Mites in Dogs & Humans
Mites exist naturally on both dogs and humans. Although usually not a threat, these microscopic creatures can become a problem for their hosts if they become too numerous. Mange is among the problems that can be caused by mites. There are many types of mites, and some can pose more of a health threat than others.
The vast majority of mites are invisible to the naked eye and their presence will not necessarily cause health problems. Some mites eat the dead skin cells that naturally slough off, while other mites burrow into the skin but usually are stopped by the host’s immune system. If the immune system is compromised, or if a host is carrying so many mites that the immune system cannot cope with them, mange occurs. Mange can cause hair to fall out, as well as unbearable irritation that leads the host to scratch incessantly, sometimes doing severe damage in the process.
Sarcoptic mites are one of the most common types found on dogs, and an infestation of sarcoptic mites in humans is commonly referred to as scabies. The mange caused by a severe sarcoptic mite infestation can be both persistent and damaging as it spreads quickly across the body. Sarcoptic mites spread easily from animal to animal, and can be transferred between dogs and humans. This, however, is less likely than human-to-human transmission or dog-to-dog transmission as different species of the sarcoptic mite prefer different animals.
Demodex mites are found in small numbers on most dogs and only become problematic if the dog’s immune system is compromised. Demodex usually affects younger dogs but may affect adults as well. Mange caused by demodex mites begins at the front of the body, often at the feet, but may spread to other parts of the body as well. Although demodex mange is not as dangerous as that caused by sarcoptic mites, a demodex infestation is still serious and should be treated by a veterinarian immediately. Demodex mites do not pass easily from animal to animal, and it is rare that a human picks up a demodex infestation.
Unlike other mites, cheyletiella mites are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. This has given them the nickname walking dandruff. Mange caused by cheyletiella mites can be as dangerous and uncomfortable as mange caused by sarcoptic mites. Signs of a cheyletiella infestation, aside from the visible mites themselves, include rashes, itchiness and hair loss. Cheyletiella mites are highly contagious between dogs and can be be transmitted to humans. In humans, however, cheyletiella mites do not live long and may only cause temporary redness and irritation.
Mange Prevention and Treatment
Mange rarely occurs in clean dogs with healthy immune systems. Regular grooming and washing of a dog is all that is needed to prevent mange in most cases. As mange can be contagious, however, dogs should be kept away from other dogs that are suspected of having mange. Humans should be wary around dogs with mange, as some types of mites also can affect humans. If a dog has mange or if there is an apparent mite infestation, it should be taken to a veterinarian immediately. The vet may then prescribe a topical treatment to eliminate the mites. If the mange is severe, the dog may need more extensive treatment.