By Dr Megan Kelly
Mites are small (usually <0.5 mm long) roughly circular, short legged insects which are barely visible to the naked eye. They originate from the same family as ticks.
Most mites are host specific but some can be passed to other animals as well as humans. If your pet has a mite infection you will need to treat him with a topical or systemic parasiticide which targets mites. There is not a great deal of success with treating mite infections with natural products and remedies and if left untreated they can spread and result in severe generalized infections which can take months to get under control. Collies and collie crosses are highly susceptible to side effects of some of the dips and treatments used for mites. Some can cause seizures and even death. Please always get your mite treatment from your vet and make sure you give the correct strength and dosage that has been prescribed.
Most mite infections are diagnosed by skin scrapings and identifying the mite under the microscope.
These are the most common mites found in cats and dogs
Often referred to as mange, this mite is highly contagious and can be passed to humans. It is spread mainly by direct contact as the mites do not survive for long periods in the environment.
The female mites burrow tunnels into the skin and lay eggs.
Signs: extreme itchiness, thick crusts and pets may often become secondarily infected with bacteria or yeast.
Distribution: abdomen, chest, ears, elbows and ankles. Pets can have either a localized or generalized infection.
Diagnosis is by skin scrapes but can sometimes be negative as one needs to scrape very deep in order to be able to get to the mites.
2. Feline Scabies (Feline mange)
Also known as feline mange this mite is also highly contagious.
Signs: severe itchiness, skin crusts and hair loss.
Distribution: ears, head and neck.
3. Otodectic Mange (Ear mites)
This mite can infect cats and dogs. It is a large white mite and is commonly known as the ear mite. The mites can survive for 8-12 weeks in the environment and so transmission can be direct (contact with another animal) or indirect (contact with an object the animal has touched)
Signs: head shaking, scratching, ear drooping, dark brown ear discharge and if the infection is severe they can even cause ear drum perforation.
Ear cleansing used in combination with topical treatment can assist with the treatment.
4. Cheyletiellosis (walking dandruff)
These yellow mites walk along the surface of the skin. They are very contagious and can be founding in cats, dogs, rabbits and humans.
Signs: scaling and itchiness
Distribution: along the back
With this mite it is important to treat the environment as well as the pet.
5. Canine Demodicosis (Demodectic mange)
This mite is only found in dogs and burrows it way into the hair follicles and the sebaceous glands. They are present in small numbers as part of normal skin flora. These small numbers can increase and take over in times when the pet is immunosuppressed or immunocompromised.
Signs: Hair loss, redness, blackheads and hyperpigmantation (darkening of the skin), can be a little itchy but only slightly.
Distribution: it can affect the whole body even between the paw pads.
Clipping the coat and washing with a benzyl peroxide shampoo which flushes the hair follicles together with the topical or systemic treatment is beneficial.
If your pet has been diagnosed with Sarcoptic mange or walking dandruff and one of your family starts showing lesions which are itchy please get treatment from your pharmacy.