Mites on dogs: How to recognize and treat these parasites

Dog scratching himself
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Discovering mites on dogs is always going to be alarming. On the one hand, it means these tiny arachnids are living on your pet, causing discomfort, hair loss, inflammation and itching. On the other hand, it also means they’re in your home, with the potential of infecting you and the rest of your family. Feeling grossed out all of a sudden? We’ve got you. 

Since mites are microscopic (they’re smaller than the width of a human hair, near-impossible to see with the naked eye and look like small black dots), they can be easily missed until you begin to notice the symptoms. Left untreated, they can cause two separate skin diseases in dogs: demodicosis and scabies.

Since mites can be passed from dog to dog either directly or indirectly, you may find you have an even larger problem on your hands if you have more than one pooch at home. In any case, although you can use the best dog shampoo to keep coats clean and smelling fresh, you shouldn’t attempt to directly treat mites yourself. Home remedies are ineffective and they can also harm your dog. 

Instead, regardless of which species of mite is causing your dog’s skin problems, you will need an accurate diagnosis and veterinarian-prescribed treatment if you want to eliminate mites. To that end, it’s a good idea to check out a vet's guide to mange (the name for an itchy skin condition caused by mites) as well as the advice from our expert vet Dr Catherine Barnette below.

Catherine Barnette
Catherine Barnette DVM

After graduating from the University of Florida, having gained a B.S. in Zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), pet lover and expert Dr Barnette went on to rack up 15 years of clinical experience working as a small animal veterinarian, treating fur friends including dogs, cats, and occasional exotic patients. Dr Barnette now creates educational copy for PetsRadar and content for fellow veterinarians and pet owners, working as a freelance veterinary writer. 

Types of mites on dogs

Two common mites affect dogs: Demodex canis (often referred to as “demodex”) and Sarcoptes scabiei (often referred to as “sarcoptes”). 

Demodex canis 

Demodex mites cause a skin condition referred to as demodicosis or demodectic mange. Demodicosis is most common in young puppies (whose immune systems are not fully developed) and in dogs that are immunosuppressed due to stress, immunosuppressive drugs, or an underlying illness. 

Most young puppies are infected with a few demodex mites by their mother when they are very young but, as a puppy grows and matures, their immune system keeps these mites in check and prevents an active, overwhelming infection. In some cases, however, the dog’s immune system fails to suppress the mites, allowing the mites to proliferate within the hair follicles. But demodicosis is not a contagious skin condition; your dog cannot become infected with demodex mites through contact with an infected dog. 

Sarcoptes mites 

Sarcoptes mites cause a condition known as scabies or sarcoptic mange. Scabies is a contagious skin disease. This infection spreads from an infected dog to an uninfected dog. In rare cases, even cats can be infected with scabies. Scabies typically spreads when two animals are in direct contact with each other, but the mites can also survive on bedding and other surfaces for several days and be passed in that way.

scratching is a symptom of mites in dogs

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Can you see dog mites with the human eye?

Some animal mites can be seen with the naked eye, such as Cheyletiellia, also known as “walking dandruff.” This mite is most common in cats and rabbits, but it can occasionally infect dogs. 

Demodex and sarcoptes, the two most common mites in dogs, however, are very small, measuring between 0.5 and 2.0mm in length. That makes them virtually invisible to the naked eye. If your dog has demodicosis or scabies, you’ll tend to only see evidence of the damage caused by the mites.


Demodicosis and scabies affect the skin of infected dogs and, since there can be significant overlap between these two conditions, it’s important to work with a veterinarian to obtain an accurate diagnosis.

The most common sign of canine demodex is hair loss. Demodex mites live within the hair follicle, resulting in inflammation that causes the hair to fall out. This hair loss may affect a single part of the body (localized demodex) or may be widespread (generalized demodex). 

Some affected dogs also develop itching and redness of the skin. Itching and inflammation may indicate the presence of a secondary bacterial infection.

The most common sign of scabies is severe itching. The saliva and fecal matter of scabies mites trigger a severe itch response in most dogs; affected dogs may be so itchy that they seem unable to get comfortable. While scabies mites do not affect the hair follicles, affected dogs may scratch themselves so vigorously that they scratch their hair out. The skin is often red and inflamed, and dogs may be especially itchy around their ears.

mites on dogs

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Can I catch mites from my dog?

The zoonotic (animal to human) transmission potential of mites depends on which mite your dog is infected with. Demodicosis is not contagious to humans. We have our own species of demodex mite but we cannot become infected with canine demodex mites.

Scabies, in contrast, is a zoonotic parasite. You can become infected with scabies through contact with an infected dog. Fortunately, the scabies mites that live on dogs do not survive on humans for very long. (We have our own human-specific scabies mite that causes human scabies infections.) 

Dog scabies can trigger intense itching in people, but this is often short-lived and will resolve within a number of days. Canine scabies does not typically cause long-lasting infections in humans.

When to see a vet

If you suspect that your dog may have mites (or any other skin condition), schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. You will be asked a number of questions in order to gain an understanding of your dog’s history. Your vet will also perform a thorough physical examination, including a detailed evaluation of your dog’s skin. Based on your dog’s history and clinical appearance, the veterinarian will recommend appropriate diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your dog’s skin issues. 

Demodicosis is usually easy to diagnose using a test called a skin scrape. In this test, your vet obtains samples from the deep layers of the skin and examines them under the microscope. Seeing demodex mites on the skin scrape confirms a diagnosis of demodicosis.

A superficial (shallow) skin scrape may be beneficial in diagnosing scabies, but sarcoptes mites are not always easy to find. In some cases, repeated skin scrapes may fail to find mites in dogs infected with scabies. Therefore, scabies is often diagnosed based on clinical appearance and response to appropriate treatment.

dog visiting vet

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How to get rid of mites on dogs

Your veterinarian will prescribe an appropriate treatment, depending on whether your dog is diagnosed with demodex or scabies. It includes oral medications, spot-on topical products, or medicated shampoos. If your dog has developed a secondary skin infection as a result of mites, your veterinarian may also prescribe an antibiotic to give with your dog’s skin mite treatment. 

If your dog is diagnosed with scabies, you can expect to see a response to treatment within a few weeks, and the mites will likely be cleared within six to eight weeks. Demodex often requires a more prolonged course of treatment. Dogs are typically rechecked once monthly during treatment (to assess response to therapy) and treatment may be continued for six months or more. 

Mites are not the only living nuisances affecting dogs. You can find out how to treat a dog with worms and learn how to get rid of fleas in your home and on your pet.

Catherine Barnette DVM

Dr. Barnette is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received both her B.S. in Zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She has 15 years of clinical experience as a small animal veterinarian, treating dogs, cats, and occasional exotic patients. She now works as a freelance veterinary writer, creating educational content for veterinarians, veterinary team members, and dedicated pet owners. Dr. Barnette lives in southwest Florida with her husband and daughter (plus two cats, a dog, and a rescued dove!) and enjoys kayaking, biking, and hiking. Learn more about Dr. Barnette at