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Understanding Mites and Your Dog's Skin

Mites on Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Types, and Treatment

Mites are tiny parasites that live on dogs' coats, skin, or ears and cause problems. The most common types of mites in dogs are the Sarcoptic, Demodex, ear, harvest, and Cheyletiella mites. 

Mites cause skin problems known as dermatopathies and include lesions, itchiness, hair loss, and secondary skin infections. Recurring or prolonged mite infections cause emaciation in dogs and, in severe cases, are fatal. 

The treatment for mites on dogs involves mite elimination and symptom control. Treatment options include medicated shampoos, dips, and oral, injectable, or topical miticides. CBD oil provides symptom relief from dog mites when administered orally and topically.  

Successful management of mites in dogs’ skin requires treating the environment and all pets in the household. 

What are Mites in Dogs?

Mites in dogs are parasites that cause a range of skin problems called dermatopathies. The effects of mites range from simple bumps and irritation to infectious dermatitis and hair loss. 

Dog mites are members of the phylum Arthropoda, class Arachnida, and subclass Acari, closely related to ticks and spiders. Scientists have cataloged over 30,000 different species of mites. 

The most relevant mites for dogs are the Sarcoptes mites (Sarcoptes scabiei), Demdodex mites (Demodex canis), ear mites (Otodectes cynotis), harvest mites (Trombicula autumnalis and Trombicula alfreddugesi), and walking dandruff (Cheyletiella yasguri). 

Mites have a worldwide distribution, live as external parasites (ectoparasites), and complete all or a portion of their life cycles on hosts’ skin. 

Why do Mites appear on Dog's Skin?

Mites appear on the dog’s skin because they live on its surface, deep into the skin, coat, or ear canals. Mites are external parasites. 

Dog mites transmit through direct contact with infected animals or fomites. Fomites are objects and surfaces in the environment contaminated with mites. Examples of fomites include bedding, blankets, dog clothes, and grooming tools. 

Where do Mites appear on Dogs?

Mites appear on dogs on the coat, skin, or ears. Different mites have unique preferences and predilection places. 

Sarcoptes mites burrow canals in the skin in areas sparse with hair, such as the ear margins, belly, armpits, groins, elbows, and knees. Demodex mites live in hair follicles primarily on the head, around the muzzle, and around the eyes. 

Ear mites inhabit the ear canals. Harvest mites are most densely located in the paws, the base of the tail, ears, armpits, and groins. Cheyletiella mites are commonly found along the dog’s back. 

Do Allergies in Dogs attract mites?

No, allergies in dogs do not attract mites. Allergies are a unique condition arising from dermatopathies, although the symptoms overlap in some instances. 

Mites irritate the dog’s skin due to their presence and activity. Some mites trigger local allergic reactions in rare instances. 

True allergic reactions occur when the dog’s immune system mistakenly identifies and attacks proteins from the environment. Common causes of allergies in dogs are pollen, dust, feathers, dander, and mold spores. 

How do Mites Affect a Dog's Health besides the Skin?

Mites affect a dog's health besides the skin by harming a dog’s general health. Mites negatively impact the dog’s life quality and longevity. 

Mites make dogs’ skin itchy. Constant itching triggers anxiety, which harms dog immunity. Dogs with low immunity are susceptible to infectious diseases. 

The skin lesions associated with mites are uncomfortable or even painful. The lesions are prone to secondary infections manifesting with systemic signs and symptoms. 

Fever (increased body temperature), reduced appetite, weight loss, lethargy, depression, and enlarged lymph nodes are common mite-related effects in dogs. 

What are the different Types of Dog Mites?

The different types of dog mites are listed below. 

  • Ear Mites: Ear mites are tiny parasites that feed on ear wax and oils and live in dogs' ear canals. The mites cause severe ear infections that manifest with head shaking, ear scratching, and black ear discharge. 
  • Sarcoptes: Sarcoptex mites are microscopic, highly contagious mites that borrow canals into the dog’s skin, causing a progressive and extremely itchy skin condition known as sarcoptic mange. 
  • Demodex: Demodex mites are normal skin inhabitants that overpopulate the skin during low immunity. The mites live in the hair follicles and complete all life stages in dogs as parasites. 
  • Harvest Mites: Harvest mites are tiny spider relatives that live on the skin's surface and feed on liquified skin cells during their larval stage. The harvest mite larvae are called chiggers. 
  • Cheyletiellosis: Cheyletiella spp., popularly called walking dandruff, is among the less common types of mites on dogs. The mites live on the surface and superficial layers of the skin, causing non-itchy scruffiness. 

1. Ear Mites

Ear mites are contagious tiny bugs that parasite in the dog’s ear canals. The mites rarely leave the dog’s ears and are found on the skin’s surface. 

Ear mites crawl, causing itchiness and irritation. The mite is hardly visible to the naked eye, but its symptoms, waxy discharge, and head shaking are obvious.

The mites live for roughly two months and constantly reproduce. A few ear mites in dogs cause serious ear infections.  

