Are Mites That Feed on Dogs Visible to the Naked Eye?

by Tammy Quinn Mckillip
Dogs love rolling in the sand, but the beach is an easy place to pick up parastic mites.

Dogs love rolling in the sand, but the beach is an easy place to pick up parastic mites.

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Your dog is vulnerable to mites every time he goes outside or encounters a pet that has outdoor access. These tiny parasites can cause itching and skin disorders that could become serious. What's more -- they are easily spread to other members of your household. Some mites, though tiny, are visible with the naked eye. Even microscopic mites may leave a trail of evidence on or near the surface of your dog's skin. Learn to recognize the signs of mites quickly as your first line of defense against mange or dermatitis.

Four Types of Mange Mites

Though they are sometimes microscopic, the four types of mites that cause mange leave strong evidence of their infestation on your dog. Sarcoptic mites nestle into the skin near your dog's ears or eyes and may make your pet so itchy that she scratches obsessively at her fur, ultimately leaving large bald spots, crusty, smelly scabs or oozing open sores. If your dog has sarcoptic mites, she will most likely have an unpleasant odor. Her mites can easily spread to your other pets and may cause scabies in humans. Demodectic mites, which are sometimes hereditary, will burrow in near the fur follicles and cause intense itching or infected pustules. Cheyletiella mites are sometimes called walking dandruff due to their white, scaly appearance on the skin and the fact that they are moving. They contribute to dry, itchy, scaly skin on your dog, who may lick excessively to relieve the itch. Harvest mites, which feed on your dog's paws or legs, are red, about the size of a pinhead and visible to the naked eye. If your dog licks at her feet excessively during the summer or autumn, she may have harvest mites.

Barely Visible Ear Mites

Ear mites are tiny white parasites that nest in your dog's ear wax. They are visible to the naked eye, but they move very slowly and are so light in color that you may miss them at first. If your dog shakes his head and paws or scratches at his ears, he may have picked up ear mites. Household cats are also frequent carriers of these opportunistic little parasites.

Treating Mange Mites

If mange mites are suspected, your veterinarian will most likely take a scraped sample of your dog's skin to examine under a microscope, even when mite evidence is visible to the naked eye. Sarcoptic and demodectic mange mites are easily treated with medicated shampoo. You may wish to replace your pet's bedding, though these mites will not live for very long off the host. Cheyletiella mites have a longer life cycle and may need to be treated over several weeks to ensure that all the larvae and mites have been completely eradicated. Thoroughly wash or destroy your dog's bedding to reduce the chance of re-infestation. Since mites are easily passed from pet to pet, isolate your dog as much as possible until the problem has been resolved and look closely at other household pets for evidence of mite infestation.

Treating Harvest and Ear Mites

Harvest mites are easily treated with a few doses of medicated shampoo. Check your dog's paws and legs after shampooing to be sure the tiny red mites have all been removed. Treat ear mites with special medicated drops and gently remove wax buildup on your dog's ear with a cotton swab. Monitor the mite situation with frequent visual inspections of your dog's ears.

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