone to being treated, I would like to focus further on the less obvious sub clinical “carriers.”
Often, potbellies are vaccinated and wormed twice a year as part of their normal medical management routine. In addition many owners worm in-between those visits to the veterinarian. A pre-existing case of mange is probably kept somewhat under control in these cases, although it is never really eradicated. Therefore, lingering subtle symptoms are present but not always recognized. Skin and hair coat damage from mange mites is gradual and may be misinterpreted as due to inadequate diet and/or vitamins.
Many times I have been told of a change in temperament of the pig. The pig may become a little more lethargic, less “sweet,” cranky and less tolerant of being handled. Since worming is being done at least twice a year and there are no obvious symptoms, mange is seldom considered the culprit. In almost all cases the dirty ears are the big tip-off. Proper treatments for mange, even without a confirmed diagnosis almost always results in improvement in general condition, appearance and temperament of the pig.
Understanding the life cycle of the mange mite helps to tailor treatments accordingly in order to kill the mites continuously as more eggs hatch, thereby effectively breaking up the cycle. Since mites eventually find their way to the pig’s head, especially the ears, I have found it necessary to treat the ears specifically and in conjunction with the rest of the pig’s body. The canals in the ears are dark and moist and serve as a perfect protected environment for the mange mite. The ear tissue is very thin which makes it easy to penetrate. Often the ears will exude excessive amounts of dark red-brown debris. Similar debris is often found in the corners of the eyes and in any wrinkles about the face. Alex Hogg, DVM, University of Nebraska, shared a diagnostic approach with me:
Scrape deeply in the ear of the pig with a curette or small melon baller. Get some skin and debris – sometimes you need to see a little blood to be sure you are deep enough.
Put all the debris in a small, clear, plastic petri dish.
Cover debris with one teaspoon baby oil.
Incubate petri dish at 37°c (body temperature) overnight.
The mites will come out of the debris, skin, etc. and can be observed swimming in the baby oil the next day.
Place under a 10 X dissecting microscope to examine.
My personal feeling is that mites are able to survive for a time in the debris in the ears, rather than in the ear tissue itself. The ear is the only place where debris can build up significantly without dropping off the body. By the time the mites have exhausted the debris and need to tunnel back into the skin, any mange treatment given the pig has worn off. If the ears are treated separately and simultaneously with the rest of the protocol, the whole pig clears up faster. I have had very good results with the following:
Prepare a mix of ½ hydrogen peroxide and ½ isopropyl alcohol and put in a small plastic bottle with a tapered snout on the end. Warm solution before each use – the pig will object less.
Squirt warmed solution directly into each ear. Try to rub and massage the ears to work the solution down deep into the ears.
The solution will help loosen any large pieces of debris that may be lodged where you can’t see. The pig will shake its head which will also help free up chunks of gunk.
Try to clean as much discolored debris out of each ear. Never go deeper into the ear than you can see.
Place recommended number of drops of Tresaderm® into each ear and massage. This is a dog/cat ear preparation for ear mites. It also contains an antibiotic that reduces inflammation of the sensitive ear tissue.
Note: I didn’t say any of this would be easy….I’m just saying it works!
Repeat this procedure every other day for five treatments. Always clean the ears first so that the medication can get down deep enough to work. After five treatments, check ears weekly for signs of re-infestation. If needed repeat above steps for five more treatments.
There are various treatment protocols for mange on the body, depending on the severity of infestation. Injectables remain the drugs of choice since they can reach all parts of the pig, except perhaps the ears for reasons previously stated. The following, as well as the earlier described ear treatment, is based on my personal experience. As with any health issue concerning your potbelly, always consult with your veterinarian and follow his/her recommendations.
Before administering any medication to your potbelly you need an accurate weight. That doesn’t mean a “guesstimate”. That means actually weigh your pig. For any drug to be successful, the dosage must be accurate.
PREVENTION AND MAINTENANCE
A preventive maintenance regimen can be achieved by using a pour-on topical, an oral, or an injectable preparation designed to kill both internal and external parasites. Pour-ons work best on pigs with a fairly heavy hair coat since the medication needs the hair shaft to penetrate into the body. Frequent close examination of the pig’s skin and ears should inform you of the presence or absence of mange. If no signs of mange are evident, periodic treatment according to your veterinarians’ recommendations, can keep your pig mange free.