2. Sarcoptes (Sarcoptic Mange)

Sarcoptes mites, known as itch mites, are small, burrowing parasites found worldwide. The mites are highly contagious and quickly spread to other dogs, pets, and humans. 

Sarcoptes mites burrow canals in dogs' skin, causing a condition known as scabies or mange. Severe itchiness and hair loss are standard symptoms of sarcoptic mange in dogs.  

Sarcoptes mites complete their entire life cycle in two to three weeks. The mites survive and stay contagious in the environment for 36 hours. 

3. Demodex (Demodectic Mange)

Demodex mites are microscopic, short or long, cigar-shaped mites that cause a skin disease called demodicosis or Demodex mange. 

Demodex mites live in hair follicles, causing local inflammation and bursting of the follicles. A hallmark of demodicosis in dogs is hair loss around the eyes and muzzle. 

The Demodex mite has a lifespan of several weeks. Dead mites decompose in the hair follicles and contribute to the clinical manifestation of Demodex mange

4. Harvest Mites

Harvest mites are tiny parasites whose larval stage (chiggers) lives on dogs and other warm-blooded animals. The other life stages live in the environment and feed on plants.

Harvest mites cause local irritation of the dog’s skin. The mites look like red or orange spots or dust in the dog’s coat. 

The lifespan of harvest mites ranges from two to twelve months, depending on environmental conditions and host availability. 

5. Cheyletiellosis

Cheyletiella is a rare but contagious parasite that lives on the skin’s surface in dogs, cats, and rabbits. The mites cause a mild skin irritation known as Cheyletiella dermatitis. 

The Cheyletiella mites are popularly called walking dandruff because of their appearance. Signs of cheyletiellosis include dry and itchy scaling that starts on the dog’s back and spreads. 

The mites have a life cycle of approximately three weeks. Cheyletiella mites spend all life stages as parasites. 

What are the Symptoms of Mites in Dogs?

The symptoms of mites in dogs are listed below. 

  • Intense Itching and Scratching: Intense itching is a telltale sign of mites on dogs and manifests with obsessive and disruptive scratching. The itching is primary when caused by the mite itself or secondary when triggered by a complication. 
  • Excessive Licking or Chewing of Affected Areas: Itchy dogs soothe the itchiness by licking, chewing, biting, or rubbing the affected areas. The licking and chewing leave saliva stains on the coat, easily noticeable on white and light-coated dogs. 
  • Red, Inflamed Skin: Redness is one of the main signs of inflammation. Dogs with mites develop red, inflamed skin that is warm and sensitive to the touch. The itching adds to the irritation, making the skin even more inflamed. 
  • Hair Loss: Hair loss, especially around the ears, face, and paws, is common in dogs with mites. Other areas susceptible to hair loss are the armpits, groins, belly, knees, and elbows. The medical term for hair loss is alopecia.  
  • Presence of Small Red Bumps or Lesions: Papules are among mites' most frequently seen lesions. Papules are raised red bumps with a diameter of less than one centimeter. The papules progress into ulcers or bleeding lesions. 
  • Crusty or Scaly Skin: The changing nature of the skin lesions causes crusts and scaly skin. Crusts form when discharge from oozing wounds dries up, and scaliness is due to continuous damage and skin flaking. 
  • Ear Infections or Irritation: Ear infections or irritation (in cases of ear mite infestations) in dogs manifest with head shaking, ear pawing, and dark, waxy ear discharge. Ear infections are incredibly painful. 
  • Secondary Bacterial or Yeast Infections: The lesions and constant itching disrupt the normal skin barrier. Bacteria and yeast easily invade the skin when the barrier does not work properly, resulting in secondary bacterial or yeast skin infections. 
  • Thickened or Darkened Skin: Thickened or darkened skin are frequent mites on dogs symptoms occurring in the advanced stages of the infestation. Skin thickening and dark pigmentation are defense mechanisms that indicate severe skin damage.
  • Restlessness or Discomfort: The itchiness and pain caused by certain skin lesions make dogs restless and uncomfortable. The dog paces frantically, with trouble settling down, and is prone to mood swings. 

How to get rid of Mites on Dogs?

Get rid of mites on dogs by following the instructions below. 

  • Medicated Shampoos or Dips: Medicated shampoos with benzoyl peroxide and dips with lime sulfur and amitraz are excellent additions to the mite elimination process. The shampoos and dips are easy to use and help destroy mites. 
  • Topical Spot-on Treatments: Popular anti-parasitic treatment options include moxidectin, selamectin, imidacloprid, and fipronil. The liquid comes in a spot-on form and is applied directly on the dog’s skin. 
  • Oral Medications: Miticidal medications are available in oral form. The active ingredients include fluralaner, afoxolaner, moxidectin, and ivermectin. 
  • Injectable Medications: Ivermectin is one of the most popular injectable medications for mite elimination. The medication has limited application and must not be used in dogs with MDR-1 gene mutations, like Collies and certain Shepherd breeds. 
  • Ear Medications: Ear solutions with miticidal medications, such as pyrethrins dissolved in an oil base, help remove ear mites. The ears are first flushed and then treated with the medicated solution. 
  • Environmental Treatment: Wash bedding and dog items with hot and soapy water, vacuum the house thoroughly, and consider miticides for severe infestations. Miticides are commercially available chemicals that kill mites. 
  • Natural Remedies: The most popular natural remedy for removing mites in dogs is apple cider vinegar (ACV). Apple cider vinegar is helpful but is not universally effective and is not a substitute for mainstream mite treatment for dogs

How to Treat Mange in Dogs?

