While we focus most of our attention on treating or preventing problems with fleas and ticks on our pets, there are a number of other parasites that also can attack the skin of our pets.
Three in particular are mites such as Demodex or Sarcoptes that can cause mange, and a type of lice called Cheyletiella that is responsible for a condition known as “walking dandruff” in dogs, cats and even rabbits.
In most cases, lice are relatively easy to diagnose. Their larger size makes them more visible on the surface of the skin, and the dermal reactions that lead to significant flaking of the outer layers of skin can lead to a quick diagnosis.
The mange mites, though, can be hidden deep in the layers of skin or hair follicles and may be few and far between. To find these parasites, your veterinarian may need to use a couple of different methods for a diagnosis and sample in more than one area.
Skin scrapings are often the way to find these mites. In this instance, a surgical blade or small spatula is scraped carefully across the surface of the skin. The debris generated is place on a slide with mineral oil and examined under a microscope for the presence of mites.
For some veterinarians, plucking hair from an affected area of the pet will yield results and can be less traumatic to damaged skin.
A technique that is even less traumatic and may be even more effective involves the use of clear cellophane tape. The sticky side of the tape is placed on a small section of affected skin. The tape and the stuck skin are then gently pinched with the hopes that a parasite expressed from the damaged skin will adhere to the tape. The tape is then placed on a slide and examined.
No matter what technique your veterinarian uses, a diagnosis of mange or lice means that an effective protocol for that particular parasite can be started and you don't waste time trying to eliminate other causes of skin infection such as allergies or fleas. For more information about dermatitis and skin issues in your pet, check with your veterinarian.