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Walking Dandruff in Dogs

What Is Walking Dandruff in Dogs?

Walking dandruff in dogs, also known as cheyletiellosis, is a skin condition caused by the Cheyletiella mite. These mites are visible to the naked eye and can cause scaling of the skin, giving the appearance of walking dandruff. Cheyletiella is contagious and can affect dogs, cats, rabbits, and even humans.

While not as common as other parasites like fleas and ticks, cheyletiellosis can still pose a risk, especially in environments where hygiene may be lacking, such as kennels or in households with poor sanitation practices. Puppies and kittens are particularly vulnerable to infestation.

Preventative measures such as flea and tick prevention products, while not specifically targeting Cheyletiella, can help reduce the risk of infestation. However, if left untreated, cheyletiellosis can lead to more serious skin infections and chronic skin disease. Chronic inflammation caused by the mites weakens the immune system, allowing secondary bacterial and yeast infections to thrive, leading to symptoms like excessive scaling, hair loss, itching, and discomfort. It’s important to address cheyletiellosis promptly to prevent further complications and discomfort for affected animals.

Symptoms

The primary symptom of walking dandruff in dogs is the presence of white flakes on the skin and coat, caused by the white mites associated with the condition. While dogs with walking dandruff typically do not exhibit excessive scratching, they may experience itchiness due to an allergic reaction to the Cheyletiella mite. Additionally, affected dogs may develop scaly, crusty skin, particularly on their back. Some dogs may also experience sneezing as a symptom of a Cheyletiella infestation.

Causes

Walking dandruff in dogs is caused by Cheyletiella mites, which are highly contagious and commonly found in environments where dogs congregate closely, such as large kennels, boarding facilities, and groomers. These mites primarily reside on the hair of the host, venturing onto the skin only to feed. They can survive in the surrounding environment for up to 10 days, potentially infecting other pets through contaminated bedding or shared spaces like kennels.

This condition is zoonotic, meaning it can spread between animals and humans. Other pets and individuals in the household are at risk of contracting the Cheyletiella mite from an infected dog. However, humans are not the preferred hosts for these parasites. Symptoms of human infection include itchy, red bumps, which typically resolve once the pet receives appropriate treatment.

If your dog is diagnosed with walking dandruff, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider about any recommended testing and treatment for you and your family to prevent the spread of the mites.

Diagnosis

Veterinarians employ several common tests to diagnose walking dandruff in dogs. The primary methods include skin scrapes and acetate tape preparations. During a skin scrape, a small blade is used to collect cells from the surface of the dog’s skin to identify the type of mite present. In an acetate tape preparation, the veterinarian uses a piece of tape to gather dandruff flakes from the dog’s coat, which are then examined under a microscope to detect Cheyletiella mites.

Additional skin tests that may be utilized include:

  • Wood’s lamp examination using ultraviolet (UV) light or blacklight
  • Fungal cultures involving plucking hairs and placing them in a growth medium
  • Skin cytology utilizing impression smears, scrapes, or plucks
  • Bloodwork to exclude underlying thyroid disease or other endocrine disorders
  • Skin biopsies for further evaluation if necessary

Treatment

Treatment options for cheyletiellosis in dogs include various topical and oral medications:

  • Lime sulfur baths
  • Topical flea and tick spot-on treatments like Revolution and Frontline
  • Spray products such as Frontline spray
  • Oral medications like Trifexis, Sentinel, and Heartgard

Your veterinarian will advise on the most suitable treatment for your pet. It’s important to treat all animals in the household, including dogs, cats, and rabbits, that have been exposed to Cheyletiella mites.

Certain treatments may be safe for dogs but not for cats, rabbits, or specific dog breeds or ages. Consult your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your pet, and be sure to follow the provided instructions without discontinuing treatment prematurely.

In addition to treating pets, it’s crucial to address the environment to prevent reinfestation. Cheyletiella mites can survive off the host and in the surroundings for up to 10 days. Wash all pet bedding with hot water and detergent, and thoroughly clean the house using flea-specific cleaners according to the product label instructions.

Failure to wash bedding or treat all pets in the household can lead to repeat infections. Some animals may carry mites without showing obvious signs of cheyletiellosis.

Pets cease to be contagious three weeks after completing treatment. Most treatment regimens last at least three weeks.

Recovery and Management of Walking Dandruff in Dogs

The outlook for recovery from cheyletiellosis, commonly known as walking dandruff, is typically excellent with proper treatment. In humans, walking dandruff heals over time, even without specific treatment, as humans are incidental hosts and the infection tends to resolve on its own.

However, untreated pets will remain susceptible to Cheyletiella mite infestations over the long term, potentially leading to chronic skin issues and secondary skin infections.

Although dogs that have undergone treatment for cheyletiellosis can recover fully, they can still be re-infected if they come into contact with untreated sources. Having experienced cheyletiellosis once does not inherently increase the likelihood of future infections unless the dog is exposed again to an untreated source of the mites.

Prevention

Preventing walking dandruff in dogs can be effectively achieved through the use of various flea and tick products available today, such as fipronil (Frontline) and selamectin (Revolution). Ensuring your pet is regularly administered topical or oral flea and tick preventative medication helps minimize the risk of them contracting walking dandruff.

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