Creepy Crawlies: Mites

Information provided by Ernest Ward, DVM/ © Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc.

When you hear the word "mites" you may shudder or think of little bugs crawling all over. Either way most people find them creepy. But the truth is that we often see mites on animals but good news- there is treatment! If your pet is itchy, losing hair, head shaking or digging at their ears be sure to make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Let's take a look at a couple different types of common mites that can affect your pet. 

Ear Mites (Otodectes)

What are ear mites?

The ear mite Otodectes cynotis is a surface mite that lives on cats, dogs, rabbits,  and ferrets. It is usually found in the ear canal but it can also live on the skin surface. The entire ear mite life cycle takes place on animals. 

Are they contagious?

YES! Ear mites are highly contagious, and animals become infested by direct contact with another infested animal. Infestations are a very common problem in kittens and puppies, although any age can be affected.

What are some of the clinical signs of ear mites?

The pet can have ear irritation causing scratching at the ears or head shaking. There can be a dark waxy or crusty discharge from the ear. Areas of hair loss resulting from scratching or excessive grooming or a crusted rash around or in the ear can be seen. An aural hematoma (large blood blister) can result from excessive scratching and shaking of the head. Skin lesions most frequently affect the ear and surrounding skin but occasionally other areas of the body may be affected.

How is it diagnosed?

A swab will be taken using a cotton Qtip from the ear and will be examined under the microscope.

To learn more about ear mites including life cycle, types of treatment and how they can affect people click here.

Mange - Sarcoptic in Dogs (Scabies)

What is Sarcoptic Mange?

Sarcoptic mange is caused by a parasitic mite that burrows just beneath the surface of the skin, Sarcoptes scabiei. The mite feeds on material in and on the skin.

Are they contagious?

YES! It is also known as scabies and is a zoonotic disease or a disease transmissible from pets to people. 
Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to other dogs and humans.

What are the clinical signs of scabies?

The dog will have intense itching, with constant chewing and scratching of the skin.  This leads to the loss of large amounts of hair, especially on the legs and belly. Eventually, the skin will become thickened and will darken.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made by a skin scraping examined under the microscope along with the patient's symptoms. It is common not to see sarcoptic mange mites when performing a skin scraping. This is due to the fact that the mites burrow deep into the skin and that it takes only a few mites to cause significant itching. A presumptive diagnosis may therefore be made, based on clinical signs. Sarcoptic mange may occur in any dog at any time.

To learn more about scabies including life cycle, types of treatment and how they can affect people click here.

Mange - Demodectic in Dogs (Mange)

What is Demodectic Mange?

Demodectic Mange is commonly referred to as "demodex" or "red mange" and it is the most common form of mange in dogs. It is caused by the Demodex canis, a parasite that lives in the hair follicles of dogs.

All normal dogs (and many humans) have a few of these mites on their skin. As long as the body's immune system is functioning properly, these mites cause no harm. Demodectic mange most often occurs when a dog has an immature immune system, allowing the number of skin mites to increase rapidly.

Are they contagious?

No, demodectic mange is not contagious to other animals or humans. Demodex mites are transmitted to puppies from their mother during the first few days of life. Since the mite is found on virtually all dogs, exposure of a normal dog to one with demodectic mange is not dangerous.

What are the clinical signs of demodex?

Surprisingly, a dog with demodectic mange usually does not itch severely, even though it loses hair in patches. The hair loss usually begins on the face, especially around the eyes. When there are only a few patches of hair loss, the condition is called localized demodectic mange. If the disease spreads to many areas of the skin, it becomes generalized demodectic mange.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis is made by a skin scraping examined under the microscope. The finding of larger than normal numbers of Demodex mites in skin scrapings confirms the diagnosis.

To learn more about demodex including life cycle, types of treatment and how they can affect people click here.

Mange is a parasitic skin disease caused by microscopic mites. Two different mange mites cause skin disease in dogs. One lives just under the surface of the skin, while the other resides deep in the hair follicles. Although both mites share similar characteristics, there are also important differences. 

It is important not to confuse the two types of mange because they have different causes, treatments, and prognoses.

Cats affected by skin mites are not as commonly seen as in dogs. Click Here for more information about feline skin mites.

So if you have an itchy pet or one with hair loss contact your veterinarian today!