Signs & Symptoms of Mites on Dogs

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There are four types of mites that can live on dogs: Demodex, Sarcoptes, ear mites, and Cheyletiella. Most Demodex mites on dogs are normal unless they are overgrowing due to an underlying problem. Each mite can affect your dog in different ways, but all need to be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian to be eliminated.


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If mites are suspected, veterinary diagnostics include taking skin scrapings that can be examined under a microscope. Sometimes, even repeated deep skin scrapings (such as on dogs with very deep hair follicles) can come up negative. In that case, your veterinarian may either treat based on symptoms and history or they may recommend a biopsy.


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What are mites?

Mites are ectoparasites, meaning parasites that live in skin hair follicles or in the ears.‌ Demodex and Sarcoptes (the scabies mite) are microscopic and not visible to the naked eye. Cheyletiella and ear mites are barely visible to the naked eye, so you're not likely to see them; rather, you will see their symptoms. With the exception of ear mites, when a dog has problems due to an overgrowth of a skin mite, it's called mange.


Types of mites on dogs

  • Sarcoptes mites:‌ Sarcoptes scabeii is a burrowing skin mite that can affect humans, dogs, horses, and other animals. The infestation is called scabies or sarcoptic mange. Dog parents who have close contact with their scabies-infested dog can also pick up the mite.
  • Demodex mites:‌ There are three types of Demodex mites within a dog's hair follicles and sebaceous glands: Demodex canis, Demodex injai, and Demodex cornei. Demodectic mange is usually due to overgrowth of D. canis. This is usually associated with young dogs under 18 months old, but older dogs can also develop this issue due to a declining immune system. Mange due to overgrowth of Demodex injai and Demodex cornei is not common. Demodex is species specific, so you don't have to worry about getting it from your dog, but humans actually have their own Demodex mites in places like their eyelash follicles.
  • Ear mites:‌ The mite Otodectes cynotis may be observed by your veterinarian with an otoscope while looking in your dog's ear canal. The parasite can also be seen on an ear swab cytology, which is viewed with a microscope. Ear mites are more common in cats than in dogs; however, dogs (and ferrets) can get them. It has rarely been reported in humans.
  • Cheyletiella mite:‌ This parasite lives on a dog's skin, not within it like Demodex. Like scabies or ear mites, it is not normal for a dog to have this mite. Dogs, cats, and rabbits can pass Cheyletiella to one another. Humans can develop skin lesions from this parasite, but they are unlikely to develop an infestation.


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How do I know if my dog has mites?

Though some dogs with a mite issue may be quite itchy and have hair loss or skin lesions, other dogs may not have such obvious symptoms and will require a veterinary diagnosis.‌ For example, dogs with Sarcoptes will be quite itchy, but dogs with a normal population level of Demodex won't itch from the mites. Dogs with Cheyletiella may be moderately to severely itchy.




Dogs with mange don't just casually scratch. The intense itching is persistent and often leads to hair loss, skin trauma, and secondary infections of the skin. Intense scratching is often a symptom of a sarcoptic mite infestation. These dogs may scratch to the point of bleeding. Dogs with sarcoptic mites tend to scratch more in warmer conditions when mites are present. Some dogs with mites can be misdiagnosed with allergies.


Dogs with ear mites may or may not be itchy and may or may not have head shaking. Also, they may or may not have the classic sign of ear mites, which is coffee-ground debris in their ears, which cats with ear mites often have. (Cats will also be intensely itchy with ear mites.) However, dogs may develop itching due to secondary ear infections with yeast and/or bacteria.


Skin Lesions

Both sarcoptic and demodectic mites cause skin lesions in affected areas. A Demodex overgrowth (demodicosis) can be localized to one or several areas, often on the head or limbs, or it can be generalized all over the body, which is due to genetics and sometimes underlying disease, like Cushing's, cancer, etc. Dogs with the generalized form may also develop secondary bacterial skin infections.


