Mitey Trouble. Can Cats Pass Mites to Dogs?


Ear mites are a common nuisance for pet owners, causing irritation and discomfort in our furry companions. While cat and dog owners are often familiar with treating mites in their own pet, many wonder if these pesky parasites can be passed between cats and dogs in the same household.

In this article, we’ll look at the risks of mite transference between species and steps you can take to diagnose, treat, and prevent the spread of mites in a multi-pet home. With some vigilance and proper treatment, ear mites can be controlled and your pets can get back to comfortable, happy lives.

What Are Mites?

Mites are tiny arachnids, related to spiders and ticks, that can infest the skin and ears of cats, dogs, and other animals. There are several different types of mites that affect pets:

– Demodex mites – These mites live in hair follicles and are species-specific, meaning they only infest dogs or cats. Demodex canina affects dogs while Demodex cati affects cats. Demodex mites are normal inhabitants of skin that only cause issues if their numbers grow out of control due to a compromised immune system. This leads to a condition called demodicosis or mange (Merck Veterinary Manual).

– Sarcoptes scabiei – These mites burrow into the skin and can affect both dogs and cats. They cause intense itching, hair loss, and skin inflammation. Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious between animals and can spread rapidly (Nexgard).

– Otodectes cynotis – Also called ear mites, these mites live on the skin surface in the ears. They are highly contagious between cats and dogs and cause ear inflammation, discharge, and head shaking (Purina).

Mite Transference Between Cats and Dogs

Mites can easily transfer between cats and dogs when the animals are in close contact. When a dog or cat has a mite infestation, the mites can spread to blankets, bedding, furniture, and other areas. Pets that later come in contact with these items can pick up mites and become infested.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, some of the most common mite species that transfer between cats and dogs include:

  • Sarcoptes scabiei – This highly contagious mite causes sarcoptic mange in dogs and mange in cats. Sarcoptes mites burrow into the skin and cause severe itching and hair loss.
  • Otodectes cynotis – Also called ear mites, these mites spread rapidly between cats and dogs through close contact. They live in the ear canal and cause inflammation and dark discharge.
  • Demodex species – Demodex mites live in hair follicles and are species-specific, but some transfer between dogs and cats. Demodex cani, Demodex injai, and Demodex gatoi transfer between pets.
  • Cheyletiella – Also called walking dandruff, Cheyletiella mites cause flaky skin and itchiness. All pets in a household should be treated to prevent reinfestation.

Due to their contagious nature, preventing contact between infested and non-infested pets is important to avoid mite transfer. Treating all in-contact pets at the same time is key.

Symptoms of Mite Infestation

Mite infestations can cause several symptoms in dogs and cats. The most common symptoms include:

Skin Irritation

Mites burrow into the skin and cause irritation, redness, and inflammation. The irritation leads to itchiness. Demodex mites are known to cause skin thickening and infections [1]. Sarcoptic mange leads to crusting, scabbing, and hair loss [2].

Hair Loss

The intense itching caused by mites leads dogs and cats to scratch, lick, and bite at their skin constantly. This self-trauma causes hair loss, often in patches but sometimes all over the body. Hair loss is most noticeable with demodectic, sarcoptic, and cheyletiella mites [3].

Itching and Scratching

The main sign of a mite infestation is intense itching, scratching, and biting at the skin. The irritation of the mites burrowing leads to discomfort. Dogs may rub their bodies along furniture or the ground to find relief [2]. Cats may excessively groom the affected areas.

Diagnosing a Mite Infestation

The first step in diagnosing a mite infestation in dogs or cats is a thorough examination by a veterinarian. The vet will look for signs of irritation and inflammation, hair loss, and the presence of skin scales and crusting, which can indicate mites. They may see the mites moving on the skin surface in severe infestations.

To confirm the diagnosis, the vet will take a skin scraping and examine it under the microscope. This involves gently scraping the skin with a blunt instrument to collect skin cells and debris. The sample is placed on a slide, stained, and observed under the microscope. Mites may be visible moving on the slide. Skin scrapings allow identification of the type of mite as well.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, “Diagnosis is made by identification of mites, eggs, or mite fecal material (for Notoedres species) on hair plucks or deep skin scrapings” (source). Skin scraping tests are a quick and painless way for the vet to confirm mite infestation in cats and dogs.

Treating Mites in Dogs and Cats

There are several treatment options available for eliminating mites in dogs and cats. Some common approaches include:

Medicated dips – Pet owners can bathe their dogs or cats in medicated dips that contain ingredients aimed at killing mites, such as pyrethroids, amitraz, or lime sulfur. These dips need to be applied weekly for a month or longer to fully eliminate the mite infestation. Always follow product instructions carefully.

