Tis’ the Season for Harvest Mites
Harvest mites, also knows as “chiggers”, are the larvae of the mite Trombicula alfreddugesi. They are an orange-red, eight-legged mite that can cause considerable itchiness and dermatitis in all animals, including humans. These little buggers come out end of summer, beginning of fall in this area. We predominantly have been seeing infestations in horses, cat, and dogs. Harvest mites are scavengers that live on decaying vegetable material and plants. The eggs are laid on moist ground and hatch into larvae that dig the hooks of their mouths into the animal’s skin to feed. They feed for three to four days before dropping off of the host to develop into adults. The larvae are the only parasitic form. How the mites cause problems is during their feeding process on the host. They inject fluid into the skin that causes inflammation and intense itchiness, which can also lead to secondary bacterial infections if unrecognized for a period of time.
Harvest mites search for areas of warmth, which they find with their hosts (animals or people). They move all over the host until they find a site that they can hide and feed for a few days. Most often, these are areas of thin skin. In horses, the mites seem to prefer the area under the chin, belly, along the neck, and legs. You can almost never see the mite, but instead notice hives and areas of scabs with serum discharge. Dogs most commonly develop hair loss, redness of skin, and secondary infections on their chest and belly. Cats can sometime show no clinical signs because they are so good at grooming themselves and mechanically removing the mites themselves. By far, the most common site for harvest mites in cats is inside their ears. You may notice your kitty scratching at their ears, shaking their head, or showing no signs at all. It is easy to diagnose because we can see the orange mites in their ears.
To treat harvest mites, there are a variety of insecticides that people recommend. However, by far the most effective one we have found is frontline spray, which can be used in all animals. Use this once monthly to kill those mites currently on your animal as well as preventing re-infestation. Without preventing re-infestation, your pet will continue to be fed upon and be affected by these pesky mites. Other treatments include corticosteroids to relieve the intense itchiness and antibiotics if needed.
Now is definitely the season of the harvest mites and we are seeing more and more cases of it. We especially see cats with mites in the ears during their annual physical examination that have no clinical signs! So be on the look out! Make sure to stay current on your annual physical examinations and if your pet is getting itchy, make an appointment with your veterinarian. The sooner you treat the better and less complicated the disease process can become.