Dog Mites: Symptoms, Causes & Natural Remedies
Mites are to dogs what the common cold is to humans: they’re contagious and prevalent enough that most dogs who have lived with others of their species have experienced some form of mites.
Not all cases of mites are problematic. In fact, most infestations occurring among puppies resolve themselves. These microscopic, transparent, crab-like parasites are just a part of life. But there are certain types of mite infestations that can cause skin irritation and result in more serious health complications. Even dogs who are well-cared for can develop mite infestations that will become harmful if left unmanaged.
Types of Dog Mite Infestations
Mite infestations that cause skin irritation are also called “mange.” But getting down to the nitty gritty, there are four types of mites that result in noticeable symptoms and effects. They include:
- Sarcoptes scabiei - cause sarcoptic mange, also known as canine scabies. These burrow into the skin rather than merely reside on its surface
- Otodectes cynotis - ear mites marked by a black or brownish-red crust in the ear
- Demodex canis - live in hair follicles and are common even on healthy dogs, but can cause demodectic mange
- Cheyletiella yasguri - mites that reside on the surface, “walking dandruff”
While it’s not particularly pleasant to think of tiny parasites riding around on your furry best pal, demodex mites in particular are often found on healthy, well-cared for dogs. Their presence isn’t problematic unless the dog’s immune system is compromised and cannot fend off overpopulation. When the mite population increases, it results in itching and inflammation, which can ultimately lead to a bacterial infection. Pets with weak immune systems will be more likely to develop bad cases of mites.
While minor cases of demodectic mange are common among puppies and usually clear up on their own, certain risk factors may make the infestation harder to get rid of and more problematic. Stress, an unclean environment, cases of intestinal heartworms, and infections can all increase the risk of developing a problematic case of mites. Pregnant and nursing dogs and their puppies are also at higher risk.
Untreated demodectic mange can be deadly. If you see patchy skin on the face, your dog may be suffering from this type of mange, which will eventually spread all the way to the rear. Demodectic mange in puppies is usually localized, while older dogs more often suffer from generalized demodectic mange. Visit a trusted veterinarian immediately if you suspect your dog may have this type.
You may recognize “demodex mites” as a parasite that can also live on humans; but before you get chills up your spine, you should know that your dog cannot spread its particular brand of demodex mites to you even though the condition is contagious as it relates to pets.
When in close contact with the Cheyletiella or Sarcoptes mite, you as the owner may develop a patch of discoloration or minor red rash. This isn’t serious and should clear up with a shower or bath.
Symptoms of Dog Mites
Regardless of what type of mite is hitching a ride on your dog, the symptoms can be bothersome, uncomfortable, and even painful. Here are some signs that will help you identify the presence of mites:
- Intense itchiness expressed in scratching, biting, licking, rubbing on furniture
- Scaly or crusty skin
- Inflammation and redness
- White flakes
- Oily, smelly substance
- Hair loss
- Lesions on the elbow and ankles
- Raw skin
- Shaking the head and scratching the ears (ear mites)
- Black or dark brownish-red residue (ear mites)
- Obstruction of ear canal (ear mites)
If you don’t address mites promptly, than can lead to more serious complications. Dogs who excessively shake their heads, whether due to ear mites or an ear infections, can develop a hematoma (or swelling of blood) in the brain. Infections can also occur with prolonged skin irritation. Some of the worst symptoms occur as the result of self-trauma out of reaction to the itching and discomfort; incessant ear scratching can result in damage to the ear canal. If you think your dog may have a mite infestation/mange, visit a holistic vet who can recommend care that will dig down to a potential underlying source of the issue rather than simply treat its symptoms.
A less common form of mange called pododermatitis affects the dog’s paws and causes bacterial infections. There’s also a rare form of nasal mites called pneumonyssoides.
Sometimes symptoms of other health issues appear similar to mites and mange. You may need to rule out a bacterial infection, chiggers, fleas, or an allergic reaction before choosing a course of treatment. Many people take their dog to the vet thinking mange is an allergic reaction. Symptoms that you think indicate the presence ear mites - such as head tilting, head rubbing, and ear residue - may actually indicate an ear infection. The color of the residue usually differs; ear infection discharge is usually more of a rusty color rather than black. Inflammation and irritation alone could signal that a foreign object is lodged in the ear. Be sure to pause and make sure you’re addressing the right underlying cause before treating the ears for ear mites.
Natural Dog Mite Remedies
Mite infestation is a treatable condition with a variety of solutions. After diagnosing a mite infestation, a traditional veterinarian will most likely prescribe either a topical treatment - a dip, shampoo, or cream - or oral medication, or they’ll prescribe both concurrently. In some cases, the vet will prescribe an antibiotic or antifungal medication to address a secondary infection.
