Travel Animal Doctor: What in the World are Zoonotic Ectoparasites?

Travel Animal Doctor: What in the World are Zoonotic Ectoparasites?

What are zoonotic ectoparasites, and why should I be aware of them? -Travel Animal Doctor

What is a zoonotic disease? In Layman’s terms, zoonotic diseases are known as diseases that can be spread from a specific species to humans. Ectoparasites are simply parasites that infect your body externally.

Travel Animal Doctor

Zoonotic ectoparasites are a danger to you and your pet. -Travel Animal Doctor

My first article of this series is entitled, “Parasites: Can I Contract Fleas from my Dog or Cat?”, which gave a brief description of parasites and described some of the parasites you can find on your animal that are not zoonotic. The second article I wrote, found here, gave examples of important internal zoonotic parasites. This article will focus on external zoonotic parasites, commonly called zoonotic ectoparasites.

Quick Question

  • Do you take your dog walks in fields by a pond?
  • Do you hike with your pet in the woods?

It is always an adventure traveling and exercising with pets. But keeping your pet protected from disease while exercising and traveling is extremely important.

This quick list contains three parasites to be aware of that can carry zoonotic diseases, and tips to prevent them.

1) Fleas

Fleas are zoonotic ectoparasites that come from prairie dogs and cats, and can cause the plague.

Cats are often transmitted the plague by fleas.

Travel Animal Doctor

Flea – Travel Animal Doctor

When active infection is present cats can spread the plague to humans by a scratch or bite. The key to prevention of the plague is to provide flea preventatives for your feline friend.

This simple solution can protect your entire family from a serious disease.

2) Mites

There are a number of mites that infect pets that are another type of zoonotic endoparasite.

As they are zoonotic, these parasites can also spread from animal to people.

Sarcoptes, for example, is also known as scabies and will cause a rash on dogs and people.

Travel Animal Doctor

Sarcoptes -Travel Animal Doctor

In humans, scabies is a self-limiting disease because the mites will not reproduce.

The easiest way to prevent your pet from getting this zoonotic ectoparasite is to keep him or her away from other animals with mange.

If you notice an animal has irregular hair loss, crusty skin and/or rashes, keep your pet at a distance.

3) Ticks

There are many tickborne diseases that affect people and animals alike.

Pets and people are often exposed to ticks when walking in the woods or when they are on hikes. Pets often can get ticks from just being outside.

Travel Animal Doctor

Ectoparasites – Travel Animal Doctor

  • A mechanism that ticks use to latch on to you and your pets is to crawl up on the top of tall grasses so that when your skin brushes up against that grass it is game on.
  • One way for you to prevent this is to keep your grass mowed.
  • It is also important to check yourself and your pets after a hike in the woods.
  • Some diseases caused by ticks that can affect people and animals are Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and ehrlichiosis.

When the tick latches onto your skin the tick’s saliva is transmitted to you via the bite and transmits the disease into your bloodstream.

Tickborne illnesses are painful to you and your pet.

Lyme disease in dogs causes inflammation of their joints, fever, depression and loss of appetite. Dogs with Lyme disease have been described as “walking on egg shells” because their joints are so painful. People who get Lyme disease will develop fever and body aches, and will have flu-like symptoms. It can be hard to diagnose, and is termed, “The Great Imitator” because so many symptoms look like other diseases. Lyme disease is more prevalent in some states than in others. There is a vaccine available for your pet, so ask your veterinarian if he or she recommends it where you live.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is zoonotic, meaning if your dog is sick, you are at risk of infection. Dogs will have neurologic disturbances and arthritis-like stiffness, and if not treated can die from this condition. This disease often causes infected humans to be hospitalized and they can die also. While dogs do not have this clinical sign, people with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can develop a rash from a tick bite.
c. Ehrlichiosis in dogs also leads to joint pain, shifting leg lameness and loss of appetite. If it is undiagnosed and becomes a chronic infection, it will affect the bone marrow function, including production of the blood cells. As with the other tickborne diseases, human infection can result in fever, muscle aches and fatigue and it is caused by a tick bite.


  • Many ectoparasites are species-specific meaning they have a species in particular that they can reproduce on. It is important to stay one step ahead of these pests by keeping your pet and you safe.
  • With monthly preventatives, the proper vaccines and proper control of your environment you can keep your pet protected from these ectoparasites.
  • These are just a few examples of many zoonotic diseases ectoparasites can carry. As always, the easiest, cheapest and most painless way of dealing with these zoonotic ectoparasites is prevention.


Photo credit: Michael Wunderli / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: gailhampshire / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Michael Wunderli / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Sam Droege / Foter / CC BY

If you enjoyed this article on ectoparasites, you may also like, “Zoonotic Endoparasites”. Go here to read the first of these articles, “Parasites: Can I Contract Fleas from my Dog or Cat?”. Want to know more about your pet’s skin? See, “Clear Skin Makes a Happy Hound”

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