The parasites you can’t see…

Most pet owners know about the common parasite offenders including fleas, ticks, and roundworms. These are the parasites that most commonly afflict our beloved pets and can be seen with the naked eye. But what about the parasites you CAN’T see? Did you know there’s a whole host of parasites that can affect your pet that you won’t be able to see without a microscope?

In today’s blog, we’re going to cover some important facts about MITES in dogs & cats.

What exactly is a mite?

Mites are a class of parasites not so distantly related to spiders and ticks. They prefer to burrow into the skin and cause irritation. Typically these small parasites can’t be seen without taking a sample from the skin and looking under the microscope. Mites are the cause of what many people refer to as mange, a condition classified by itchy, red skin. 

How would my pet get mites?

Most mites are directly transmitted from pet to pet, and are species specific. This means that mites typically have a preferred host (dog vs. cat vs. rabbit, etc). Mites may also be found and contracted from the environment.

What are signs my pet might have mites?

Pets with mites are often itchy! They can also experience hair loss, dry/scaly skin, redness, and irritation of the skin where mites have made their home. 

Are there different kinds of mites?

There are several different species of mites that can affect our dogs and cats. Each of these behave a bit differently, and can cause different clinical signs. 

  • Demodex: These mites like to bury themselves deep within the layers of the skin, particularly in association with hair follicles. Demodex is actually considered a NORMAL flora (normal organism) of the skin, however in patients that experience stress to the immune system, Demodex can overgrow and cause redness, hair loss, and dry skin. This is a common issue in young pets coming from rescues/shelters. Interestingly, pets with Demodex are often NOT VERY ITCHY! This differs from other mites. 
  • Sarcoptes: Also known as “scabies”, sarcoptes mites like to make their home in the superficial layers of the skin. Animals with scabies are typically VERY itchy! These pets can experience severe hair loss, redness, scaling, and irritation. 
    • *Note: Scabies also has the potential to be ZOONOTIC, meaning people can be infested with sarcoptes as well!*
  • Cheyletiella: This mite is also known as “walking dander”, because unlike our other mite species, owners may be able to see these mites on the skin. Cheyletiella mites can often be found on top of the skin wandering between hairs and resemble flakes of dry dead skin. Pets can be itchy and scratch frequently in response to infestation with this mite. 
  • Otodectes: This may be the mite that most owners have heard of. Otodectes is a common cause of itchy, red, waxy ears in pets. These mites prefer the nice dark hiding spot to set up their home in the skin of the pinna (ear flap) and deep down into the ear canal. Ear mites are common in dogs/cats coming from rescues/shelters and have previously spent lots of time outdoors. 

How are mites treated? Can you prevent them?

Mites can be treated with a variety of options. These include medicated shampoos, medicated ointments, spot on parasite treatments/preventatives, and even oral parasite treatments/preventatives. Treatments are safe and effective, and should be used under direction of your vet. 

VetBox Top Tip: 

Prevention and awareness are always best! Keeping your pet on tailored, appropriate, regular parasite prevention is recommended by the British Small Animal Veterinary Association and the European Scientific Council for Companion Animal Parasites. 

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

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