Days are getting longer and warmer! People are starting to dream of green grass and warm beaches. While there might a few weeks before we are sipping cocktails on the beach, now is a great time to start thinking about parasites!

March is TICK AWARENESS month and we are in fact starting to see ticks emerge from hibernation, but I want to talk about all of the ectoparasites that we have been seeing here at Tanglefoot Veterinary Services.

What is an ECTOPARASITE?? Definition : a parasite that lives on or in the skin but not within the body. Fleas, ticks, lice and ear mites are common ectoparasites. Some of the less common ones are demodex and mange mites.

Some of the most common ectoparasites we see in the East Kootenay’s are:


The most common tick we see is the wood tick or Dermacentor andersoni. The wood tick prefers shrubs over open areas but would venture into open areas if hosts such as small or big mammals are present. It may also be found on foothills that are lightly wooded and on trails located on lower elevations. This tick can cause Tick Paralysis, but this is extremely rare. If you feel that your pet is not feeling well after a bite from a tick please call the clinic.
The deer tick or Ixodes scapularis is the one that can transmit Lyme disease but is fortunately rare in this area.
DOGS and HORSES are most commonly affected by ticks. If you see a tick DON’T panic! It is best to remove it with a pair of tweezers by grabbing it as close to the animal’s body as possible and gently pulling it off. Ticks are not as common on cats but we do see them on occasion!

There are many products available to prevent and treat tick infestations. Some are over the counter at the vet clinic and applied topically once per month and others, that are prescription, will offer up to 3 months of protection. Some of the tick products that are available are TOXIC to cats. We recommend always speaking to your veterinarian to determine which product is best for your pet and your family. Tick products are not all created equal!


In veterinary medicine fleas are most commonly found on dogs and cats. Fleas are very common on the coast but we do see a few cases every year at the clinic. They can be seen with the naked eye. Female fleas deposit eggs that fall off the host and hatch in the environment. It is important when treating fleas to treat all animals in the household and their environment for a few months to adequately get rid of the fleas. Luckily many treatments are available (some are toxic to cats). Speak to your veterinarian to determine which one is best.


Lice are tiny, wingless ectoparasites that may be difficult to see with the naked eye. There are two different kinds of lice that we see:

biting lice

and sucking lice.

It is best to bring in a specimen to the clinic so we can evaluate which type of lice your pet has. This will determine the appropriate treatment. Every year we see more and more cases of lice and they can be transmitted easily from pet to pet. Luckily they are species specific. This means that if your horse has lice they will not be transmitted to your dog!

There are several options to treat lice but all are dependent on what type of lice and what species of animal. Always speak to your veterinarian for proper diagnosis!


Mites are microscopic and much more difficult to diagnose! Even though they are tiny they can be extremely uncomfortable for the patient.

Ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) are commonly seen in cats and kittens. If a cat has ear mites the ear canal is usually packed full of brown debris and the cat will often be extremely itchy. Often they will scratch or dig at the ears and will cause self trauma.

There are treatments available at grocery or box stores but we find that many of these are ineffective or can be dangerous because they are not closely regulated. Treatments at the veterinary clinic are very effective and usually involve only one or two treatments.

Sarcoptic Mange (Sarcoptes scabei) is transferred easily between hosts.

Also known as canine scabies, sarcoptic mange is caused by mites that are oval-shaped, light-colored and microscopic
Demodectic mange (Demodex sp.) results in isolated scaly bald patches-usually on the dog’s face-creating a polka-dot appearance. Localized demodicosis is considered a common ailment of puppy hood, and approximately 90% of cases resolve with no treatment of any kind. We can also see cases in adult animals that have a compromised immune system.
Demodex and Sarcoptic mange are diagnosed at your veterinary clinic. The veterinarian will do a deep skin scrape. A scalpel blade is scraped over the skin until capillary bleeding is evident.
Do NOT try this at home!

Occasionally we will see nasal mites and and walking dandruff in dogs. As well as, mites in birds and pocket pets.As with other ectoparasites, treatments for mites are available but are species specific. Something we use to treat a dog may be toxic to a cat or a budgie! Do not attempt without proper diagnosis at your veterinary clinic!

We hope this brief overview of some of the common ectoparasites will help keep your pets happy and healthy this Spring! We are happy to answer any questions you may have!

Images: Veterinary Clinical Parasitology, 8th edition, by Anne M. Zajac and Gary A. Conboy, published by Wiley-Blackwell