The demodectic mite is often the culprit in young dogs or dogs with suppressed immune systems. Skin lesions range from raised pustules typically found on the face to generalized full-body scaly or greasy skin patches. The hair in these areas has a thin appearance, and the pigment beneath it can become darker than healthy surrounding skin due to chronic inflammation. Dogs with scabies can also have crusty skin lesions.


A symptom of Cheyletiella mange is what appears to be dandruff. Also known as "walking dandruff" or the rabbit fur mite, it can affect dogs and produce the odd symptom of what looks like dandruff that is moving. The mite is actually creating movement in debris on the skin. These mites tend to infest the area along the spine, causing the dog to scratch and have somewhat thickened skin and "walking dandruff."


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How to get rid of mites on dogs

Your veterinarian can cover in detail your pet's specific treatment options based on their age and what parasite they have.

Topical medications approved for use to treat scabies are:

  • Selamectin (Revolution)
  • Advantage Multi (moxidectin with imidacloprid)

Off-label drugs with which a veterinarian may treat scabies are:

  • NexGard
  • Bravecto
  • Simparica

Many cases of localized demodectic mange resolve on their own. For dogs with generalized demodectic mange or localized mange that isn't resolving, your veterinarian may prescribe an amitraz dip depending on the dog's age and size. They may also opt for one of these medications as an off-label treatment that's effective against mange:

  • Lime sulfur dips
  • Ivermectin
  • Bravecto
  • Simparica
  • Credelio
  • NexGard

With ivermectin, however, dogs who are 7 months of age and older must be tested for heartworm first. Dogs younger than this are too young to test, as heartworm larvae take seven to eight months to mature into adults and result in a positive test. Administering ivermectin to a heartworm-positive dog without knowing their heartworm status puts them at risk for complications from heartworms dying in the blood stream.


Ear mites can be treated with ear drops such as:

  • Acarexx
  • Milbemite
  • Otomite Plus

The heartworm preventative Revolution is labeled as an ear mite preventative for both cats and dogs. It does ‌not‌ go in the ear but on the neck or upper back. As with ivermectin, dogs who are 7 months of age or older must be heartworm tested first.

Cheletiella can be treated off-label with:

  • Ivermectin
  • Products containing milbemycin (such as Interceptor, Sentinel, or Trifexis)
  • Moxidectin (such as Advantage Multi)
  • Selamectin (such as Revolution)

Dogs who are 7 months of age or older need a negative heartworm test prior to starting treatment.

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How to prevent mites on dogs

The best way to prevent mites is to keep your pet on a combination of flea/tick and heartworm products. Your veterinarian can help come up with the right combination to keep mites at bay. If you feed stray cats in your yard and your dog spends time around them, that's one possible way for them to pick up ear mites. Also, if your cat spends time outdoors and picks up ear mites, they can transmit them to your dog. So, keeping your feline friend on a product like feline Revolution is a good idea. Cheyletiella can even be carried on fleas, and Revolution is also a flea preventative.

Dogs can also be kept on year-round Bravecto, Simparica, Credelio, or NexGard to help prevent mites. Though these products aren't specifically labeled as a preventative for any type of mite, they can be used off-label under the direction of a veterinarian. Revolution, however, is labeled as an ear mite treatment/preventative.

For intact (not spayed) female dogs who have issues with demodectic mange, spaying can help. Spaying removes the ovaries and drops hormone levels that can cause mites to flourish when a female dog goes into heat.

The bottom line

There are four types of dog mites: Demodex, Sarcoptes, Otodectes (ear mites), and Cheyletiella. Some dogs with mites may be itchy, like with Sarcoptes and Cheyletiella, but some dogs may not. Ear mites may or may not cause itching or head shaking in dogs. Demodex mites are normal for all dogs to have, and normal population levels don't cause itching. However, if the mite overgrows, it can cause itching, hair loss, and skin lesions. Any type of mite issue requires treatment by a DVM.



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