Long before Napoleon met his Waterloo, his personal territory had been invaded and conquered by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, a tiny, eight-legged cousin of the spider that causes scabies, or Sarcoptic mange. Though scabies victims are not commonly subject to megalomania, they do tend to scratch or bite at themselves, causing hair loss, skin damage, and sometimes infection. (The pimple-like irritations and intense itching of scabies is caused when the female mite burrows deep under the skin to lay her eggs – and then dies.)
Modern hygiene in developed countries has more or less exiled mange to animal hosts – and fortunately, the Sarcoptes variety partial to pets cannot survive on people for more than two days. Nevertheless, mange mites can be transmitted by prolonged physical contact (a handshake is not enough) or by sharing clothing, towels, or bedding. (In humans, Sarcoptes mites prefer to live between fingers, and at the bend of elbows and knees.)
Because it produces symptoms similar to those of other skin ailments, scabies can be hard to diagnose correctly. The best thing to do if you think your pet (or you) has scabies is to see a vet or doctor. Treatment can require dips and pills, and it may take up to three weeks for the itching to go away (since white blood cells can take that long to digest the carcasses of the mites). But it certainly beats itching yourself through your shirt – or letting your pooch get hounded by mange!