Scabies transfers from pet to human

Pete Keesling

Q:
My daughter was just diagnosed with scabies. Our family doctor says that she probably got this from one of our pets. So which one is suspect, our dog, cat or horse? None of them are itching and our vet didn’t see any skin problems on any of them.
A:
Scabies is a very contagious, very itchy and uncomfortable skin condition caused by a mite named sarcoptes scabei. This burrowing mite can infect pets and people, and is easily passed by direct contact. The good news is that sarcoptes mites can’t reproduce in human skin. So any human infection is short-lived unless the person is continually re-exposed. After a few weeks, the mites die without producing any offspring.
In animals, typical skin lesions are thinning haircoat with flaky and crusty skin, and intense pruritis (itch). Only on rare occasions will an animal carry the mite and not show any symptoms. So your pets actually may not be the source of your daughter’s malady.
There are other ways she could have been infected. This may surprise (and probably disgust you), but sarcoptes mites can be transmitted via infected clothing. An acquaintance of mine was recently diagnosed with scabies.
Her doctor had recently seen several patients with the same skin disease. So he asked them all a few questions to see if there was a common thread. They were all young women, and all had been to several local dress shops to find something to wear to an upcoming dance. Guess where the mites were living? Yep, those bugs were in one or more of those dresses in one or more of those stores. Sort of takes the fun out of shopping for clothes, eh?
Watch your pets carefully for a few weeks. If any of them starts itching or losing fur, he or she should have another visit with the vet.
Q:
Today, we took our dog, Samba, to the vet for vaccinations. He looks and feels fine, but he’s lost a little weight in the last six months (he’s gone from 65 to 62 pounds). I’m sure he’s thinner because we go for more walks and he gets fewer treats now. But the vet insists on doing a laboratory test to check his stool for parasites. I give Samba medication for worms that I buy at the pet store, so I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have any parasites. But please let me know, really, do I need to pay for a fecal examination for my dog?
A:
This question comes up every day at veterinary hospitals; how important is the laboratory analysis of a dog or cat’s stool? Years ago, fecal exams were done only on animals with digestive problems, either diarrhea or vomiting. But times have changed and so has our knowledge of disease-causing parasites.
First, there are newer ones that, years ago, never existed in our local environment. Just a few years ago, we rarely saw hookworm or whipworm infections. But as people have moved with their pets from other parts of the country into South County, these “bugs” have emerged as a potential problem. In addition to intestinal worms, protozoa (named giardia) are nearly endemic in many parts of California, causing digestive upset in animals and people. And those pet store over-the-counter medications? Unfortunately, they’re not effective in eliminating many of these parasites.
Veterinarians and medical doctors are keenly aware that some animal parasites can also infect children, causing serious illnesses including blindness and paralysis. It’s a nasty world out there and we can’t just look the other way. So we’re always on the lookout.
I’m sure your vet made the right decision insisting on that fecal exam. Considering your pooch’s weight loss, it makes sense to check into the potential for a parasitic problem. Fecal exams should be done whenever there are signs of indigestion, weight loss or unthriftyness. It’s good medicine for your pooch AND for your family.

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