SlimDoggy Health Check: Parasites – Skin
Wrapping up our SlimDoggy Health Check on Parasites, we want to cover skin parasites. These are VERY common in dogs and cats and include:
Lots of nasty critters that you have to contend with and sorry to say most dogs are going to get one or two of these, probably more than once. Let’s dig in and take a look.
Fleas are easy to catch and hard to get rid of. They thrive in warm humid atmosphere. If you’ve never seen a flea on your dog, they look like tiny little black or brown bugs no bigger than a sesame seed. You would probably notice ‘flea dirt’ before you see an actual flea. Flea dirt (flea droppings) look like flecks of black pepper and you may see them on your dog or in their hair when you brush them. This is a sure sign you are on your way to an infestation. Another symptom is itching, but be aware that your dog may not show signs of itching until they are infested with fleas. At that point, the itching may be more pronounced and your dog may develop redness or hot spots. Fleas bite your dogs and suck the blood. If your dog has a flea allergy, their reactions may be more severe and the itching and hot spots may develop more quickly.
Treatment of your dog for fleas can take many forms depending on the severity. There are powders, collars, monthly spot treatments, homeopathic remedies and diet alternations. We’re not going to recommend a treatment here as they are dependent on your dog, your environment and your own preferences. You should speak with your vet about what is suitable for your situation for both treatment and prevention.
Be aware that the lifecycle of the flea is long. The females lay eggs and they develop into pupae that may fall from your dog onto your carpet or your dog’s bed and emerge months later. If your dog has a heavy infestation, you need to treat not only your dog, but your house and your garden to rid your home and yard of these pesky critters.
Ticks are our second least favorite parasite that we find on our dogs. Ticks are usually found in wooded areas or areas with low shrubs and undergrowth. The ticks sit on these shrubs anxiously waiting for a host to walk by. They will attach themselves to any likely host, so not only dogs can attract ticks, they like cats and even humans. I hate to say there’s been many times I’ve come home from a walk with the dogs with ticks climbing on my sweatpants.
There’s no real symptoms other than visual inspection. Depending on the color of your dog, you may actually SEE the ticks climbing around and be able to remove them before they attach. Once they’ve attached, they are easy to see and feel and are usually found around the neck, ears or the folds of the skin. Once attached – by inserting their mouth into your dog’s skin – they begin feeding on your dog’s blood and become enlarged.
The diagnosis of a tick infestation can be serious. A few ticks are easily dealt with, but a tick infestation, in a dog with a weakened immune system, or a small dog can develop into anemia and even death. Ticks are capable of ingesting up to 100 times their body weight in blood. They may or may not bother your pet, so it’s important to check them regularly, especially during tick season if they have been in an environment where ticks might live.
Ticks also carry several diseases, Rocky Mountain Fever, Lyme disease and others, so you want to rid your dog of them as soon as they are discovered to minimize any potential risks of something more serious developing. Removal is best accomplished using tweezers and gently pulling the tick out slowly and steadily from your dog. Twisting, applying alcohol or burning the tick with a match are not optimal as you may cause more harm to the dog. Prevention can be accomplished with many over the counter treatments. Speak to your vet about which may be optimal for your pet and lifestyle.
There are two different mites found on dogs that cause mange: the Sarcoptes scabiei mite which causes Sarcoptic Mange and Demodex canis mite which causes Demodectic Mange.
Sarcoptic Mange: Sometime called scabies are caused by microscopic mites that burrow into your dog’s skin and create intense itching. It is highly contagious and while they prefer to live on dogs, they will infect other animals, including humans. The mites prefer to live on areas of your dog that have less hair and symptoms would include hair loss and intense itching usually on the belly, elbows, ears or armpits. Your dog may easily cause more harm from the itching than the mites themselves cause.
A severe infestation will show red pustules and yellow crusting on the skin. The constant irritation is traumatizing to the dog’s skin and darkened areas can develop that may never recover. Diagnosis can be tricky. It is usually done with a skin scrapping, but a negative scrapping does not always indicate a lack of the mites. It is often misdiagnosed as an allergy. Treatment is with medicated baths or dips, possibly clipping of the dog’s hair and medication to kill the mites. See your vet to discuss which is appropriate for your dog. Prevention can be a challenge as these mites can live in the environment free of a host for days. They aren’t travelers like fleas and ticks, so cleaning the environment is helpful.
Demodectic Mange: The Demodex canis mite can be found on most dogs all the time and typically cause no problems as the dogs natural immune system keeps them in check. They are not contagious, although they do spread easily from the mother to her pups. Virtually all mother’s transmit some of these mites to their pups and typically the pup’s immune system can stand up to them. If they are weakened by any underlying disease, or if they have not built up their immunity yet, then demodectic mange may result.
The first symptoms are hair loss, lesions and itching usually around the head. Typically, as the pups develop, their lesions will self-heal. If they don’t then treatment is required. Diagnosis is easily made with a skin scraping. Since the mites are found on all dogs, a diagnosis is the presence of the mites and the lesions on the skin. Most demodectic mange is localized and can be treated with topical ointment to the infected areas and possible oral medication. If it has become generalized over your dog’s body, treatment will be more difficult and may require specific medicinal drips over time. You will likely never rid your dog of the mites, and it will require monitoring. Since all dogs most likely have some of these mites on them, prevention is mainly focused on keeping your dog healthy and vibrant with a healthy immune system ready and able to fight off any infection.
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