Harsh chemical dips can have harmful side effects like vomiting, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. Insecticides may kill the mites, but they aren’t exactly ideal for your pet’s health. A holistic veterinarian will know of safer, gentler solutions. A holistic vet will not only provide a solution for the symptoms, but also consider how your dog’s diet and lifestyle may be affecting their immune system. A dog with a well-rounded, nutritional, and natural diet will have a healthier immune system that’s able to control mite populations before they get out of hand.
Whatever treatment route you and your vet choose, it’s important to thoroughly clean and disinfect your dog’s bed and other belongings. Wash any sheets, plush toys, rugs, collars, leashes, or cushion covers your dog may have used while affected by the mites. Separate the infected dog from other household pets in a comfortable and safe area. Wash your hands and change your clothes after handling or providing care to a dog with mites.
If the symptoms of the mite infection are mild, you may be able to treat your furry companion at home with natural dog mite remedies. If you see symptoms of ear mites, a natural ear mite and infection treatment containing no harmful chemicals can help gently clear up the issue. You’ll need to keep your dog calm while you administer the drops in the ear canal and massage the base of the ear for 60 seconds. Wipe dry with a cotton swab - and never use a Q-Tip! Thin, hard objects like Q-Tips can damage your dog’s ear drum.
It can take up to six weeks for the symptoms to fully resolve, so give your chosen treatment time to do its work. Too many vet visits could stress out your pup and also put it at risk of re-contracting mites due to the contact with other dogs in public places. Even if your dog’s symptoms start to clear up immediately, be sure to complete the course of treatment, following product or vet instructions. It’s a good idea to follow up with your veterinarian if you’re not sure whether the condition has cleared after six weeks. They can perform a skin scrape to see if mites are still present.
Unfortunately, some cases of mange are more chronic due to a suppressed or weak immune system. Cases like this will need long-term treatment and the advice of a holistic veterinarian. You may be able to improve your dog’s immune system with holistic treatment, which will help fight off mites and resulting infections. Refrain from breeding a dog that suffers from chronic mite infestations, as their immune system deficiencies may be hereditary.
Natural Dog Mite Prevention Tips
Since treatment is usually fairly straightforward, it may be tempting to only address mange or ear mites when they’re a problem. But you can get ahead of these issues and ward them off by taking everyday precautions that will help keep your pooch happy and healthy.
- Use all-natural pet shampoo to keep your pet clean. When you bathe your dog, be careful not to get water in the ears, as the moisture can lead to ear infections. Bathing a large dog can be difficult if they happen to be uncooperative, so you may want to take the activity outdoors rather than trying to convince a wary dog to jump in the tub.
- To relieve your pup from itchy skin, apply Wondercide’s skin tonic spray. The spray contains a powerful, yet soothing neem oil that supports skin health. You can also use the skin tonic oil for any localized patches or open wounds.
- Ask questions about potential boarding or daycare facilities to make sure they meet sanitary standards that will help prevent mites from spreading.
- Make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water at all times.
- Select an all-natural, grain-free, dairy-free organic food that will help maintain your dog’s overall health and strengthen their immune system.
- Incorporate immune-boosting supplements. Neem bark powder can help offer digestive and immune support.
- Clean your dog’s ears with natural ear wash once per month.
- When you adopt or rescue a stray dog, thoroughly examine it for signs of mites and mange. If the mange is advanced and there is hair loss or redness, visit a veterinarian as soon as possible.
- You can turn to home remedies in a pinch to help soothe symptoms, including apple cider vinegar and honey. Honey is a natural antiseptic and gentle on the skin, but make sure you choose natural honey as opposed than a brand with artificial colors or added sugar. Apple cider vinegar is an all-natural astringent. It’s smell is potent, but it can gently help get the job done!
- Don’t get too experimental with home remedies or make uninformed guesses because this could lead to further irritation. Don’t substitute online advice for the advice of a credentialed veterinarian.
- Wash your dog’s bedding on a regular basis whether or not there are symptoms of mange.
- Brush and comb your dog and keep the coat trimmed if necessary.
- Be sure to use natural products when washing your dog and their belongings so as not to evoke an allergic reaction to harsh chemicals or artificial fragrances.
- Let friends and family members know about mite infestations so you don’t have any cases of dogs that come in frequent contact with each other passing it back and forth. Tell them about the symptoms and natural ways to address the symptoms if they occur.
Maintaining general cleanliness and a healthy diet will greatly decrease your dog’s chances of contracting mites. Avoidance of high-traffic dog areas will also lessen the risk.
Many dog enthusiasts open their home to needy strays and foster pups, and some of these can be “mangy mutts.” If you happen to be one of these generous people, make sure to keep your house clean and have a safe, separate place for any dog you suspect may have a mite infestation. If you address the symptoms quickly and thoughtfully, you’ll have one happy, dog-friendly family.