Spring and Fall seem to be the two most common times of year when manage mites are prevalent. However, depending on climate and immediate environment, infestation can occur any times of the year.
I have found the following to be effective:
Ivomec® Pour-On for Cattle and Ivomec® Injection for Cattle and Swine are ivermectin-based drugs. Ivomec® is the Merial Ltd. registered trademark for ivermectin. Another injectable drug option is Dectomax®. This is the registered trademark of Pfizer Animal Health for the drug called doramectin. Dectomax® lasts eighteen days in the pig’s system. It is virtually pain free. Dectomax® may prove to be a good alternative to Ivomec® for this reason. Seek the advise of your veterinarian as to which product will produce the best result and recommenced treatment regimen.
THE OCCASIONAL OUT-BREAK
For the occasional out-break brought on by exposure to another pig or simply environmental conditions, topical or injectable preparations can be quite effective in stopping the mite in its tracks provided treatment commences early on. Use product and protocol recommended by your vet but increase the number of treatments to at least three and possibly four. Treatments must be given at proper intervals. In addition, the ears should be treated at the same time following the procedure outlined. If these protocols seem like “overkill”, bear in mind that it is worth the expense and time spent, rather than dealing with re-infestation.
In my experience, when mange becomes a chronic condition in pig, the luxury of a topical preparation is no longer an option. A more aggressive approach will be needed. The most effective treatment is going to be the injection and it will ultimately be the least stressful for the pig. Coupled with the Tresaderm® in the ears, the injections will need to be timed to interrupt the life cycle of the mite. The whole treatment protocol should be structured around the level of infestation, the possible exposure to re-infestation (as in multi-pig situation), and the pig’s general environment such as bedding, housing, etc.
For chronic mange, my protocol is:
Isolate pig(s) in question providing a clean, dry space either indoors or outdoors with fresh bedding.
Begin with first injection of an appropriate dose level based on accurate weight.
Begin ear treatment as previously described simultaneously with the injection.
Administer second dose 10 days later.
Continue ear treatments with Tresaderm®.
While it is not necessary to treat the bedding, it is advisable to change the bedding at the same time each injection is given.
Administer third injection 10 days later.
Discontinue treating ears.
Depending upon each pig’s response, a fourth injection may be needed.
Continue to check ears frequently for any signs of re-infestation.
Occasionally, in severe and/or long-standing cases of mange, I have encountered an additional problem. Due to self-mutilation by constantly scratching and rubbing, some pigs can break open the skin enough to set off a positive gram staph infection which further complicates their condition. This infection impedes healing, promotes further hair loss, and while mites may no longer be present, the over-all condition of the pig does not improve. In these cases antibiotic therapy has been necessary. Continue to examine the pig even after mange treatments are complete. Appreciable improvement in skin, hair coat, eyes, ears and even temperament can take as long as thirty days.
Remember that mange is highly contagious from pig-to-pig through pig-to-pig physical contact. If one animal in your group of pigs is showing signs of mite infestation, the chances are others can or will be plagued as well. In multiple pig situations, a preventive mange control program should be followed. Treat all pigs on premise simultaneously at least biannually. When considering any mange prevention or control program, check with your veterinarian as to appropriate drug, dosage, and administration based on your individual needs.
Again, the mange mite can be a tough critter to irradiate. The best ammunition against infestation is as follows:
Do frequent skin and ear checks.
Get a timely diagnosis by your veterinarian of the presence of mites.
Have a good understanding of the life cycle of the mite.
Obtain an accurate weight of your pig.
Consult with your veterinarian on appropriate medication.
There is no short cut – all medication directions must be followed. Subsequent treatments must be given at proper intervals in order to break the life cycle of the mite.
Treat ears simultaneously with Tresaderm®.
Maybe we can conquer the mange mite dilemma before another 140 years go by! After all, we humans are WAY more mighty than that pesky, microscopic mite!