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What happens if mites go untreated in dogs?

How to Identify and Treat Mites on Your Dog

It’s essential to understand what mites are and how to know if your dog has them so that they can be treated quickly. Mites cause a lot of discomfort for your dog and present many health issues if left untreated. Read on to learn more about identifying mites on dogs and what to do if your dog has them.

What Are Mites?

First, let’s talk about what mites are. Mites are tiny parasites that live on your dog’s skin or in their ears. They can cause irritation and inflammation, making your dog’s skin very itchy. They can cause dry skin, and loss of fur, and in extreme cases cause mange. Unfortunately, mites on dogs are a common threat, so it’s good to know how to identify them so that they can be treated promptly.

Identifying Mites on Your Dog

It’s essential to make sure that it is specifically mites that your dog is dealing with before any treatments can begin. You want to make sure that you’ve properly identified what’s on your dog in case it has another type of pest, such as fleas.

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Mites have round, bulbous bodies and eight legs. Like ticks, this classifies them as arachnids. Mites can also vary greatly in color. Most of them will be either brown, tan, or reddish in color, but they can also be green, red, or even blue.

Mites are similar to ticks but are much smaller. Although a mite’s size can vary depending on what kind of species the mite is, they are usually so small that it cannot be seen with the naked eye. This makes them very hard to identify, since in many cases, you may not be able to physically see the mite itself. The good thing is there will be signs of a mite infection, so you can look out for some of the key symptoms rather than the mites themselves.

How to Spot a Mite Infestation

Ear mites live in dog

There are thousands of different mite species world wide. Some of those include clover mites, bird mites, itch mites, house dust mites, scabies mites, and even grain, cheese, mold, and flour mites (which can be found on those items). Most of these mites cannot be seen by the human eye, so you won’t be able to spot them just by looking. The best way to know if your dog is dealing with mites is to be aware of the symptoms that come along with having them.

One of the first and most obvious signs of mites would be itching. Your dog may itch and scratch for many reasons, but itchiness is one of the primary signs of mites on dogs. Other signs of mites are:

  • Dandruff
  • Loss of hair (either hair loss in patches or all over coat)
  • Red skin
  • Excessive scratching
  • Visible mites
  • Mange

Sarcoptic Mange

This is a type of mange that is caused by a parasitic mite (Sarcoptes scabiei). These mites will burrow beneath the surface of your dog’s skin and cause intense itchiness and a red rash to appear. You may be able to tell if your dog has mange based on your dog’s behavior. You may notice that the dog chews and bites at its skin, which causes missing patches of fur, especially on the dog’s legs and belly. If left untreated, you may notice that the dog’s skin is thickening and becoming darker.

Demodectic Mange

Demodectic mange, or red mange, mites live in dog hair follicles causing irritation to dog

This type of mange is caused by a different type of mite than sarcoptic mange. The parasitic mite that causes demodectic mange is called Demodex canis or Demodex injal. These mites will live in the hair follicles of your dog and cause the same amount of irritation on your dog’s skin. If you were to view one of these mites under a microscope, you would see that it is shaped like a cigar and has eight legs.

This kind of mange is sometimes called Demodex, or red mange. It is also the most common type of mange in dogs. Surprisingly, most dogs and humans have a few of these types of mites on their skin. This is not a cause for worry, since as long as the body’s immune system is functioning properly, the mites will not be able to cause harm.

However, dogs can develop demodectic mange when their immune system is not fully developed or if it has other immune system issues. When its immune system isn’t functioning properly, the number of mites a dog has on its skin can rapidly increase and cause it to develop the disease.

A dog whose immune system is not fully developed, less than 12 months, and up to 18 months old, may have a more difficult time fighting off mites. Beyond this point, the dog’s immune system will mature and they will be less susceptible. If as the dog ages, it experiences a decline in its immune system’s effectiveness, the dog can become susceptible to developing the disease again, since its immune system isn’t as strong as it was before.

How to Treat Mites on Your Dog

The good news is that mites are easy to treat once you’ve pinpointed that this is what your dog is dealing with. Let’s take a look at a few solutions:

Use an Anti-Parasitic Shampoo

Normally, mites can be taken care of by using a simple shampoo that is made for removing mites. You can find anti-parasitic shampoos at most pet stores. Just be sure that before you begin using an anti-parasitic shampoo, you check with your veterinarian to be sure that it is the correct one for your dog’s needs.

You should also be sure to set an appointment with your dog’s veterinarian so that it can be examined and determine if it needs to be prescribed medication to help clear the infestation. Depending on how severe your dog’s infestation is, more than one treatment may need to be used simultaneously.

Give Your Dog an Apple Cider Vinegar Bath

As a more natural alternative to anti-parasitic shampoo, you can also try giving your dog an apple cider vinegar bath. This can help kill off the mites in a natural way. You can do this by adding 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar as well as 1/2 cup of borax to your dog’s bath water. Make sure that the mixture is completely dissolved before putting your dog in the water. You can then give your dog a bath as normal, just be sure that you don’t let your dog drink the bath water, as the borax could be harmful if ingested.

Clean Your Dog’s Bedding Regularly

While you’re treating your dog for mites with the anti-parasitic shampoo, be sure to keep your dog’s bedding clean. This will help prevent mites from getting in your dog’s bed and reinfecting it as you’re trying to treat the problem. If you’re concerned that your dog has a severe infestation of mites, it may be best to change its bed for a new one.

How to Prevent Mites in Your Dog

The best way to prevent mites is to make sure your dog doesn’t come in contact with another dog that has them, however, this is much easier said than done. There is really no way to know for sure if another dog has mites since you can’t always see them.

