We all currently have mites burrowing in our skin. Every human and every dog has a population of microscopic mites living in our hair follicles and sebaceous glands (small oil glands in the skin).
It’s best not to think too hard about it.
For the most part, these mites go unnoticed and cause no harm—they may even be beneficial. Sometimes though, the mites that we and our dogs are host to become a problem. When their population begins to overgrow, they can become uncomfortable and cause disease.
Fortunately, we have the means to control or eliminate the parasitic mites that plague us and our pets. In this article, we’ll discuss what mites are, the different types of mites and how to properly deal with each one.
What is a mite?
Mites are small bugs that belong to the Arachnid class along with spiders, ticks, and scorpions. They are most closely related to ticks. Mites are either rounded or oblong in shape, have eight legs, and range in size from microscopic to 6mm (.25 inch) in length. There are several million species of mites affecting almost every species of animal on earth.
Can dog mites infest my home?
There are five types of mites that may affect your dog. None of them can cause long term infestations of the home, but they can take up residence temporarily and cause a lot of trouble.
Some dog mites are contagious and zoonotic (transmissible between humans and other animals). Catching mites from your dog and having to clear your house of an infestation is stressful and unpleasant, but not insurmountable.
Thanks to modern-day science we can beat the mites. With less trouble than you would think you can get your house back in order and your best friend’s infection under control.
Over the forty years of my career, I have helped countless dogs go from bald, crusty, and itchy to happy and tail-wagging with a beautiful new hair coat and a clean, mite-free home.
How to get rid of dog mites in your home
First, if the mite is contagious, isolate your dog in one room that is easy to clean.
If the mite is contagious and zoonotic wear gloves when handling your dog, change your clothes afterward and wash your hands. Keep immunosuppressed people far away from the affected dog and their living space.
While your dog is being treated for contagious mites wash their bedding and plush toys with hot water and detergent. Dry them on high heat. Soak dog brushes in a dilute bleach solution. Keep items that they come into contact with to a minimum (two bowls, one or two toys, one bed). You will have to wash these items frequently during the course of treatment.
Vacuum carpets and furniture that had contact with your dog often and mop floors with mild bleach or other disinfectant frequently.
Once your dog’s infestation has resolved one more good cleaning should do.
Most common types of dog mites
If you believe your dog is suffering from a mite-related skin disease, it’s recommended to see a veterinarian. Symptoms of various skin diseases can look similar, so a correct diagnosis is imperative for proper treatment.
Demodex canis is the primary mite responsible for causing Canine Demodicosis or demodectic mange. These mites are part of the normal flora, a common inhabitant of dog hair follicles and sebaceous glands.
Dogs fall prey to demodectic mange due to a weakened immune system that cannot control and contain the skin’s normal mite population.
Demodectic mange is not contagious or zoonotic. D. canis spends its entire life on its host dog. Since it can’t survive outside of its host, it won’t be able to infest your home.
Here are two common types of demodicosis:
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- Juvenile demodicosis occurs in dogs under one year of age. It’s usually seen on the muzzle, around the eyes, and on the forelimbs. You will see a few localized areas of hair loss and red flaky skin. As your puppy’s immune system matures, the lesions will resolve on their own. The disease rarely progresses to a generalized form.
- Generalized demodicosis can occur in young or adult dogs. It can be mild or severe and manifests as diffuse areas of hair loss, redness, papules, and crusty, oily skin. Secondary bacterial infections are common, sometimes contributing to serious systemic infections.
How to treat demodectic mange
Both treatments involve oral medications, medicated baths, and topical ointments. Most cases resolve completely within one to two months. However, some cases are stubborn and may take longer. In adult dogs, the underlying immunosuppressive cause must be found and treated. Neoplasia, Cushing’s disease, and severe malnutrition are often the culprits.
Sarcoptes scabiei var cani is the mite that causes Sarcoptic mange or scabies in dogs. It’s very contagious and also zoonotic.
Dogs, wolves, foxes, and coyotes are the primary hosts of the canine mite, S. scabiei var cani. Dogs infested with canine scabies will develop diffuse areas of red hairless skin covered in bumps and crusty sores. In more advanced cases, the skin also becomes thickened and oily.
Humans affected by canine scabies will develop transient, self-resolving rashes that are usually very itchy. Your physician can prescribe something to help the itch.
Secondary bacterial infections are not uncommon with this condition. Moreover, severe cases can cause systemic illness.
How to rid your dog and home of scabies
Scabies is spread through direct contact with an infested animal or through the environment (bedding, bowls, toys and collars). While contagious, your dog will need to be isolated from humans and all other pets. Be sure to wear gloves when handling.
