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Articles > Dogs

Oh Those Pesky Mites

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Tags: Mites, Acquired Disorders, Health, Mange

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Mites are small insects that can be invisible to the naked eye or so small that they are literally impossible to see. Mites can be found in the skin of the horse, and this variety is often known as itch or mange mites. There are also mites that live in the ear, known, not surprisingly, as ear mites.

There are several different types of skin or mange mites found in horses and the type of mite that is prevalent in your area will be determined by the climate and the horses that your horse may have been in contact with. Horses that are moved to different areas of the country or are taken to shows or events where they come in contact with mite infected horses are more likely to develop mites even if your area is mite free. Tack from infected horses or even used brushes that have groomed a horse with mites are often a method of transmission of mites.

Mites are problematic in that they cause extreme itching of the skin as they burrow just under the surface. The females lay eggs in these skin tunnels and the young mature in the skin, resulting in the unpleasant sensation for the horse. In addition the mites also produce a toxin that causes an allergic reaction in the skin, resulting in rubbing, scratching and licking of the area. This then leads to the formation of sores and rubbed areas where the hair falls out and the chance of secondary bacterial infections increases.

The skin in the affected areas is crusty and flaky looking with the hair typically rubbed or scratched off. Often the worst areas are the base of the tail, along the back and on the head. In severe cases the mites may spread over the entire body of the horse.

Mites that stay on the surface of the skin and don't burrow still leave the highly toxic waste material from feeding off dead skin cells on the horse's body. Often this is most commonly seen around the feet and lower legs and the resulting condition is known as foot mange.

Demodectic mites live in the hair shaft and are most common on the neck and shoulders. Since these mites live their entire life in the hair follicle they are very hard to identify without a microscopic examination by a vet.

Chigger mites are problematic in warmer climates where the adult mites lay eggs in the soil. The hatching juvenile chiggers then climb onto a mammal and feed and develop, dropping back down to the soil when they mature. They are very irritating to the horse and cause severe itching in sensitive horses.

Mites can be treated through routine use of pesticides that are approved for use on horses. Each horse in the herd must be treated according to the directions and on the schedule to prevent continuation of the problem. Stables, tack and equipment should likewise be treated for mites if they are a problem in your area. Mites can be transferred to humans and other pets, so careful management is needed to prevent problems with all animals.

Ear mites are found in the waxy build up of the ears and will often cause the ears to become flaky and foul smelling on the inside. Ear mites are visible if you scrape some of the wax and place it on a piece of dark paper, the movement of the mites will be visible under a magnifying glass. Treatment for ear mites includes rubbing a commercially available ear mite repellant or treatment in the ear as directed.


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