What exactly is a mite? Mites are acarids, microscopic insects and members of the arachnid family. Acarids are microscopic insects invisible to the naked eye. Under a microscope, we can see a translucent body with four pairs of legs. Most mites are pathogens, meaning they cause diseases, and they are unfortunately contagious. Oh, the infamous mange! Even though they are tiny, mites can cause extensive damage when they infect our pets. Here are some common mites found in dogs. Ear mites These little acarids are called Otodectes and live in the ears of cats and dogs, more specifically in the ear canal. They are easily transmitted from one pet to another through simple contact. Cats are more affected than dogs. And luckily ear mites don’t infect humans. Infected animals shake their head and scratch their ears. And the itching can be rather intense! The inside of the ear generally fills up with brownish dirt that looks like coffee grinds. In rare cases, there are no symptoms, but the infected animal can still spread the parasites to other pets they come across. To confirm and treat the infestation you must visit your veterinary clinic for an exam. The veterinarian will swab a sample and identify the mites under the microscope. There are numerous treatments. Some are ear drops and others are topical liquid medicine to apply on the skin. Your veterinarian will recommend the best option for you. Unfortunately, when treating against mites, all animals in the household have to be treated because the parasite is highly contagious. Body mites Some acarids live on the skin. One of them, Cheyletiella, causes a contagious and relatively common disease in cats and dogs. In infected animals, we can see flakes and sometimes rashes on the body. Unfortunately, some animals don’t show any symptoms but they can still spread the parasite rapidly. Cheyletiellosis (also called walking dandruff) is a zoonosis: it could be transmitted to humans in almost 50% of cases. Humans show papulae (little red dots, also called skin gills) on the skin, and rashes mostly on the torso and inner arms. Luckily, mites cannot reproduce on humans so the disease doesn’t last long. Diagnosing cheyletiellosis can be complex because even with the most reliable techniques skin samples are negative in more than 50% of tests. In such cases, veterinarians will try a therapeutic approach when they suspect body mites. There are many effective treatments on the market that require regular treatments over a six-week period. Sarcoptic mange in dogs Oh, the infamous mange! It is a mite as well! This tiny parasite lives in the skin where it digs little tunnels to lay its eggs. This highly contagious skin disease affects dogs by causing intense rashes, hair loss, redness and crusty skin on the abdomen, ears, and elbows. It is a zoonosis, so sarcoptic mange can be transmitted to humans about 30% of the time. We observe the same symptoms as in cheyletiellosis. Look out! It is not the same as human sarcoptic mange that is still present in some living conditions. and is a human contagious disease. Canine sarcoptic mange is hard to confirm because results from skin samples of affected animals can show a false negative. Your veterinarian will use a therapeutic approach to rule out a diagnosis. Again, many treatment options (topical or systemic) are available and your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best option for you. Demodex or demodectic mange Demodex is an acarid called Demodex canis that live in the dog’s hair follicle. This mite is part of the normal skin flora, and when present in small quantities doesn’t cause any problems. It is transmitted from a mother to a newborn puppy. The Demodex population can increase in the hair follicle and the dog will become sick. This will generally lead to massive hair loss. When localized in a single spot it will heal on its own, without treatment. On the other hand, if the condition remains or spreads to a wide area on the body it is most likely a form of the disease that affects the immune system. In such cases, medicine can be prescribed and there should be treatment for the underlying condition, if needed. There is a sliver lining: the disease is not contagious to humans or other dogs.