Common Skin Parasites in Dogs
External parasites are among the most common causes of itching and discomfort in dogs. Fleas, mites, or ticks on their skin or ears can send them into a scratching frenzy leading to skin irritation and serious skin problems. These parasites may also be carriers of diseases that can affect dogs as well as humans. Continue reading to learn about the most common skin parasites in dogs and how you can help your furry friend.
Fleas are Common Skin Parasites in Dogs
If you share your life and home with dogs, one of the most common problems that you have to deal with is combatting fleas and protecting your pet from flea infestation. These tiny, pesky insects can be found just about anywhere. They are blood-sucking parasites and are important causes of flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). The saliva of fleas contains a protein that hypersensitive dogs can be allergic to. These dogs can develop intense itching and scratching that can leave the skin raw which can predispose to the development of hot spots.
Fleas feed on the blood of their hosts and heavy infestations in young puppies or senior pets can lead to the loss of a significant amount of blood, resulting in anemia. Fleas are also important carriers of tapeworms.
Flea treatment must be done throughout the year and is not just a one-time deal. Flea eggs can be found in every nook and cranny of your home. And even if your pet does not have any trace of fleas, these eggs will hatch when the conditions are right and are important sources of reinfection. Thus, you should work closely with your vet in creating a preventive health program for your pet that will include regular prevention against fleas. This can help ensure that your pet has adequate protection against flea bites not only during flea season but through all the months of the year.
Flea treatment can be given topically or orally. Heavy infestations require a thorough cleaning of your home and yard. In some cases, there may be a need for a professional pest exterminator to get rid of the fleas.
Your Dog Should be Protected from Ticks
Ticks, like fleas, are blood-sucking parasites. They’re also important carriers of zoonotic diseases, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which can be transmitted to humans. Dogs get ticks when they roam and romp in wooded areas. Ticks also abound in brush and shrubs. They’re quick to hitch a ride on passing dogs, and even humans. That’s why it’s very important to check your pet for ticks after every outdoor excursion. Ticks are commonly found on the dog’s neck, ears, between the toes, and between the legs and body. However, they can be found just about anywhere on your pet’s body. Heavy tick infestations can cause skin irritation and anemia. These parasites can also cause an illness called tick paralysis.
Ticks on your pet’s body should be removed immediately once you spot them. This can diminish the chance of disease transmission. Any disease they may be carrying can be transmitted when ticks feed. Proper tick removal is also important. There is the risk of the tick’s head or mouthparts being left embedded in the dog’s skin if you just pull and twist on the tick to remove it; this can cause a reaction that may develop into an infection. Another thing to remember when removing ticks - avoid crushing them. This may cause the tick to regurgitate saliva while still being embedded on your pet’s skin, and if the tick is infected, it could increase your pet’s risk of disease.
Depending on where you are living, tick prevention may be recommended year-round or during the tick season only. You should ask your vet for recommendations based on your region. However, the possibility of being infected by ticks at any time exists because their eggs can hatch when the conditions are right. If ticks are a problem in your area, you should work closely with your vet in creating a preventive health program to protect your dog from ticks throughout the year.
Ear Mites Are Also Common Skin Parasites in Dogs
Ear mite infestations in dogs are very itchy and uncomfortable, which can cause excessive head shaking and ear scratching. The mites are microscopic, and your pet can pick them up from being in contact with another pet that’s infested or from the surroundings.
Excessive scratching can cause irritation and bleeding sores in and around the dog’s ears. Blood vessels in the ear flap may also break when the dog keeps on shaking his head causing the formation of an aural hematoma which is a pocket of blood in the ear flap.
Another common symptom with ear mite infestations is a brown or black ear discharge. There may also be a foul odor from the dog’s ears that indicates secondary infections caused by yeast or bacteria.
The presence of ear mites is confirmed by examining a sample of the ear discharge under a microscope. If your pet’s symptoms are confirmed to be a result of ear mite infestation, the treatment regimen usually involves ear cleaning and medication that will be prescribed by your vet.
Mange Mites in Dogs
Mange is caused by parasitic mites that burrow into the skin. The most common types of mange in dogs are sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange.
Sarcoptic Mange Mites (Canine Scabies)
Sarcoptic mange (also called scabies) is caused by microscopic mites that belong to the Sarcoptes species. Dogs of any age and size can be hosts of the sarcoptic mange mites. Infestations are highly contagious and can easily be spread from one dog to the next by close contact with infested animals, or from contaminated bedding, grooming tools, or carpets. Humans can also get canine scabies from their dogs.
Intense itching is a prominent symptom of sarcoptic mange. It is associated with the burrowing of the mites on the uppermost layer of the dog’s skin. Excessive scratching can lead to skin rashes and crusting as well as hair loss. Affected dogs are also more prone to developing secondary infections. The symptoms include intense and persistent itching, raw skin, sores, and patchy hair loss. The lesions are commonly found on the dog’s face, ears, and legs.
People can also get a rash after being in close contact with a dog that’s harboring the mites. The presence of Sarcoptes mites is confirmed by a microscopic exam of a skin scraping from an infected dog.
In addition to administering medication to kill the mites in infested dogs, the dog’s environment should be cleaned and treated to get rid of the mites. Antihistamines and topical antibiotics may be necessary to alleviate inflammation and resolve secondary infections.
Demodectic Mange Mites (Demodex)
Mange caused by Demodex mites tends to affect puppies less than 6 months of age. Unlike sarcoptic mange, demodectic mange is not contagious. Puppies usually acquire the mites from a mother dog that’s infested.
Demodectic mange lesions can be local or generalized. Local infestations are marked by scaly skin patches and redness around the puppy’s eyes and mouth. The symptoms may also develop on the legs and trunk. Generalized demodicosis is a more severe form of demodectic mange. Affected dogs have widespread hair loss, skin inflammation, and scaly, thickened skin. Secondary bacterial infections are a likely result of the skin lesions and will warrant additional treatment.
Demodectic mange may be present in dogs with an underlying health issue and whose immune system function has been compromised. Microscopic examination of skin scrapings taken from the dog can confirm the presence of Demodex mites.
Localized demodectic mange is generally easy to treat and has a favorable prognosis. On the other hand, treatment of generalized demodicosis is more challenging. Aggressive treatment may be necessary and may stretch for a considerable length of time.
Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding skin parasites in dogs or another condition?
Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.