Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bald Dogs Aren't Old Dogs: Carter's Story

On our last trip to ACCT (Philadelphia Animal Control), we walked past a cage with a little, mostly hairless pit bull puppy in it. Despite the fact that was mostly bald, pretty smelly, and super painful and itchy, Carter sat there and wagged his tail emphatically at us. Although we weren't looking for a puppy that day, we just couldn't pass him by.

Carter has a condition called demodectic mange. It's really pretty common in shelter situations, but it's usually a death sentence for the animal, even though it's not contagious and easily treated. Why? Because no one wants to adopt a bald dog, and because the word "mange" has so many negative connotation. Not to mention complete treatment takes a few months, months that shelters don't usually have.

Demodectic mange is caused by a tiny mite (demodex canis) that lives in hair follicles. All normal animals have a small number of these mites hanging around in their skin, and it's only when animals get stressed or immune-compromised that these little mites multiply and cause disease. The overgrowth of mites can cause anything from minor patchy baldness that resolves on its own to severe generalized hair loss and skin infection. This type of mange is very common in puppies who have poor nutrition, care or breeding, so we often see demodex puppies get dropped off at city shelters. Once there, they are really lucky if they ever make it back out again.

The good news is that the mites are not contagious to other animals or people and can be treated inexpensively. While it takes a lot longer to resolve in a shelter (where the animal takes up much needed room), in foster care these dogs usually recover completely and do not have long term effects from the mites. When we pass one of these guys in the shelter and have the room for them, we always jump at the chance to help an otherwise perfectly adoptable dog.

Carter is one of the most severely affected dogs we've taken in a while, but is also one of the sweetest. When he's healed, he will be a gorgeous black dog with white patches, but for now he's kind of dingy grey and pink. His mange covers almost 100% of his body, and he has very little hair, plus, he's greasy to the touch and a little smelly. He also has a severe skin infection being treated with antibiotics. This is common in demodex puppies because they are so itchy all the time; they scratch their skin open and then get a bacterial infection. But in every other way he's a normal puppy. He LOVES playing with other dogs, and he's learning basic obedience, housebreaking and how to play with toys. He's about 4 months old now and will be ready for adoption soon! Carter doesn't need to grow all his hair back to be adopted; he'll come with his medication so his adoptive family can watch him turn into a handsome black dog in their home!