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Mites and Your Dog

Mites live on the skin of your dog, and can make them itchy, uncomfortable and looking less than their best. Keeping your dog mite-free will keep them feeling and looking great!

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Did you know there are actually many species of mites? Small and spider-like, with four pairs of legs, mites are actually a group on their own, with the smallest examples being less than 0.1mm long! Many mites are not parasites, and can actually be really helpful, for example as decomposters. 

What Are Mites?

Some mites, however, can cause more trouble, for example those who live on our pets. Parasitic mites we might see on our dogs include:

  1. Sarcoptic mange (scabies)
  2. Demodectic mange (demodecosis)
  3. Ear mites
  4. Harvest mites
  5. Cheyletiella or walking dandruff mites

Sarcoptic mange, which is also known as scabies or fox mange, is cause by the mange mite Sarcoptic scabei.  These mites live on the skin of dogs and foxes although they can be transmitted to humans, and to other pets such as cats, if there is close enough contact. 

Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious, either by mites moving when animals are in direct contact, or via sharing contaminated items such as brushes and bedding. Once the mange mites have infected a dog, they burrow into the top layer of the skin – this is incredibly itchy, and dogs often cause themselves damage by rubbing, chewing and licking at their skin.  This is seen most commonly around the ears and elbow, but sarcoptic mange mites can be found anywhere on the body. 

Despite also being commonly called a mange mite too, demodex mites are very different from the other mange mite which causes sarcoptic mange. Demodex mites lives within the hair follicles, rather than burrowing, and are very rarely passed between animals at all. Instead, most dogs (and, in fact, most human!) carry a small population of demodex mites, and never know they are there. This small population is controlled by your dog’s immune system, and it is rare for a demodex population to grow large enough to cause any visible signs at all.

There are two types of demodex ‘overgrowth’ seen:

  1. Juvenile demodex – These cases are seen in young animals, usually under one year old, and are generally seen as patches of hair loss around the face, feet and chest. ‘Blackheads’ might also be seen, due to the mites being present in the hair follicles. Many dogs don’t find this itchy, and once their immune system strengthens up around one year old, the demodex numbers often fall rapidly and the hair grows back.
  2. Demodectic mange – This is seen in older dogs, who usually have a weakened immune system, and is much more uncommon than juvenile demodex. Demodex numbers grow and cause hair loss and sores, which can be all over the body. Young dogs can also get cases of full demodectic mange too. These cases can lead to secondary infections or other problems and require treatment.

 

Ear mites are mites that are specialised to live in our pets’ ears, and are known as Otodectes cynotis. More commonly seen in cats than dogs, dogs can still get these pesky parasites, which can cause itching and ear infections.  As cats ears are the more common home of ear mites, if you have a dog who has been diagnosed with ear mites it is always worth getting your cat checked out too, to make sure they are not also affected. 

Dogs that have ear mites can have a varying around of itching, dark wax from the ear, head shaking and drooping of the ear. 

Harvest mites, or 'chiggers', are seasonal parasites seen mainly in the autumn time – a habit which gives them their name Neotrombicula autumnalis.  Harvest mites live in rural areas, and dogs can easily pick up this parasite while on a walk, especially in chalky areas.  It is the larval stages that actually affect our pets, and these can be seen by the human eye as small red or bight orange dots which may cluster around the ears, head, feet or belly. 

Some dogs seem to be affected by harvest mites more than others, with some becoming very itchy and others showing no signs at all. For itchy dogs, this itching is usually concentrated mainly on the feet. 

Harvest mites can also be seen in cats and humans. 

An infestation with cheyletiella is known as cheyletiellosis or ‘walking dandruff’. Cheyletiella mites are also seen on cats and rabbits – although each have their own species of cheyletiella, cross-infection can also occur.

Thankfully, a case of ‘walking dandruff’ usually has very mild or absent signs – mostly an infestation is seen as excessive dandruff or scurf and is easily treated. Sadly, this parasite is not uncommon in dogs from poor backgrounds, such as puppy farms. 

How Can They Get It?

Mites are found across the UK, and dogs can easily pick up mites from the environment, from other dogs and from other household pets such as cats.  While there is some seasonal variety – harvest mites for example are seen in autumn – mites are present throughout the year and exposure to mites is impossible to completely prevent. 

What Are The Signs?

Signs of a mite infection will alter depending on the mite in question, but there are some signs that might point to mites as a potential problem:

  • Itching
  • Excessive licking of any area
  • Patches of hair loss
  • Head shaking
  • Excessive ear wax
  • Flaky skin

If your dog is experiencing any of these signs then make an appointment with your local Vets4Pets as soon as possible.

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How Can I Stop It?

Thankfully, although you can’t stop your dog being exposed to mites, you can prevent an infestation developing by: 

  1. Regular anti-parasite treatments. These treatments usually come in the form of spot-ons, and may manage a range of parasites including mites. The best parasite protocol for your dog will depend on you, your dog, your lifestyle and even the season, and your vet can help you decide which regime works best for you. However you choose to manage parasites in your dog, make sure to speak to a vet about the best anti-parasitics on offer, as many over the counter treatments have poor efficacy.
  2. Considering all pets. As mites can often be transmitted between species, it is important to consider parasite protection for all the pets in the household. 
  3. Monitoring. If you see any changes in your dog’s hair coat, skin or behaviour, always get them checked over by a vet who will be able to help control any mite infestation. 
  4. Grooming. Regular grooming can help identify any changes in your dog’s skin early, which will help with effective and rapid treatment. 

Noticed Signs?

If you think your dog might have a mite infection, the best thing to do is to go to your vet. They can do a full physical examination, and check your dog over from nose to tail! If there is a risk your dog may have mites, your vet will prescribe a treatment suitable for your pet, which should eliminate the mites. They can also help you plan a parasite prevention plan going forward too, to make sure your dog stays protected. 

If there is any doubt, your vet may recommend skin tests. These will look for the mites themselves, which are often invisible or barely visible to the human eye. These tests can include skin scrapes, which involve making a small graze on your dog’s skin – this is necessary to diagnose deep parasites such as demodex, and while a little uncomfortable is an important part of getting the right

What About My Health?

Sadly, although mites may prefer one species over another, some will also infect humans if they are in close enough contact. The most common of these is the sarcoptic mange mite, which is very contagious, and highly itchy. If you think you may have been exposed to mites, always contact your doctor for advice. 

Take a look here for more information on our Complete Care Plan, which provides all your pet’s parasite protection needs for a simple monthly payment.