What are external parasites and how do they affect dogs?
External parasites live on the outside of the body and survive by taking away nutrients from their hosts. While some may only cause dogs to experience minor skin issues, some external parasites can also carry and transmit diseases and internal parasites that can cause more serious, sometimes life-threatening illnesses.
For example, mosquitoes and ticks, by themselves, may simply leave bites that cause itchy, irritated skin. However, mosquitoes transmit heartworm larva, which can cause debilitating, even deadly, heartworm disease. Lyme disease, transmitted by ticks, can cause kidney failure and other serious health issues.
While external parasites are often found outside, it is not impossible for them to enter your home and affect primarily indoor dogs. Parasites can make their way through open doors and windows or travel home with your dog from their daily walk around the block.
External parasites also have the potential to infect other pets in your home, as well as yourself or other family members, causing significant household infestations.
Examples of Common External Parasites
Many of the common parasites can easily be transmitted from dogs to humans.
External parasites most commonly found in dogs include:
- Ear mites (Otodectes mites)
- Scabies (Sarcoptic mange)
- Cheyletiella mites (“Walking dandruff”)
How to Spot an External Parasitic Infection
Knowing how to identify symptoms of external parasites is important for both you and your dog’s health. Regular grooming and frequent checking of your dog’s skin and fur can help you find parasites that you can treat before any infection takes into effect.
Signs and symptoms of infection include:
- Excessive itching or scratching
- Dry, flaky skin
- Dry coats
- Abnormal hair loss (especially down the back) and balding spots
- Black debris in ears
Treatment & Prevention
Depending on the type of parasite and where it lives on your dog (on or within the skin, in the ears, etc.) will determine what form of treatment your vet will prescribe. Topical treatments, such as creams, gels, sprays, shampoos, and lotions are typical. Other common treatment methods include flea collars, ear drops, and oral medications.
If your dog was infected, other animals and household items may need to be treated to kill any living pests and prevent further spread. Furniture, linens, carpets, and bedding are all potential areas that may need to be treated.
Year-round prevention is important to keep your dogs and household safe and healthy. Talk to your vet about parasitic prevention methods and what they recommend for your dog.