Wash your pet’s bedding and plush toys in hot water with detergent. Dry them on high heat frequently. Vacuum the carpets and mop the floors with a mild bleach detergent. Wash the dog bowls daily. Since the mites don’t live long outside of their host, a thorough cleaning should suffice.
You can prevent the disease from reoccurring by applying topical medications that kill fleas, ticks, and mites on a monthly basis.
Canine infestations will require veterinary care. At the visit, your vet may prescribe oral and topical medications as well as medicated baths. You should see improvement within two to three weeks. Complete resolution of the disease should occur in six to eight weeks.
Noncompliance is the main reason the disease comes back. That’s why diligence in following the treatment plan and cleaning your dog’s environment are both necessary for a full resolution of the disease. All pets in the household will need to be treated, even those without symptoms, as they may harbor mites but be asymptomatic.
Otodectes cynotis is the mite that commonly infests the ear canal of dogs, cats, rabbits, and ferrets. Ear mites are easily transmitted from animal to animal through direct contact. Although extremely rare, there have been isolated cases of human infestation.
Signs that your dog is suffering from ear mites include: persistent head shaking, excessive scratching or rubbing of ears, redness or hair loss of the external ear, dark waxy buildup within the ear and aural hematomas (fluid filled pocket on the ear pinna or external ear flap).
How to treat ear mites
Fortunately, treating ear mites is relatively simple. There are several options including daily or monthly topical medications and injectable medications. Your veterinarian will let you know what they think is the best option for your pooch.
All dogs, cats, ferrets and rabbits in the household will need to be treated.
This mite does not live very long outside of its host. Washing your dogs’ bedding, toys, and collars with hot water and detergent as well as vacuuming all carpets is necessary. These should be sufficient to rid your house of mites once the pet’s infestation is over.
4. Cheyletiella spp. – “Walking Dandruff”
The Cheyletiella mite is responsible for Cheyletiellosis, a less common infestation of dogs also known as “Walking dandruff”.
This mite is very contagious and zoonotic.
Cheyletiellosis is called walking dandruff because while very small, the white dandruff-like mites can be seen moving about on your dog’s hair. The skin of affected areas will be scaly and very itchy. The most common area that these mites may affect your dog is on the back.
How to treat Walking Dandruff
Topical medications can easily treat this condition. Be sure to treat all dogs and cats in the household. It’s a good idea to contact your family doctor to discuss how to prevent your human family members from being affected.
During your pet’s treatment, diligent cleaning of bedding, toys, and collars is necessary to prevent spreading. Isolating affected pets is also necessary.
The mite can only survive in the environment for ten days making any lingering mites population very temporary.
5. Trombiculosis – Chiggers
Trombiculosis is another form of canine mange caused by mites of the Trombiculidae family, commonly called “chiggers”.
Your dog may catch chiggers when outside, typically in wooded or grassy areas. The mites crawl on your dog from infested ground.
Humans and other pet species can become infested with chiggers, but not through contact with other infested animals. The source of exposure and subsequent infestation is the natural outdoor environment.
Chiggers cause a lot of itching. They appear as orange-red dots grouped together on areas that are more sparsely haired like the head, belly, and sometimes feet.
Chiggers don’t stay on the host for more than a few days. When ready, they will drop off the host and make their way back to their natural environment. The itching usually resolves after about a week.
How to treat chiggers
To help aid your pup you can give them a warm bath and gently wipe the affected areas with a soft towel. This will help remove some of the chiggers, and sometimes it is all that is necessary.
If necessary, medications are available to treat the mites. These same medications can help to prevent future infections. Your veterinarian can help you decide which course of action you should take.
Washing bedding and toys and vacuuming carpets is sufficient to remove any lingering chiggers.
If chiggers are constantly affecting you and your dog, try doing some landscaping. Rid your yard of high grass, fallen trees and areas thick with wild brush.
Mange in Dogs and Cats, Michael W. Dryden, DVM, PhD, DACVM, Department of Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University
Reviewed/Revised Mar 2023, Modified Jun 2023
Veterinary Partner- VIN
Sarcoptic Mange (Scabies) in Dogs, Wendy Brooks, DVM-DABVP
Date published: 01/01/2001
Date Reviewed/Revised: 08/24/2023
NIH, National Library of Medicine
Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 2013 Jan; 7(1):157-157.
Published online 2012 Nov 12
Sarcoptic Mange: A Zoonotic Ectoparasitic Skin Disease, Kieran Madhusudhan Bandi and Chitralekha Saikumar
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.