What You Need To Know About Skin Ectoparasites

By Nina Shoulberg DVM, MS & Lauren Pinchbeck DVM, MS

Diplomates American College of Veterinary Dermatology

Diseases caused by skin ectoparasites are common in our veterinary dermatology patients. Parasites may be part of the normal flora on the dog or cat, yet proliferate and cause skin disease under certain conditions.  In addition, ectoparasites may be acquired by contact with other animals or contaminated environments.

Mites, fleas and ticks may impact pet wellness. Sarcoptic mange causes severe itch, demodectic mange causes widespread hair loss, and flea bite hypersensitivity is an allergic itch condition caused by the bite of a flea in sensitized animals.  Both fleas and ticks have the capacity to transmit infectious diseases that can be harmful and cause systemic disease in both humans and animals.

Symptoms of ectoparasitism in pets may include itchy skin and scratching, skin sores, bumps and scabs, skin scaling/dandruff or black dots on skin. Redness as a result of inflammation and hair loss or a dull coat is common

Most ectoparasites can be treated and/or prevented by use of appropriately applied or administered products. Some treatments require careful monitoring under the direct supervision of your veterinarian. If you think your pet has a problem caused directly or indirectly by ectoparasites, consult your veterinarian for treatment and prevention strategies.

Our other tips include:

  • Keeping your pets out of long grass
  • Limiting exposure to other dogs and cats who may be carrying parasites
  • Making sure your living areas are free of parasites
  • Cleaning your pet’s sleeping area frequently
  • Checking ears for mites regularly
  • Checking for ticks after outdoor activities or when your outdoor pet returns indoors

No one product will kill or prevent all parasites, but there are a number of different products with effective active ingredients that will eliminate infestations and consequently help treat the symptoms caused by ectoparasites. Remember that prevention of ectoparasitism is key. We recommend that all of our patients be treated year-round with products effective against fleas and ticks. Consult your primary veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment recommendation for your pet’s specific condition. In severe cases, he/she may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist for treatment.