Your dog’s skin is very similar to human skin. The skin is the largest organ and the first line of defense against harmful bacteria. Your dog’s skin will serve as a visible warning to the dog owner when your dog may be affected by a parasitic allergy which could lead to serious health problems.
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There are two kinds of parasitic allergens. Both external and internal parasites can lead to more serious health issues for your dog. We will focus on External Parasites.
It's key to keep a grooming log for your dog. As many skin problems could manifest, changes in their skin and hair maybe so gradual that by the time you notice the changes, the problem with your dog maybe out of control. Your grooming log will serve a dual purpose.
First, it will provide a routine and habit forming schedule for you to follow which will aide in maintaining your dog’s health. And second, it will detail any changes noticed during the grooming process through documentation, ie. Noticed a little redness in the ears while cleaning today. Properly using this grooming log will remind you to check for any progression of symptoms.
External Parasites are pests that not only affect animals but also humans. These pests will generally make your dog miserable. Early signs that your dog may have an external parasite are vigorous shaking of the head, persistent scratching of the ears and other body parts, jerking from a relaxed state to ‘chase’ an annoying itch that he just can’t seem to relieve. The different types of external parasites are fleas, ticks, lice, and mites.
Fleas are visible to the naked eye and are relatively easy to detect and treat. Fleas will are drawn to moist warm areas and can usually be spotted on your dogs belly or groin area. Please understand that the sight of one flea means that there are probably hundreds present. The flea will not only feed on your dog but also on a human host. As soon as the female flea feeds on the hosts blood, she lays eggs that drop off of your dog and onto the furniture, bedding, or carpet. The eggs hatch into larva, grow into pupae, mature in cocoons, then emerge into adult fleas and the process begins again. There are many great products that will end this cycle. Topical chemical treatments which need to be administered on a monthly or quarterly schedule. These treatments are effective and will break the life cycle of the flea to get rid of the problem.
If you prefer a holistic treatments without pesticides, your first defense is to have a healthy dog. All parasites tend to feed on the weak so a healthy dog will not be as attractive as a host. Feeding your dog small amounts of garlic, apple cider vinegar, or brewer’s yeast will also make your dog less attractive to fleas. These holistic approaches may stop the initial infestation; however, at the first sign of fleas you will have to protect the whole house from infestation. An easy way to determine if you have a real problem is to comb your dog on a white towel, especially helpful if your dog is dark colored or has dark skin, and look for flea ‘dirt’ or feces which will appear as brown specks. If you add water to the brown specks and they smear red then you have a real flea problem. While fleas are the most common external parasite, they should not be considered pesky but harmless. Fleas can carry many infectious diseases such as Brazilian Spotted Fever, typhus and even bubonic plague to name but a few.
Ticks are much easier to spot and get rid of than fleas, but they are much more dangerous to both you and your dog. Ticks burrow their heads through the skin and gorge themselves on the blood of their hosts. A tick will normally be found in your dogs ears, head or neck areas because they hide themselves in tall grassy areas and attach themselves to your dog while he is sniffing for possible ‘potty’ spots. Once completely full, the tick will fall off of the host, lay eggs and die. This is why may people do not consider them as a threat. The reality is that ticks are a major carrier of infectious disease. These diseases cannot be passed to your pet until the tick has fed for several hours so discovery and removal needs to be immediate. Some of the infectious diseases that ticks carry are:
Babesiosis which can be fatal. This disease may be asymptomatic (without apparent symptoms), or it may include symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle pain, fatigue, and sweating.
Ehrlichiosis which presents with early symptoms of fever, malaise, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, rash, cough, and joint pain. In severe cases, it results in prolonged fever, brain and spinal cord swelling, uncontrolled bleeding, coma, respiratory distress, and even death.
Lyme disease which has been highly publicized since its outbreak in the 1970's. Symptoms usually (but not always) start with a circular rash and may proceed to fever, chills, fatigue, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle and joint aches. If left untreated, it can cause shooting pains, loss of muscle tone in the face, arthritis, joint swelling, meningitis, and other neurological problems.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever which is the most severe diseases transmitted through a tick bite. Initial symptoms are fever, rash, headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite. It lovers the white blood cell count and reduces the amount of sodium in the blood. It can affect the kidneys, lungs, nervous system or gastrointestinal system.
Great care needs to be used in the removal of ticks. First, you need to protect yourself with latex gloves. Using forceps, get as close as possible to the dog’s skin and try to remove by pulling straight out to ensure you do not leave behind its head or legs. Then place the tick into rubbing alcohol to kill it then thoroughly wash the affected area of your dog’s skin. Continue to monitor the bite area for signs of infection or rash. Be sure to clean your forceps with both soap and water then rubbing alcohol.
Lice are an uncommon external parasite found on household dogs. Lice can be found mostly on young, ill, kenneled dogs, or dogs that have been rescued from puppy mills, rundown and neglected backgrounds.
There are two types of lice. Biting lice which feed on skin and sucking lice which feed on blood. Lice are too small to see with the naked eye, but just like lice that plague humans, their eggs (or nits) attach to a strand of hair close to the base and appear white similar to dandruff. If a magnifying glass is used, you can see the eggs. Lice have also been known to carry disease.
Most flea shampoos are effective for killing lice. You should also treat any other animals that may have come in contact with the lice as well as yourself. Bag and dispose of all bedding and treat all areas that may have become infested with lice with an insecticidal spray as well as grooming tools.
Mites are tiny arthropods which are also parasitic on other animals. There are several varieties of mites that affect dogs. Two of them are mange mites.
The sarcoptic mange mite burrows into the skin usually around eyes and ears. They are extremely irritating and cause intense scratching, crusty scabs, body sores, and subsequent hair loss. There is also usually a strong odor detected from the infected dog. Sarcoptic mange is extremely contagious to other dogs and can cause scabies in humans.
Demodetic mange mites attach to the hair follicles. Demodetic mange is often hereditary and is much less sever. It can cause puss filled sores caused by a secondary infection.
Both of these mites can be killed with specialized shampoos that you can get from your vet. As with lice, it is best to bag and dispose of all bedding. Treat other animals that may have been infected and clean grooming supplies.
The Cheyletiella Mite has also been called ‘walking dandruff’ because it is visible to the naked eye. As suggested, they look like dandruff flakes with legs. The cheyletiella mite has a long life cycle so treatments need to be repeated several times. They can also be killed with a veterinary shampoo. As with the others, they are contagious to others dogs and bedding should be replaced.
The Harvest Mite is barely visible to the naked eye. They are usually found on the feet and between the toes. The harvest mite is red in color and cause the dog to lick and nibble his feet trying to ease the irritation. As before mentioned, a veterinary shampoo will solve this infestation.
Ear Mites can barely be seen by the naked eye. They are quite small but are white. The infection that they cause results in a yellow, brown, or mahogany colored ear discharge. This infection will cause an unpleasant odor. Indications of an ear mite infection are head shaking or scratching of one or both ears, yelps when touched around the ears, and inflammation of the ear flaps. Antibiotic ear drops are needed to treat ear mites.
Well, I don’t know about you but I am starting to itch all over just typing about all of these external parasites! I consistently use my grooming log and am very confident that my own dog is parasite free. My next article will explore Internal Parasites.
When not writing about himself in the third person, Andy spends many an hour walking his mischievous, mixed breed rescue Mr Wox, aka Soxy Woxy. A leading authority on all dog-related topics, Andy is highly respected, deeply appreciated and widely admired.