One thing you can do is schedule regular check-ups for your dog to make sure that it doesn’t have mites, as well as be on the lookout for the symptoms of mites. If you notice any of them, give your dog a bath with the anti-parasitic shampoo as soon as you can to help get rid of them.

The sooner you begin treating your dog for mites, the less likely your dog develops a severe infestation of them. It will also help reduce the odds of your dog having to deal with the various types of mange, which causes intense discomfort for dogs and is very contagious (even for humans).

If your dog has recently been treated for mites, you can prevent them from reoccurring by washing all of your dog’s bedding and toys. Clean the areas that your dog spends most of its time in to make sure you kill off any mites that could be lingering. This will help reduce the chances of your dog becoming reinfected.

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What is pododermatitis?

Pododermatitis is a term used to describe inflammation affecting the skin of the feet. It often causes dogs to have swollen, red and itchy feet, which can progress to painful sores if left untreated. In very severe cases, dogs can even become lame. This is a relatively common skin problem in dogs and can be present on its own or as part of a more widespread skin problem. There are many causes of pododermatitis and in some patients more than one cause is present at the same time. It is important to obtain an accurate diagnosis so that the right treatment can be selected.

What causes pododermatitis?

The parasitic mite Demodex can infect the haired skin of the feet and result in pododermatitis. Demodex mites are present in very low numbers in the skin of all dogs, but in some patients, either due to a genetic susceptibility, or due to a process that lowers the immune system, these mites can populate the skin in very large numbers causing disease. Pododermatitis due to these mites tends to result in hair loss, swelling and bleeding sores in some cases (Figure 1.). This mite is not infectious to other animals or people, but requires specific treatment to reduce mite numbers down to normal levels again. Very rarely, other parasites can also contribute to pododermatitis.


Figure 1: A case of pododermatitis due to Demodex mites (feet have been clipped for cleaning)

Foreign bodies
Foreign bodies like grass seeds are a very common cause of pododermatitis in dogs. Foreign bodies tend to penetrate the skin of the feet when dogs are out walking/running and then trigger inflammation when they become trapped within the feet. The body often attempts to ‘expel’ these structures resulting in painful and often discharging lumps between the toes. Affected patients often lick and chew at the affected sites. Foreign bodies are particularly likely when one lesion is present on one foot.

Allergic diseases in dogs and cats are very common, and results in inflammation in the skin. This inflammation is very commonly seen affecting the feet, and results in redness, excessive licking and chewing at the affected sites (figure 2). The most common triggers for allergic pododermatitis are food items and environmental substances such as dust mites and pollens, and skin disease usually starts in early life between the ages of 6 months and 3 years.


Figure 2: The paw of a dog showing redness and inflammation due to allergy

Deep infections
A very common feature of pododermatitis, particularly in dogs, is a deep infection of the feet. This is usually due to bacteria, but can be due to rare fungal organisms, and often results in multiple painful, swollen and discharging lumps. Affected animals usually lick and chew excessively and can become lame in severe cases. Bleeding lesions are relatively common with deep infections (Figure 3).


Figure 3: Bleeding lumps between the toes due to deep bacterial infection

A frustrating cause of pododermatitis is termed conformational pododermatitis. This usually occurs in heavy set dogs with excessively splayed feet. This results in weight-bearing on hairy parts of the foot adjacent to the footpads and triggers inflammation of the hair follicles. Over time, this inflammation damages the hair follicles and results in chronic inflammation with the feet. Dogs with this condition tend to have large areas of pad extension, with painful and swollen lumps around the toes (Figure 4).

Hormonal diseases
Certain hormonal diseases can also be involved in the development of pododermatitis as the local skin immune system is reduced and the ability to fend off infections is compromised. The most commonly involved diseases include an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) or overactive adrenal glands (Cushing’s disease). However, pododermatitis is a relatively rare symptom of these diseases and dogs and cats usually show other more characteristic symptoms.


Figure 4: Hugely swollen foot due to conformational pododermatitis

How is pododermatitis diagnosed?

Diagnosis of pododermatitis can often be achieved following a thorough evaluation of the history and clinical signs. Hair plucks and skin scrapings are performed to diagnose Demodex mite infestation and swab samples are often taken to establish if an infection is present. If lumps are discharging fluid, a sample of this fluid may also be sent to a laboratory to grow (culture) any infectious organisms. If the clinical picture is very suggestive of a foreign body, X-rays may be needed along with a surgical procedure to remove the offending item. Allergies are often only diagnosed once infections/parasites are treated and removed. If redness and inflammation remain, allergy testing may be required. Hormonal diseases are often suspected if other clinical signs are present but usually require blood testing to diagnose. Conformational pododermatitis is usually diagnosed by examining the feet and assessing the shape (conformation) of the footpads.

What are the treatments available?

Treatments for pododermatitis vary depending on the underlying cause. Parasitic infestations are usually treated with dips/rinses for the feet. Deep infections are often treated with long courses of antibiotics or antifungal medications in the rare cases due to fungal infection. Foreign bodies are best treated by identifying the foreign body and removing it in a minor surgical procedure. Hormonal diseases require treatment specific to the condition, but sometimes involve supplementing with hormone, as is the case in hypothyroidism. Allergic diseases are treated by identifying the triggers and removing them if possible.

Conformational pododermatitis is perhaps the most difficult to treat, as the defect is due to the conformation of the patient. Many of these cases can only be managed rather than cured and require modifications such as protective boots, good foot hygiene and avoidance of rough and uneven terrain. In some of the very worst cases, conformational pododermatitis can be corrected with surgery to fuse the toe webs together.

What is the prognosis?

As there are numerous causes of pododermatitis and more than one can be present at the same time, a good prognosis depends on identifying all the contributing factors and correcting them if possible. If this can be done, the vast majority of cases will have a good outcome. Cases of conformational pododermatitis are rarely cured, and require long term management.

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