Treat mange in dogs by following the instructions below. 

  1. Consultation with a Veterinarian. Call the veterinarian and schedule an appointment to determine the type of mite causing problems. The vet creates a treatment plan based on the mite present and recommends the best products and meds. 
  2. Medicated Bath or Dips. Medicated baths and dips help eliminate some mites, soothe the skin, and remove dirt and debris. Baths and dips are a great addition to the mite treatment and help the medications penetrate deeper into the dog’s skin.  
  3. Topical Treatments. Topical treatments featuring selamectin, imidacloprid, and fipronil eliminate mites, treat infections, and prevent re-infection for several weeks based on the active ingredient. 
  4. Oral Medications. Oral medications with active ingredients like fluralaner, afoxolaner, and moxidectin treat current infections and have specific residual efficacy, protecting the dog from future infections. 
  5. Environmental Management. Mites stay contagious in the environment for a limited time. Clean the environment thoroughly and use miticidal chemicals to prevent mites from causing re-infections. 
  6. Follow-Up Care. Schedule a follow-up visit with the vet to check the dog’s healing and prevent future mite infections. 
  7. Preventative Measures. Keep the dog up-to-date on preventative anti-parasitics, such as chews, spot-ons, or collars. Year-round protection is recommended in most areas. 

What does Mange look like on a Dog?

Mange looks like hair loss, a reddened rash, and yellowish skin crusts on a dog. The distribution of the skin changes depending on the mite type. 

The ear margins, elbows, and other hairless body areas are the most affected in dogs with scabies. The sides and tips of the ears are thickened and covered with a yellow, crusty material. 

The region around the eyes and muzzle is inflamed and alopecia-prone in dogs with demodectic mange. The lack of hair around the dog’s eyes makes it look like it is wearing sunglasses.  

Can Mange Kill Dogs?

Yes, mange can kill dogs. Mange is a debilitating skin condition that affects the dog’s mood, immunity, and food intake. Long-term or recurring mite infections are potentially life-threatening. 

Skin mites lead to emaciation in severe cases. Emaciated dogs are susceptible to infectious illnesses because of their weakened immune systems. 

How long does Mange's treatment last?

Mange treatment lasts several weeks to months. The treatment length depends on the specific mite, the infection's severity, and the treatment's type or promptness. 

“Dogs with mixed Demodex and Sarcoptes mites can recover from dermatitis after forty-two days of treatment,” says a study, “Dermatitis due to Mixed Demodex and Sarcoptes Mites in Dogs,” published in 2014. 

Sarcoptes mites stay contagious in the environment without a host for 36 hours, and Demodex mites are completely host-dependent. 

Dogs need weeks to months to treat because mange-associated skin lesions are slow-healing. 

How can CBD for Dogs help treat Mange?

CBD for dogs can help treat mange by reducing inflammation, pruritus (itchiness), pain, and anxiety. 

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a natural hemp extract. Given orally, CBD manages the main dermopathy symptoms by interacting with the dog’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). Applied directly on irritated skin, CBD has a soothing and healing effect.  

Cannabidiol does not kill mites. Using CBD for dogs helps with the symptoms and provides temporary relief when combined with regular antiparasitics. 

How to prevent Mites on Dogs?

Prevent mites on dogs by following the instructions below. 

  1. Use Parasite Preventive Products. Keep the dog up-to-date on parasite preventatives, which come in different forms (collars and spot-on liquids). Ask the vet to create an anti-parasite protocol based on the dog’s lifestyle and season. 
  2. Treat all Pets in the Household. Ensure all pets in a multi-pet household are protected from mites. Mites are contagious and easily spread between dogs and cats. Protecting all pets is the best way of preventing mite infections. 
  3. Practice Frequent Grooming. Brush the dog regularly. Grooming allows the owner to inspect the dog's skin and notice changes. Mechanical brushing helps remove debris, loose hair, and sometimes mites not lodged into the dog’s skin. 
  4. Limit Exposure to High-Risk Areas. Limit the dog’s access to high-risk areas if its anti-parasite protection is not updated. High-risk areas include dog parks, grooming facilities, and boarding kennels. 
  5. Feed a High-Quality Diet. Provide the dog with a quality and nutritious diet to boost its immune system. A strong immune system has a better chance of fighting mite infections. Probiotic supplements help fortify the dog’s immunity.  
  6. See the Vet on a Regular Basis. Schedule regular veterinary visits to monitor the dog’s health. The vet visit is the perfect opportunity to catch skin issues early on before they progress into more severe conditions.