Demodex In Dogs

Demodex canis is a small mite that lives in the hair follicles and associated sebaceous glands of dogs and are considered “ubiquitous” or a normal inhabitant of the skin in all dogs.

These mites are acquired by pups from the dam during nursing and are not transmissible between adult dogs or acquired through environmental exposure. Interestingly, a related Demodex mite is ubiquitous in people, residing in the facial skin of most people and called the “eyelash mite.” This is termed a commensal host-parasite relationship where the mite is dependent on the host (in this case dog or person) to survive but neither harms nor benefits the host. As such, in dogs Demodex mites rarely cause skin or health concerns. However, under certain circumstances, this normal commensal relationship can be lost allowing the mite to proliferate and cause clinical disease.

In the dog, this is often termed demodicosis or demodectic mange and comes in two forms:

  • Juvenile – seen in dogs under 2 years of age, this often presents as single or multiple localized areas of hair loss and scaling skin. It often resolves on its own as the dog matures although in more severe case may require treatment.
  • Adult-onset – seen in older dogs, this generally causes more severe and extensive skin lesions, and is usually the result of another illness in the dog that results in a reduced immune system function that allows the mites to proliferate; endocrine diseases (e.g., hypothyroidism or hyperadrenocorticism) are common predisposing conditions.

Diagnosis is generally straight forward based on the characteristic skin lesions and identifying the mite and its various life stages on a skin scraping. Skin scrapings are a diagnostic procedure of collecting skin cells and hair follicle secretions, and then these are evaluated by your veterinarian under the microscope.

Fortunately, there are a number of treatments available, including newer ones, that can effectively reduce the over-proliferation of demodectic mites and restore the normal commensal relationship with their canine host. For adult-onset demodicosis, the underlying and predisposing illness must also be identified and treated for effective demodectic mange resolution.

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