The Itch


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The Itch

Dogs can sometimes have a wide variety of flora and fauna stuck and tangled in their fur. For some, it all boils down to lifestyle while other dogs just have some strange habits. One thing that we can be absolutely certain about is that dog parents, do not appreciate some of the nasty creepy crawlies that sometimes infest our pets. Some can be a nuisance that makes our pets scratch themselves raw, while others can be downright dangerous carrying terrible diseases. Some of these parasites might also have humans on the menu. Below we shall discuss the three most common types of critters that might pitch up camp on our furry friends.


If a good thing could be said about lice, it is that lice are mostly host specific. It is therefore very unlikely that your dog’s lice will find themselves in your child’s hair. There are three major species of lice that can call your dog home. These are Heterodoxus spiniger, Linognathus setosus, and Trichodectes  canis.  All  these  species  are  about 2mm  in size  with  Trichodectes  canis  being  the comparatively smaller species. Heterodoxus spiniger and Trichodectes canis both chew on your dog’s skin while Linognathus setosus is a blood sucking louse. Lice can themselves be carrying other parasites such as the flea tapeworm and Dipetalonema reconditum. Lice spend their whole life cycle on their host animal, and unlike fleas and ticks, cannot survive for long stranded away from the comforts of our pet’s the lush thick coat.


These bugs are approximately the same size as lice, and have the ability to hop considerable distances when the need arises. There are more than 2000 species that have the capability to pester our pets. Ctenocephalides felis (the cat flea), Ctenocephalides canis (the dog flea) and Pulex irritans (the human flea) are the usual culprits, with the cat flea being the most commonly found species, infesting both cats and dogs. Adult fleas are blood sucking parasites. Some particularly serious flea infestations can result in dogs suffering from anaemia. Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) can also show up in some particularly sensitive dogs. This can result in excessive scratching, and in extreme cases, self- mutilation. Due to the many irritants found in flea saliva, allergic reactions can also develop, often showning up as alopecia (hair loss), red sores and crusts on the skin surface.


These little monsters look like they came out of a sci-fi horror movie. They are pretty small in the earlier stages of their life, but once they latch on and start feasting on our pets, they can grow big and fat very quickly. Once engorged with their host’s blood, a female tick can reach a size of 2 cm or more. Tick species are classified as hard or soft ticks. Hard ticks do not migrate from one host to another, spending their whole life on one host and cannot spread to humans and other pets in the household. Once having fed for some days, female ticks simply drop off and lay a clutch of their eggs that can often number in the thousands. The larvae from these eggs can be usually found hanging on blades of grass or bushes in the countryside. It is when a mammal, in this case a dog, passes by that they take a hold of their host. One exception is Rhipicephalus sanguineus (the brown dog tick) that manages to complete its whole life cycle in man-made environments such as dog kennels and our homes, making it more of a nuisance then the rest. On the other hand, soft ticks do not inhabit one host exclusively. They often leave the animal and come back again for second helpings. It is therefore a relief that soft tick species are not as common as hard ticks.

Ticks also carry a plethora of diseases. Such diseases can be bacterial (Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis), viral (often resulting in meningioencephalitis), and protozoal (Hepatozoon canis). Toxins transmitted by a tick’s bite can also result in a condition called tick paralysis. Some of the viral and bacterial diseases can only affect humans if they are bitten by ticks themselves, and there is therefore no risk of catching these diseases from coming in contact with our pets.


Managing parasites is no easy task. Many people are tempted to try managing these problems using “natural”products and home-made remedies. One does not realise that these are usually ineffective or can actually put the dog’s life at risk. Buying cheap products could also be a penny wise, pound foolish policy; parasites often display resistance to products that have long been circulating on the market.

A veterinarian can provide you with the needed information about the best products and methods to be used in each particular case. More reliable products, backed up by rigorous research, could be easily found on the market in the form of pills, spot-ons, shampoos, insecticide impregnated collars and several other forms. In some cases one does not only need to manage the parasites on the dog but also needs to deal with the thousands of larvae that might be contaminating the environment where the dog lives.