Humans have enjoyed the companionship of their fourfooted friends for centuries. Pets bring unconditional love, but they are sometimes accompanied by zoonotic parasites. A number of scientific studies have found that direct contact with pets can put people at risk for the transmission of zoonotic parasites.

What is a zoonotic parasite?

A parasite is an animal that lives upon or within another living organism at whose expense it obtains nutrients and shelter. Zoonotic parasites can be transmitted from pets to humans.

SCABIES (MANGE)

Scabies, also referred to as mange, is caused by a small animal called a mite. Mites are members of the arachnid family (spiders, etc.) that live within the hair follicle. They are microscopic and cannot be seen with the human eye. Scabies mites gain their nutrients by feeding on the blood of their host (animal they are living on).

Who in the family is at risk for scabies?

Pets become infected with a different kind of scabies mite than the mite that causes scabies in humans. If your pet is infected with scabies, and they have close contact with you, the mite can burrow into your skin and cause itching and skin irritation for several days. However, on humans the mite dies in a couple of days and does not reproduce. Until your pet is successfully treated, mites can continue to burrow into your skin and cause you to have symptoms.

If your symptoms persist past the successful treatment of your pet you will need to seek medical attention from your physician. All family members who handle an infected animal are at risk. People who spend time cuddling and sleeping with infected pets are more commonly infected. Children run a higher risk of coming in contact with these itchy mites due to their play habits and attraction to pets.

How is scabies transmitted?

There are many different types of mites that are species specific meaning they need a particular host to carry out their lifecycle. In the wrong host they cause discomfort but cannot go through their full life cycle. Scabies mites are spread by direct contact with an infected animal or environment.

How do I know if my pet is infected with
scabies?

In animals, scabies most commonly affects the skin of the tips of the ears, face, muzzle and elbows. In pets with other serious medical issues or immune system problems, the infection may spread over the entire body. The infection causes crusting of the skin, hair loss and intense itching. Pets become infected with a different kind of scabies mite than the mite that causes scabies in humans.

How is scabies treated?

Scabies requires medical attention and will not clear up on its own. Pets are treated with medications to kill the mites. They may also require medications to treat the itching and any other skin problems caused by the itching (scratches, wounds, etc.). Scabies can be life threatening in pets with weakened immune systems or when the infection has spread over the entire body. People who
suspect they have scabies should seek medical attention.

What can you do to protect the entire
family from scabies?

Be aware of who your pets play with and discourage or prevent contact with scabies-infected pets. Practice good hygiene for both your family and pet and encourage family members to wash exposed areas of skin after petting and playing with pets. Seek medical attention from your veterinarian if you notice your pet is chewing at his skin or itching.