Mites are microscopic parasites found on many animals besides dogs. Mites on dogs tend to live in or on the skin, frequently burrowing into the epidermis or hair follicle and causing intense irritation.
While there are many different types of mites that may infect dogs, two of the most common are known as Demodex canis and Sarcoptes scabei. While both these mites cause mange, the specific name of the variety of mange involved differs because these two parasites behave in slightly different manners.
Demodectic mange is caused by a dog mite known as Demodex canis. These mites live only on the animal themselves and cannot survive for long off the host. In truth, many dogs maintain a small population of Demodex mites at all times, and manage to suppress the population satisfactorily. It is only when the dog’s immune system becomes compromised that the mites manage to reproduce rapidly, leading to the symptoms of demodectic mange.
Sarcoptic mange is also known as “scabies” because of the mite which causes it – known as Sarcoptes scabei. In contrast to demodectic mange, these mites burrow almost exclusively into the skin, causing great irritation.
Also, unlike other types of dog mites, Sarcoptes scabei can survive some time off the body of an animal, particularly in warm or moist conditions. As these mites can be passed from one animal to another it is entirely possible for your dog to contract such mites that are present in the environment having fallen off wild animals.
Symptoms of Dog Mites
As both of the above mentioned mites burrow into the skin or hair, the most common symptom is intense irritation and scratching from your dog. This in turn can result in hair loss, dry patches of skin and bright red sores appearing.
Normally it is very clear that something is wrong.
Diagnosis of Dog Mites
All too often canine mites are misidentified, and it is only when other treatments have failed to show improvement that mites are suspected as the culprit.
Common examples of misidentifications include pet owners who believe their dog is suffering from skin allergies, food allergies or a nutritional deficit.
Identifying the problem is further complicated by two further factors. Firstly, most dog mites are so small as to be invisible to the naked eye. This is contrast to parasites like ticks and fleas which may be highly visible to owners. It is therefore necessary to use a microscope to try and identify the guilty party.
Here the second complication arises; only a small fraction of skin scrapes actually contain the mites themselves, so it is entirely possible to examine samples under the microscope even in heavy-infested dogs and to find no trace of mites.
Thus, while observing mites does indeed confirm the diagnosis of mites, an absence of mites doesn’t necessarily rule them out as the cause of skin problems or hair loss.
Dog Mite Treatment
In contrast to many other parasite infections and medical conditions there is no single guaranteed way to treat dog mites. Each vet will likely have their own preferred treatments, and it is entirely possible for different vets to propose different medications for the same case.
Common examples of dog mite treatment include:
Dips – Here the dog is bathed in a chemical-laden fluid designed to kill off invertebrate parasites. Sadly, these dips can be very strong, and can lead to other side effects such as vomiting or diarrhoea in patients.
Topical Treatments – Topical treatments may need to be applied regularly to your dog until the skin condition begins to improve.
Oral Treatments – Lastly some vets may prescribe oral preparations instead of or as well as one or more of the previous treatments.
Treating the Home
Lastly when it comes to dog mite treatments it is worth noting that treatment of the home environment may or may not be necessary depending on the diagnosis. As stated, Demodex canis tends not to survive for long off dogs, so under such circumstances treating the home may be unnecessary.
Many vets, to be on the safe side, recommend thoroughly washing and treating your dogs bed, collar, lead and so on, to be certain that no further parasites remain on them which could re-infect your dog.