|Skin Problems Caused by Parasites (Fleas, Ticks, Mange Mites and More)
A parasite is an organism (a flea, for example) that spends a significant portion of its life in or on the living tissue of a host organism (your pet) and which causes harm to the host without immediately killing it. Some parasites are relatively innocuous, some are not, and some can cause serious skin problems.
Fleas, Flies, Chiggers, Ticks, and Gnats
When a pet parent sees her dog scratching and biting at itself, the first thing she thinks is “Oh no! Fleas!” Chiggers, deer flies, and gnats (sometimes called No-See-Ums) can be considered nuisances and generally do not create remarkable systemic skin problems. But repeated exposure to fleas can trigger a hypersensitivity to the bite of even a single flea, leading to an allergic response, and ultimately to hot spots or worse. Tick bites seldom trigger an allergic reaction, but can leave a slow-healing lesion.
Mighty Mites and Mange
Mites are microscopic creatures resembling tiny spiders. Among the species that attack animals are members of the Sarcoptic mange mites (family Sarcoptidae), which burrow under the skin. Demodex mites (family Demodicidae) are parasites that live in or near the hair follicles of mammals, including humans. Cheyletiella mites look like tiny spiders under a magnifying glass and are often called “Walking Dandruff” because upon close inspection it seems like little flakes of dry skin are actually moving about.
Sarcoptic mites are very nasty critters. Called scabies, infestations of these mites are highly contagious and produce intense itching, reddening of the skin, thinning of the hair (alopecia) and
||development of crusts and scabs. Bacterial skin infections commonly occur in the inflamed, irritated skin.
Sarcoptic mite infestation, or mange, is frequently misdiagnosed as allergic dermatitis by even very competent and experienced veterinarians. The mites burrow right down into the skin where they are virtually undetectable by skin scrapings. Sarcoptic mites prefer skin with little hair, so they are most numerous on the ears, elbows, abdomen and hocks. As the disease spreads, hair is lost and eventually the mites occupy large areas of skin.
Sadly, many dogs are treated with cortisone or prednisone for a supposed allergic dermatitis when in fact these Sarcoptic mites are the cause of the pruritic or inflamed skin, and the unnecessary cortisone eventually makes the condition worse.
Then there are Demodectic (or Demodex) mites, which cause another kind of mange. These mites are found in small numbers in the hair follicles of normal pets. In stressful situations, however, they proliferate, and large numbers inhabit the skin and hair follicles.
The good news is that Demodex mites can easily be seen on a skin scraping viewed under the microscope. The less good news is that generalized demodicosis is serious and often difficult to treat. Large areas of the body may be affected, and often the affected areas are also infected by bacteria. In these cases, the skin is red, crusty and warm, and has many pustules. It may bleed easily and has a strong, rancid odor.
DERMagic products stop infections associated with parasitic infestations, and kill certain parasites outright.