chiggers on dog belly
Chiggers on a Dog

If you’ve ever taken a walk with your dog in the woods or through a field, only to have your best friend scratching up a storm for the next several days, she might have experienced a chigger attack.

In cats, chiggers are most commonly found around the ears and between the toes, but can be found almost anywhere on the body. Because of intense itching caused by these mites , your cat may chew or scratch itself, causing self-inflicted wounds. The resulting skin lesions vary from crusted spots to areas of hair loss to raw moist bleeding areas.

These tiny orange – red mites (also known as Harvest mites) reside in grass and underbrush during September through January in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They are so small that you might not even notice them on your dog or cat but, once they become a source of itchy discomfort, they’re difficult to ignore.

What Are Chiggers?

Chiggers are commonly found in forests and grasslands and are relatives of spiders. They are nearly microscopic measuring only 1/100 of an inch (0.4 mm) and have an orange hue. In their larval stage, they attach to various animals including humans, cats and dogs.

Contrary to popular belief, Chigger larvae do not burrow deep into the skin and live underneath the skin. Instead, the larvae live on the skin’s surface. During feeding, they pierce the skin with their small, hooked fangs and inject powerful enzymes that digest skin cells, that become liquefied and are consumed by the larvae. The enzymes are irritating to the skin and result in intense itching.

How Is A Chigger Infestation Diagnosed?

A sudden onset of intense itching during the late summer or early fall suggests that chiggers may be present. Many pets will ingest the biting larvae while grooming and owners may not see any of the characteristically orange insects.

Your veterinarian will make the diagnosis by identifying the mite. An accumulation of chiggers may be seen as intensely orange spots on the skin. If fewer mites are present, they may only be seen on microscopic examination of a superficial skin scraping.

How Do I Treat Chiggers?

Your veterinarian will prescribe safe and effective treatment. In many cases, a simple bath can remove the chiggers, which do not burrow under the skin. However, the bites will be painful and itchy, and may call for anti-inflammatory medications or in rare cases, antibiotics. If your pet is uncomfortable and you suspect chiggers, please give us a call. 

Do Chiggers Affect People?

People can be affected by Harvest mites. Chiggers are not spread to people from dogs and cats, but rather from infested outdoor vegetation. Typically, a human reaction consists of intense itching and rash. Prevention can be achieved by wearing long pants and socks, and avoiding long grasses and overgrown weeds that are known to be inhabited by chiggers. 

If you have any questions about these tiny pests or want more information, please give us a call. We look forward to keeping your pets comfortable and chigger free all year round.