We’ve all heard stories of old about the infamous snake oil salesmen, selling all sorts of remedies for all kinds of ailments. Well, perhaps they may actually have been on to something!
My dog, Trinity, has escaped death too many times to count in her 17 years. From poisonings, to being run over by a horse, she’s had plenty of close calls. But those are all stories for a different time. Today’s story is about Trinity and mange. It doesn’t really sound life-threatening on the surface, does it?
Well, this story starts about eight years ago, not long after Bear was born. We still lived in town. I noticed a small spot on Trinity’s back where she was missing her hair. I thought it was a probably a sting or bite at first, and didn’t really think much of it. But a week or so later, I noticed it was still there…and it was definitely bigger. And was that another small bald spot on her face?
Having worked as a vet tech all through high school and college, I already knew it was likely to be mange. My question was…sarcoptic, or demodectic? Only the vet could answer that question.
So, off to the vet we went. A couple of skin scrapings and microscope slides later, we had our answer. Demodectic mange. This type of mange is a nuisance to the dog, but it is not contagious to other dogs, or to humans. It is treatable, but the effectiveness of the treatments varies.
We tried dips first. No such luck. Large doses of ivermectin were typically our vet’s next suggestion. However, Trinity is part Border Collie. The breed has a known sensitivity to ivermectin. He advised against that type of treatment, as it could easily kill her. We should only attempt it as a last resort.
We did some research on our own, and found a flea and tick prevention medication that had fallen out of favor for its intended use. However, many folks were have a lot of success using off label to treat demodectic mange. We decided to give it a shot.
The first time we used it, Trinity’s hair started growing back within a few days. It stank horribly for a day or two, but if it was going to get rid of the mange, we were willing to deal with it. It was a monthly treatment. Low and behold, just before the month was up, here came the bald spots again. So, it was monthly treatments from there on out.
We used that treatment for a couple of years. We moved out of town, on to our little farm. The effectiveness of the treatment began to wane. Soon, the monthly treatments were only keeping the bald spots from getting bigger. They weren’t going away anymore. Eventually, we started treating more and more often…once every 3 weeks, then every two…
Then, the company that made the treatment finally took it off the market. We couldn’t get it anymore. What would we do for poor Trinity? She was nearly completely bald, and she was miserable. She looked like pictures that pop up occasionally that people take of some poor creature they found that they are just sure is a chupacabra…but they always wind up being some sort of canine with mange. She just laid on her pillow all day long, not moving much unless it was to scratch.
We decided it was time for the last-ditch effort. We had ivermectin for the cattle. We were hoping that Trinity had enough non-Border Collie parts to keep the ivermectin from killing her. But, the unfortunate fact of the matter was, we were going to have to put her down if we couldn’t find anything to help her…she was just too miserable. So, we got the dosage for ivermectin to treat mange in a dog her size, and, with a bit of trepidation, tried it.
Luckily, it worked…and she lived through it. We kept treating, gradually increasing the dosage as it became ineffective. Soon, we were giving her the maximum dosage twice a month. But mange kept winning. We again started to discuss whether euthanasia was the most humane option we had.
One day, just as the kids and I were getting home from a long trip to visit their grandparents, Trinity was out sniffing around in a patch of tall grass in the pasture. As I pulled the truck into our parking area, she ran out to greet us…we had been gone several days.
Less than an hour after we got home, we noticed that Trinity was even more lethargic than usual, and there was a giant lump swelling up on the side of her face and neck. She was already quite old, and she was weak from the mange. We were afraid nature had made our decision for us. Trinity had been bitten by a snake. It was, in all likelihood, a copperhead.
We took her collar off, and tried to make her as comfortable as possible. We waited for what we believed to be inevitable.
But the next morning, something strange happened. When we got up, there was Trinity, laying on her pillow, slowly wagging her tail at us. She was obviously still hurting from the bite, but seemed much better than she had the night before. The swelling in her face and neck was starting to go down a little! It didn’t seem possible.
By the next day, she was up and around again, up to her usual antics…busily guarding the food bowl (the one activity for which she has always had the energy). In fact, she even spent a lot of time outside, hunting the vile creature that had bitten her to pay it back for its crime. We were shocked, to say the least. But, an even bigger surprise was coming.
A few weeks later, I looked at Trinity one evening, and it looked like…it had to be my imagination! But it looked like some of her hair was growing back. I asked Andrew if he had given her more ivermectin. He hadn’t. He had given up. I told him to come look at her. We agreed…it looked like some hair was growing back.
Within three months, our hairless wonder had regrown a full, healthy coat. It’s now been over three years, and the mange has never returned. Now, Trinity has plenty of other health problems (as many 17 year old dogs do), but mange is certainly not one of them!
If only we had known sooner…snake bites cure mange! Who knows, maybe those snake oil salesmen of yesteryear knew what they were talking about after all.