Cheyletiella spp., otherwise known as “walking dandruff”, is a parasitic mite that can cause mild to moderate inflammation of the skin in dogs, cats, and rabbits. It can be seen with the naked eye moving along the haircoat, which gives the mite its nickname. The pale yellow to white colored mite dwells on the superficial skin and has large pinching mouth parts that feed on the nutrients on the surface. The mites are highly contagious to other pets and people. They can be transmitted by direct contact of an infested animal or by indirect exposure to a contaminated environment.
The symptoms can vary from pet to pet, ranging from severe lesions to no symptoms at all. The most common signs are mild to moderate itching, dry flaky skin, and rash on the trunk and head. More severe infestations can cause intense itching, hair loss, skin infections, sneezing, or even allergic reactions. Symptoms in people include a very itchy rash on forearms, legs, and abdomen. The rash generally subsides once contact is eliminated.
The most common ways to identify Cheyletiella are through direct examination under magnification, scotch tape test under the microscope, or a fecal sample to check for mite eggs. The mites may be difficult to find on cats because of their meticulous grooming.
Treating Cheyletiella is relatively easy. Flea control products such as Revolution and Frontline Plus (do not use Frontline on rabbits) have been successful. Other treatments such as a lime-sulfur dip, shampoos, or injectable anti-parasitic medications are sometimes used. Make sure all the pets in the household are treated since asymptomatic pets can be carriers. For more severe infections, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or anti-inflammatories as well.
Environmental clean-up is essential to the clearance of the mite. This includes washing bedding, clothing, and vacuuming the carpet. Most environmental flea sprays or foggers will kill the mites. Luckily, this type of mite has become fairly uncommon due to increased compliance with flea control in endemic areas. However, in areas where fleas aren’t as common, the Cheyletiella mite is more prevalent.