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The Dandruff Even Head and Shoulders Can’t Budge!- an article about Cheyletiella.
Sooty’s equally cute, young owner came in with her mum because Sooty had rather embarrassingly developed some unsightly dandruff. Little Lisa had easily noticed it because of the rather fortunate contrast with his luxurious, shiny, black coat.
Being a rabbit and having dandruff is not uncommon and as such I had a fair idea what the cause might be. I rather unceremoniously plucked some of his hairs out and sellotaped them to a microscope slide. I popped out of the room for a few minutes to study what I hope would be a good harvest under the scope and found what I had suspected- numerous creatures and their eggs like something out of an alien film although obviously on a much smaller scale. Because we like big words in our profession we call them Cheyletiella but they are also called ‘walking dandruff’. They are a particularly ugly- looking mite that are easy to spot as they are so abundant and resemble dandruff so closely although you may struggle to see them without the aid of magnification.
These small passengers are relatively benign compared to some of the parasites we see in dogs and cats such as scabies mange which can be really debilitating if untreated. Cheyletiella doesn’t burrow into the skin or cause intense itching in most cases in animals. In fact, as in this case, the first sign you usually see is the scaly appearance of flaky dandruff. The mites live in the fur and hair of the dogs, cats and rabbits they infest and only go down to the skin to feed.
Luckily for Sooty they are also very easy to get rid of with either some special shampoo, an injection once a week for 2-3 weeks or a spot- on drug. Unfortunately for Sooty’s young mistress they are also highly contagious to humans where they cause rather more irritation than in their animal hosts. There were clearly mixed feelings when I suggested that the itchy rash she had been treated for on her hands for the past couple of weeks might clear up a little faster now we could tell the doctor what it was!