Mite-related skin irritations might seem like something only stray dogs have to worry about. But make no mistake: While the "mangy mutt" on the street might be a bit more susceptible, it's entirely possible for your house pet to come down with skin issues, too.
The root cause of mite-induced skin irritation is an infestation of tiny, microscopic mites on dog's skin. What follows is intense itching and scratching, which leads to the visible symptoms of skin irritation in dogs, including hair loss and scabs on the skin.
Let's take a closer look at the different types of mite-related skin irritation and how your dog might get it. We'll also cover the major symptoms, how it's treated, and what you can do to keep your dog safe.
Cause and Types of Mite-Related Skin Irritation
As mentioned, the problem is caused by mites — highly contagious ones. These mites burrow into your dog's skin and cause itching and rashes. Your dog scratches in response, causing further symptoms.
The severity of a case depends on the type of mite that is causing it. There are two main types of mite-related skin irritation: Sarcoptic and demodectic.
Sarcoptic mite-related skin irritation is caused by the sarcoptes scabiei mite. It's the most common form, and usually the most severe type of mite-related skin irritation. These microscopic pests infest a dog and then mate — the female mites burrow into the host's skin to lay their eggs, causing the intense itching associated with this kind of infestation.
It seems that sarcoptes scabiei mites prefer skin without hair on it, so they'll often burrow into hairless areas like the ear flaps, belly, or elbows. However, over time the mite infestation will spread to the entire body.
Dogs experience sarcoptic mite-related skin irritation when they come into contact with another infected animal. This could happen just about anywhere that your dog encounters other pets, including animal shelters, kennels, boarding facilities, the groomer, dog parks, or even veterinary clinics.
Demodectic mite-related skin irritation isn't as common as the sarcoptic version and is mostly seen in puppies and younger dogs. It’s caused by the demodex canis mite, which lives in hair follicles. Most adult dogs already have these types of mites living naturally in their skin and hair — so do humans. Most of the time, dogs and humans have these mites without ever suffering any problems.
Puppies catch the demodex canis mite from their mother during the nursing period, and usually nothing comes of it. But sometimes the number of mites living on your dog increases dramatically, and a case of mite-related skin irritation develops. It's especially likely in puppies who have compromised immune systems, and it's also possible that genetic factors play a role.
Symptoms of Mite-Related Skin Irritation in Dogs
The symptoms of sarcoptic mite-related skin irritation include intense itching, abnormal inflammatory response, and red, crusty sores on the skin. This type of mite-related skin irritation usually makes dogs the itchiest, since the mites burrow into the skin. It's likely that your dog will experience hair loss because of all the scratching. Your dog may also develop secondary issues as they self-traumatize in this way.
The symptoms of demodectic mite-related skin irritation include red scabs, scaly skin, and hair loss. Demodectic mite-related skin irritation might be localized in one area of the body, or it may affect the whole body at once . It's also possible for a demodectic mite infestation to only affect the paws.
Treating Mite-Related Skin Irritation in Dogs
Skin scraping tests are used to help diagnose mite-related skin irritation in cases of both sarcoptic and demodectic versions. However, skin scrapings aren't completely reliable for diagnosing sarcoptic mite-related skin irritation, as they only find mites in about half of cases.
In the case of demodectic mite-related skin irritation, symptoms must be present in addition to the presence of the mites, since the mites live on almost all adult dogs to begin with. So, for both types, a definitive diagnosis is reached largely based on the symptoms the dog is showing.
The support of mite-related skin irritation might involve several approaches, including things like:
- Oral medication or medicated shampoos, creams, or gels that kill mites
- Antibiotics (for secondary issues)
- Quarantine from other dogs or pets in the house so the infestation doesn't spread
- Cleaning of your dog's items, like collars, leashes, and beds
Work closely with your veterinarian if your dog develops a case of mite-related skin irritation. Luckily, with modern veterinary care and medication, cases are usually easily treatable. Keep in mind that dogs with poor health or compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of contracting a mite infestation.
Transmission to Humans or Other Pets
We've already mentioned that harmful mites can be transmitted from your dog to other dogs or pets in the house. But you may be wondering if it's possible for your dog to transmit mites to you or other people.
When it comes to transmission to humans, the answer isn't a simple yes or no. The sarcoptes scabiei mite can be transmitted from pets to humans, but it cannot complete its life cycle in humans — it will die off on human skin after a few days. That said, you can still experience intense itching during that time, so it may still be necessary to seek medical help.
Take basic hygiene precautions if you're handling a dog with mite-related skin irritation. Wear gloves and avoid direct contact with your skin or hair. You'll want to wash your clothing after handling your dog as well.
If you have multiple pets in the house and one of them contracts a case of mite-related skin irritation, your veterinarian will probably recommend treating all household pets just to be safe. Otherwise, the mites may transmit to other pets before they're killed and reinfect a recently cured pet, creating an endless cycle.
Your vet might also advise you to quarantine your affected dog in one area of the house and restrict contact with other pets in order to prevent any spreading of the mites.
How to Prevent Mite-Related Skin Irritation in Dogs
There is no foolproof preventative measure against mite-related skin irritation, and it's possible for any dog to develop the condition. That said, keeping your dog in good health at all times is the best way to make a case of mange much less likely since dogs with compromised health and immune systems are more at risk.
Feed your pooch a balanced diet and exercise them regularly. You may also want to add healthy supplements to promote good immune health. Be sure your pup is up to date on essential vaccinations and is current on their flea, tick, and worm preventatives.
By taking these basic health precautions and doing your part to make sure your dog stays healthy, you’ll greatly reduce the chance that your dog will suffer from a case of mite-related skin irritation.
If you notice that your canine companion is scratching himself more than usual, let your veterinarian know. Even if mites aren't the cause, there are plenty of other health concerns — fleas, skin problems, allergies, etc. — that could cause similar symptoms to those of mite-related skin irritation.
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