What are Mites?
Mites are incredibly diverse and successful little creatures that belong to the arachnid family. While it may not be a pleasant thought, these eight-legged invertebrates are all around us and live in our homes, on our skin and on our pets.
In many cases, mites go unnoticed as the majority of them are microscopic and do not cause us any harm. However, there are a large variety of mite species and some of them can become problematic to both people and their pets.
One of the most concerning, and largest mites to affect our dogs are ticks. These blood-sucking parasites can cause a number of diseases including the serious Lyme Disease.
Other mites known to attack our pets include:
- Sarcoptes scabiei mites are particularly troublesome and when they infest your pet, they can cause sarcoptic mange or canine scabies. These mites are more prone to affect dogs and actually burrow into the skin of your pet to lay their eggs.
- Demodex mites usually live in the hair follicles of pets without causing any problems. It is only when a dog has a suppressed or immature immune system that these mites over-produce and can cause demodectic mange.
- Notoedres cati are mites that predominantly affect cats and are responsible for a type of mange known as feline scabies.
- Cheyletiella mites / fur mites are larger than most and can be seen with the naked eye. It causes Cheyletiella mange which is often referred to as walking dandruff because of the scales and flakes these mites produce.
- Ear mites are very contagious and while they can live anywhere on your pet’s body, they tend to infest the ears of dogs and can cause serious ear irritation and damage if not treated.
What Causes Mite Infestation?
Some mites such as demodectic mites occur naturally in small numbers on your pet and are often transmitted from mother to young in the first weeks of life. These mites are usually harmless and they only cause a problem in pets with weak immune systems. A weakened immune system means that these mites are not being kept in check and are able to over-populate.
Other mites such as those that cause canine scabies are highly contagious and can be transmitted if your pet comes into contact with other dogs with mites or environments where infected animals have been.
Diagnosing Mite Infestation
Mites, aside from ticks, are usually only noticed when skin problems and mange become evident. Mange is usually characterized by itchy skin, hair loss and general skin irritation, and if your pet shows any of these symptoms then a thorough examination at your local vet is necessary.
Skin scrapings and biopsies can sometimes help to determine what type of mite is causing the trouble, although, in some cases these tests are not accurate. Many cases of mange are diagnosed based on a physical examination, as well as a thorough description of your pet’s history and presenting symptoms.
Help for Mite Infestation
Conventional methods of eradicating mites will often depend on the type of mite living on your pet. However, most conventional treatments will involve some type chemical based lotion, dip or shampoo. Many of these products contain harsh chemicals such as amitraz, ivermectin, and selamectin which often come with warnings and side-effects.
In some cases, oral medication can be prescribed however, it is always important to remember that these drugs work because they are poisons that kill the mites, so be sure to research side-effects and any possible health risks before giving them to your pet.
Like many parasites, mites on dogs are not always easy to get rid of. Luckily, there are a number of natural herbal ingredients that can be used as a safe and effective alternative to the harsh chemicals present in so many conventional mite treatments. A commonly used herb used to get rid of a number of parasites (including mites) is Garlic which has become renowned for its natural repellent and antibacterial properties.
Another beneficial herbal ingredient that can be used when treating pets for mites is Wormwood. This natural pesticide has been used for centuries as a natural parasite repellant and is frequently used to rid pets of mange, worms and ear mites.
Neem and Lemongrass also act as natural insecticides and their natural skin healing properties help to soothe irritated skin and promote healing after a nasty mite infestation. Lastly, the herbal ingredient Niaoli works as an antiseptic, and helps to cleanse and heal the skin. It also works as an excellent tissue stimulant and can be given to pets to help the skin heal and re-build after a mange infestation.