Spot-ons – Topical spot-on treatments can be very effective for treating mites. These are applied to a few areas on the pet’s body and absorb through the skin, providing whole body protection. Common active ingredients in spot-ons for mites include fipronil, imidacloprid, selamectin, and sarolaner. Spot-ons are typically reapplied every 1-2 weeks for at least 2-3 applications.

Oral medication – In some cases, vets may prescribe oral medications like milbemycin, moxidectin, or ivermectin to eliminate mites. These are given daily for a period of time according to veterinary guidance. Safety precautions are required with some oral parasiticides, especially in herding breeds.

Treating environment – In addition to treating the pet, all bedding material, surfaces, and environments where the infested animal spends time should be thoroughly cleaned. Hot water washing, vacuuming, and cleaning with veterinary-approved products helps remove all traces of mites from the surroundings to prevent reinfestation.

Preventing Transference Between Pets

There are several steps pet owners can take to help prevent the spread of mites between cats and dogs in the same household:

Regular grooming is essential. Using a fine-toothed comb to brush your pets helps remove mites and eggs from their coats before they can spread. Groom cats and dogs from head to tail at least once a week.

If one pet has an active mite infestation, it’s best to keep it isolated from other pets. House afflicted pets separately until treatment is complete and vet confirms mites are gone. This prevents mites moving between animals via direct contact.

Thoroughly clean any shared surfaces, bedding, crates to remove eggs and minimize environmental contamination. Wash all pet items in hot, soapy water.

Treat all pets simultaneously. Even if they aren’t showing symptoms, other pets likely have mites too. Coordinate treatments under vet supervision.

Use monthly flea/tick prevention medications. Many products repel or kill mites. Discuss options safe for both cats and dogs.

Maintain sanitary conditions. Vacuum and mop floors regularly. Pest control measures can also be helpful to eliminate mites in the home environment.

Get new pets checked by a vet. Screen them for mites before introducing to resident pets to avoid transferring infestations.

When to See a Vet

In most cases, mite infestations can be treated at home with topical medications prescribed by your veterinarian. However, you should take your dog or cat to the vet if symptoms persist after initial treatment, or if there is a severe infestation.

Signs that you need to see the vet include:

  • Itching, scratching and skin irritation continues more than 2-3 days after starting medication
  • Hair loss spreads to large areas of the body
  • Red, inflamed skin that develops crusting or scabs
  • Secondary skin infection occurs, shown by pus-filled bumps
  • Loss of appetite, lethargy or other signs of illness
  • Young, elderly or immunocompromised pets with mites

A veterinarian can evaluate the severity of the infestation and provide appropriate treatment. They may prescribe stronger topical or oral medications if over-the-counter treatments do not eliminate the mites. Severe infestations may require lime sulfur dips, antibiotics for secondary infections, or medicated shampoos.

Pets with compromised immune systems are also at greater risk for health complications due to mites. Seeking prompt veterinary care gives them the best chance at a full recovery.

Outlook and Prognosis

With prompt diagnosis and proper treatment, the prognosis for pets with mite infestations is usually good. Once treated, most pets make a full recovery and the mites are eliminated.

However, if left untreated, mite infestations can lead to complications. The intense itching and scratching can result in secondary skin infections or damage to the skin and ears. In severe cases, untreated mite infestations may cause anemia, weight loss, and other problems. Pets can also transmit mites to other animals and humans in the home if not properly treated.

To ensure the best outcome, it’s critical to follow your veterinarian’s treatment recommendations diligently. This may involve administering medications as prescribed, following up with repeat vet visits, and thoroughly cleaning the home environment to prevent reinfestation. With aggressive treatment under a vet’s supervision, most pets fully recover without any lasting effects.

Key Takeaways

All it takes is one stray mite making its way to a new host for an infestation to start. While unpleasant, a mite infestation between cats and dogs has simple treatment and prevention and does not require isolation or rehoming of pets. The key takeaways include:

  • Mites are tiny parasites that infect the skin and cause severe itching.
  • Though species-specific, mites can transfer between cats and dogs who live together or have contact.
  • Telltale signs of mites include scratching, hair loss, skin irritation and flaky patches.
  • Medicated dips, oral medication and frequent vacuuming can clear up an infestation.
  • Prevention involves treating all pets in a household and keeping their living areas clean.
  • While uncomfortable, mites pose no major health risks for otherwise healthy pets.

With vigilance and proper treatment, pet owners can manage mite outbreaks and keep all their animals healthy and comfortable.

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