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What is Walking Dandruff?

Walking dandruff is an infestation by a parasite in the Cheyletiella family. Although dogs are most often infected by Cheyletiella yasguri, other mites in this family may affect your animal, particularly dogs that share their homes with cats or rabbits, their preferred hosts.

The Cheyletiella mites also flourish in overcrowded facilities and are easily spread from animal to animal. This condition causes the skin to flake and peel, leaving it swollen and itchy, and the movement of the mites may even be visible to the naked eye.

An infestation caused by the Cheyletiella mite can cause the skin to itch and flake. It is known as walking dandruff due to the movement of the flakes as the mites crawl beneath them.

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Symptoms of Walking Dandruff in Dogs

This condition gets its name from characteristic dandruff-like scales that form on the skin and the visible movement of the mites on the skin. The mites may cause your dog to exhibit excessive scratching, biting, or rubbing of affected areas. Other signs of infestation can include:

  • Hair loss
  • Red, bumpy rash
  • Reddened skin
  • Swollen skin

Types

There are four types of mites that tend to infest dogs including the the Cheyletiella yasguri, also known as surface mites. Mites that frequently affect dogs include:

  • Cheyletiella yasguri - These skin mites affect the back on dogs and can cause flaking, scabbing, and itching, but when Cheyletiella mites jump to humans, they affect the arms, trunk, and buttocks
  • Demodex canis - The most common mite to affect dogs, lives in the hair follicle of the animal; they are usually harmless unless the immune system is suppressed and they breed out of control 
  • Otodectes cynotis - These mites, also known as ear mites, are more common in cats than in dogs and tend to be restricted to the ear area
  • Sarcoptes scabiei - This variety of mite crawls along the surface of the skin, burrowing into it to lay their eggs; this produces intensely itchy rashes that can affect any area of the skin

Causes of Walking Dandruff in Dogs

This disorder is a type of mange caused by a mite called the Cheyletiella mite. The Cheyletiella mite that causes walking dandruff utilized dogs, cats, and rabbits as hosts, although each host has a slightly different species of mite that feeds on it. The mites that make up the Cheyletiella family and their hosts include: 

  • Cheyletiella blakei- Cats
  • Cheyletiella parasitivorax- Common rabbits
  • Cheyletiella romerolagi- Volcano rabbits
  • Cheyletiella strandtmanni- Hares
  • Cheyletiella yasguri- Dogs

The mites that affect cats and dogs are also known to occasionally jump to human hosts.

Diagnosis of Walking Dandruff in Dogs

When you bring your dog into the veterinarian's clinic, the visit will most likely start with a general physical examination, and in the majority of cases, the movement of the parasites on the skin will be revealed. Sightings of the mites and the symptoms they cause will generally prompt the examiner to use either a flea comb or a piece of tape to collect some of the mites.

In some cases, a sample of the affected skin will be collected for a process known as cutaneous cytology, where the skin sample is examined microscopically. This will not only identify which mites are affecting your animal but will also help to determine how extensive the infestation is. The Cheyletiella yasguri mites are typically visible moving on the skin with the naked eye and relatively easy to identify on most skin samples with a microscope, and when coupled with the skin reaction, diagnosis becomes elementary.

Treatment of Walking Dandruff in Dogs

Infestations of Cheyletiella mites can be treated by using a few different methods, but all of them involve treating all of the animals in the house. Topically, this usually involves clipping of long or thick hair bathing designed to remove the scales, followed by the application of a miticide. Topical miticides can be applied using a rinse, a dip, or a simple lotion or ointment, and the amount and frequency of the treatment will depend on which specific medications and methods are used. Medications such as Milbemycin and Ivermectin can be administered orally, and Ivermectin may also be employed by injecting it under the skin. It is crucial to inform your veterinarian if your dog has any herding breeds in its family history as Ivermectin is toxic to these breeds. Breeds that are more susceptible to Ivermectin toxicity may include: 

  • Australian Shepherd
  • Collie
  • German Shepherd
  • Old English Sheepdog
  • Shetland Sheepdog

It may take several weeks and multiple reapplications to fully eliminate the mites.

Recovery of Walking Dandruff in Dogs

Cheyletiella mites are highly contagious and can hop between dogs, cats, rabbits, and even humans. For this reason, it is important to treat all of the animals in the household if any of them are diagnosed with walking dandruff. Any bedding that has been in contact with the animals should be laundered, and carpets and upholstery should be vacuumed to prevent further infestations. This will need to be repeated periodically throughout the weeks of the treatment process. As humans are not the parasite’s normal host, the infestations are generally short and treating the affected animals, and environment usually provides resolution.

Walking Dandruff Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Nala
Rottweiler
2 years
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

My dog has flakes on her skin. She is doing a lot of scratching, which is not the norm for her. It seems that all of this happened when put her in doggy hotel she iras on vacation. At this time I cannot afford to take her to the vet since I was just laid off

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Make sure that Nala is up to date on flea and tick prevention, use a spot on medication like Frontline (fipronil) or Advantage (imidacloprid and moxidectin) on her. Also, scaly itchy skin may be caused by some external irritant, allergies or another skin condition so bathing Nala in a shampoo with benzoyl peroxide shampoo (before the flea and tick prevention) may also be beneficial to cover a few bases. If you have no success with this, then you would need to visit your Veterinarian regardless of cost and circumstance for a closer look. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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