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Ectoparasites: All things you Should Know

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Ectoparasites: All things you Should Know


The summer season has officially started in the UAE and every pet owner is worried about the skin health of their furry companions. It is common given the weather conditions of the UAE region that dermatological problems and illnesses among pets are increasing during this time of the year, including external parasites.

As stated by European Scientific Counsel Companion Animal Parasites (ESCCAP), external or ectoparasites include a wide range of parasitic ‘acari’ and ‘insecta’ such as fleas, ticks, mites, and chewing and sucking lice. Since many ectoparasites may act as vectors of various essential diseases, it is also our aim at The City Vet Clinic to deliver comprehensive information to support and assist pet owners in successfully controlling infections and preventing disease transmission.

Indeed, it is important to know the effects of ectoparasite infestations on pets stated by the organization themselves. Below are a few of the clinical implications:

  • They cause cutaneous lesions around the body which may lead to secondary bacterial or fungal (Malassezia infections for example) and various kinds of dermatitis
  • They induce immunopathological responses, especially by ectoparasite saliva which may lead to allergic reactions
  • They can transmit pathogens that may cause diseases (VBDs – Vector-Borne Diseases) that are clinically more relevant than the actual ectoparasite infestation itself
  • They may be zoonotic or transmit infections between different animals’ species (such as fleas which may infect owners also and other pets in the same house)
  • They may interfere with the human-animal bond
  • The direct health implications can be more than skin deep (for example blood-sucking arthropods can cause anemia).

What are the Clinical Signs of Infestations?

Ectoparasites can be located around the body like the demodectic mange and tick or localized in a single area such as with ear mites & harvest mites on the legs. Nevertheless, the main predilection sites are the non-hairy and thin-skinned areas such as the face, ears, axillae, and interdigital, inguinal, and perianal regions. 

This high variability makes it essential for vets to prescribe the best treatment. As soon as the infestation starts, the grooming behavior of the animal can have a major influence on the number of the parasites and their longevity. 

Clinical signs due to flea infestation are dependent on the following factors:

  • Frequency of the exposure
  • Duration of the infestation
  • Presence of secondary infections or another concurrent skin disease
  • Degree of hypersensitivity

Non-allergic animals may have few or no clinical signs and only show occasional scratching due to irritation-caused bites. Animals that are allergic or have developed an immunological reaction show pruritus, alopecia, broken hairs, papules, and erythematous macules with crusts. Moist dermatitis may be seen typically in the dorsal lumbar and tail region which develops lesions that could extend to the thighs and the abdomen. Secondary pyotraumatic dermatitis, hot spot, pyoderma, and seborrhea are also commonly seen. In chronic cases, the skin shows hyperkeratosis or an increased thickness of the outer layer of the skin. In addition, heavy infestations can cause anemia, especially in young, old, or debilitated animals.

How is it Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of infestation is usually made by identifying the ticks on the animal, although it is more difficult to detect small larval and nymphal stages. There may be local skin reactions or small inflamed nodules (micro-abscesses) due to tick bites. If ticks are not noticed and transmitted pathogens, diagnosis may be more difficult as the clinical signs can be ill-defined. Thus, in this situation, it is important to take a thorough history and/or by performing an assessment based on the possibility of a previous infestation.

Demodicosis on the other hand is diagnosed through deep skin scrapings from small, affected areas of alopecia and confirmed via microscopic examination. It is commonly called demodectic mange or red mange in animals.

Ectoparasite Control and Prevention

A large variety of purpose-designed tick removal tools are available; these may be used for the removal of ticks attached to the skin. Always remember that oils, alcohol, or ether alcohols should not be used at all. The main goal is to kill the parasites and prevent the recurrence of the disease. Systemic or topical treatments are necessary and most proved to be safe and effective. Registered treatments include selamectin, fluralaner, imidacloprid, fipronil, perimethrin, or a combination of several molecules that can be administered. In our clinics, we’ll provide the easiest and fastest way to treat and prevent such ectoparasites with our wide range of products available. We are also very concerned about the resistance formed by these parasites over time; therefore, we always look at the history of previous medications while prescribing a new one.

Depending on the duration of activity of any compound, treatment may vary and might be needed to be repeated to eliminate the infestation. And as they say, prevention is better than cure, that is why it is still recommended even if there are no signs of infestations. Cleaning of the environment, including washing of beddings and vacuum cleaning, helps to eliminate any mites in the environment.

How about Leishmania?

Leishmania is a parasite that causes a disease called Leishmaniasis, a severe disease that can affect dogs and other mammals including humans. The parasite is transmitted to dogs via an insect (sandfly) and is commonly found in desertic climates. In some cases, other dogs may not show symptoms for months or years even after becoming infected. When they become very ill and are affected already by the disease, they often develop skin lesions and may start to become depressed, will lose weight, and drink excessively. Some dogs develop kidney failure. However, infected dogs can become unwell without any visible signs, e.g. having any skin lesions.

With all that said, it is essential to prevent pets from any infection with good communication with your veterinary doctor. We are here anytime to help and provide you with the best preventive procedure. Any questions, please don’t hesitate to call one of our branches and we will be happy to assist you.


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