There are plenty of things more painful than an itch, but few are more annoying. And when your dog has mites, that itch is relentless.
Most dogs get mites at one point or another. In that way, they’re similar to the human cold: ubiquitous and unwanted, but not typically life-threatening.
But that doesn’t mean that mites should be ignored. Far from it — if left untreated, certain types of mites can cause more severe health problems.
And even if they don’t, no dog wants to suffer from that insatiable itch any longer than it needs to!
We’ve got everything you need to know about dog mites, from life cycle to symptoms to remedies. The sooner you get rid of your dog’s mites, the better everyone in your home will feel, so read on!
What are Dog Mites?
Mites are unavoidable whether you have a dog or not. These tiny parasites are members of the arachnid family (the same one spiders belong to) and they’re absolutely everywhere.
The grass on your lawn, the fibers of your carpet, other dogs, and people you meet every day… mites are as much a fact of life as the air we breathe and the water we drink.
It’s possible but difficult to see mites with the naked eye. They’re under a millimeter long and transparent, plus some species burrow under the skin rather than crawling on top of it.
But peer at one under a microscope and you’ll see a minuscule crab-like organism with a round, broad body and eight little legs.
It takes just three weeks for a mite to emerge from its egg and start producing eggs itself. The rapid life cycle of these parasites makes them difficult to control.
Thankfully, many dog mites don’t cause any symptoms at all. It all depends on the exact species of mite and your dog’s overall health.
The Four Species of Dog Mites
There are four distinct species of mites that infest dogs. Each species requires a different treatment, and in some cases, treatment may not be needed at all.
Demodex Canis: The Demodex Mite
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a dog without Demodex mites. They live in canine hair follicles and are typically present since the first days of puppyhood.
The good news is that in most cases, Demodex mites are totally harmless.
Most dogs develop an immunity to Demodex mites very early on in life. Once this immunity develops, the mites cause no symptoms.
And Demodex canis mites only live on canines, so they won’t spread to humans or other pets. Other Demodex mite species can infest humans, but not the dog variety, so your pup won’t transfer his pests to you!
So what’s the problem with Demodex mites? Well, when they infest a malnourished or immunocompromised dog, things can start to get ugly.
A dog with a poor immune system due to malnutrition, young age, old age or illness can’t develop immunity to Demodex mites. Puppies, pregnant dogs, elderly dogs, neglected dogs and sick dogs are all at a higher risk of problematic infestation.
As mite population on the dog increases, symptoms of demodectic mange may appear.
These symptoms include hair loss (especially on the face) and skin thickening. You may notice bald patches or increased scratching, though most dogs with demodectic mange don’t experience itching.
Demodectic mange on healthy puppies usually resolves itself over time. But sick or otherwise weakened dogs have a much harder time fighting it off, and that’s when things get dangerous.
Untreated demodectic mange can lead to staph or yeast infections. These conditions are far more serious and can be life-threatening if not promptly addressed.
Treating Demodex Mites on Dogs
Most Demodex mite cases have no effects on your dog and don’t require treatment. But if you suspect that your dog is showing symptoms of demodectic mange, visit a vet for a diagnosis.
Your vet will take a small skin sample and examine it under a microscope. This is necessary to confirm that the mites are Demodex canis and not another, more serious species.
Localized mange can be treated with a topical medication that your vet will prescribe you. More widespread mange can be resolved with a bath in shampoo containing benzoyl peroxide.
Your vet may also prescribe ivermectin, isoxazoline or a similar oral medication. Since dogs with demodectic mange are usually immunocompromised, it is critical to follow your vet’s instructions correctly and avoid unapproved home remedies or other treatments.
Sarcoptes Scabiei: The Scabies Mite
Far more serious than Demodex mites, the Sarcoptes mite is one of the nastiest dog parasites out there. It causes scabies, a painful and unsightly condition that can be deadly if left untreated.
Sarcoptes mites burrow under your dog’s skin, making them very difficult to spot. If your dog is infested, you’ll see the symptoms before you see the mites themselves.
Scabies starts out with intense itching and red skin, particularly in areas with thin hair like the belly and armpits. Hair loss will usually occur, revealing hard, dry, crusty lesions on the skin.
As the condition worsens, the lesions left by the mites can become infected. This can lead to fever, vomiting, lethargy and other serious symptoms.
And unlike Demodex mites, Sarcoptes mites can be transferred from your dog to you. If you’re infested, you’ll experience the same itchy skin, redness and crusty lesions as your dog.
Treating Sarcoptes Mites and Scabies on Dogs
Veterinary care is essential when treating scabies. There aren’t any reliably effective home remedies, and the risk of the condition worsening is too great.
Your vet will take a skin sample to check for mites, but these often turn up negative as the mites burrow too deep. Even if no mites are seen, the vet will likely prescribe scabies medication just in case.
These medications typically include the flea and tick preventatives selamectin (commonly sold as Revolution) and imidacloprid/moxidectin (commonly sold as Advantage Monthly). Depending on the severity of the case, other medications may be used, including fipronil, isoxazoline or ivermectin.
Otodectes Cynotis: The Ear Mite
Ear mites, as you might expect, live in the ear and cause many of the same symptoms as other mites: itching and redness.
You’ll notice your dog scratching its ears relentlessly and shaking its head roughly. These actions can lead to lesions, swelling and pain.
Additionally, you may notice black debris in and around your dog’s ears. It’s a telltale sign of ear mite infestation, as other pests don’t cause this symptom.
Puppies and sick dogs are most likely to be afflicted with ear mites. But any dog of any age could be susceptible, so check your dog’s ears regularly for signs of infestation.
Treating Ear Mites in Dogs
Mild cases of ear mites may resolve themselves and don’t need veterinary attention. You can use over-the-counter drops like Hartz UltraGuard to provide relief and speed up the healing process.
If over-the-counter treatments don’t work, see a vet to obtain prescription medication. This may consist of Rx-only ear drops or a topical pest treatment like selamectin.
Cheyletiella Yasguri: The Walking Dandruff Mite
This mite’s name says it all: it looks like a tiny dandruff flake moving around on your dog’s skin. It’s fairly uncommon as it’s controlled by most topical flea medications, but infestation still happens.
As with the other dog mites, walking dandruff causes severe itching and redness. You may notice a rash consisting of small red splotches, against which the mites are often easily visible.
Walking dandruff is highly contagious and can affect cats, humans and rabbits in addition to dogs. Quick diagnosis and treatment is essential to avoid your household becoming overrun with the mites.
Treating Walking Dandruff on Dogs
Weekly baths with pyrethrin shampoos usually resolves walking dandruff on adult dogs. Pyrethrins should not be used on puppies, so a lime-sulfur rinse is recommended instead.
If bathing doesn’t kill the mites, see a vet for advice. A topical flea/tick medication or an oral drug like ivermectin may be prescribed.