The 3 Most Common Skin Parasites in Dogs and Cats

Posted by Stacey Venzel
itchy dog

Tick season is here, but is your pet protected against mites and fleas, too?

Ectoparasites live in or on the skin. They can cause potential diseases in pets, even resulting in fatality. Luckily, prevention and treatment exist to help your pet stay healthy and free of skin parasites.

These are the most common skin parasites that affect your pets!


A crawling skin parasite called demodex can cause mange in dogs. When affected by the demodex mite, this type of mange is referred to as demodectic mange. Microscopic demodex parasites resemble cigars under the lens.

Another type of mite, Sarcoptes scabiei, can also result in mange, called Sarcoptic mange or, more commonly, scabies. Mange is common in dogs but not cats, but felines are susceptible to ear mites. Symptoms of a mite infestation include intense itching that may cause restlessness as well as hair loss.

demodex mite
National Rosacea Society


Flea-induced anemia occurs when an influx of fleas have drained a lot of blood from your pet, causing fatigue and system malfunctions. Transfusions and medication may be necessary. Tapeworm can also be transmitted through infected flea bites. Therefore, flea prevention goes a long way in eliminating the possibility of your pet contracting tapeworm.

Due to their small size and quick-jumping nature, fleas are both difficult to see and catch. You can check your pet for flea dirt--dried up blood meal in the form of flea feces. Brush back your pet's fur and look for tiny black spots against the skin. To test whether or not it's just dirt, transfer the speckles to a paper towel. Drop some saline or water on them and squish together. Flea dirt should have a dirty brown or red color as it is dried blood. Dirt won't really change color.

Once you have an infestation in your house, it is incredibly difficult to treat. Sometimes your house even has to be fumigated, so prevention is key. Flea combs can help collect fleas but they aren't going to be the solution to an infestation.

Similar to mites, aggressive scratching, hair loss and restlessness can occur with a heavy flea parasitic load, as well as lethargy due to blood loss.

Pets and Parasites


These insects have four life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. The latter three blood-feeding stages can transmit diseases.

Most tick-borne illnesses result when an infected tick is attached to its host for more than 24 hours. Proper removal of ticks is important. Ticks are visible to the naked eye in all life stages. It is important to check your pet for tick eggs, in addition to adult ticks, to prevent an infestation in your home or yard.


Like heavy flea infestations, a load of ticks can cause anemia and extreme lethargy. Both parasites are often picked up in the woods or tall grass.

Topical and oral treatments are typical for treating and preventing skin parasites. Visit your local veterinarian for reliable medication and testing for skin parasites.

Has your pet ever had a skin parasite? Tell us in the comments below how you treat or prevent mites, ticks, and fleas in your pet.

READ MOREDogs in the Woods, Beware: How to Spot Tick Eggs This Summer

WATCH NOW: Pets Lead to Good Health

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The 3 Most Common Skin Parasites in Dogs and Cats