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Harvest Mites on Dogs

Harvest Mites on Dogs: Definition, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatments

Harvest mites are tiny parasites living on the surface of dogs' skin while in the larval stage. The larval stage of harvest mites is called chiggers. Chiggers provoke local skin irritation when feeding and make the dog itchy. 

Skin redness, itching, paw biting, ear scratching, fur stains, scabs or crusts, and red or orange spots or dust are standard signs of harvest mite infestation. 

The modern pet market lacks products specifically designed for treating and preventing chiggers on dogs. Most anti-flea antiparasitic products work against harvest mites if correctly applied to the skin. 

Pet owners asking, “Can dogs get chiggers out of season” must know the answer is yes. Specific case reports suggest winter infestations with harvest mites requiring year-round prevention. 

Examining the dog after walks, wearing protective gear, and reducing the population of mites in the environment help prevent grass mites on dogs

What is Harvest Mites?

Harvest mites are tiny parasites with a unique orange hue. Adult harvest mites are known as red bugs, autumn grass mites, or berry bugs, and the larval stage is called chiggers. 

The harvest mite is 1/100 of an inch long, has eight legs, and lives in forests and woodland areas, feeding on plants. The chigger is even smaller, has six legs, and lives on warm-blooded animals as a parasite. Chiggers feed on liquified skin cells. 

Trombicula alfreddugesi and Trombicula autumnais are North America and Europe's most common harvest mite species. 

The parasites were named harvest mites because they are active from April to October during harvest seasons. Infestations with red bugs on dogs, however, are reported in winter, too. 

“A trombidiosis case during winter season, in a 5-year-old mongrel dog from the Eastern part of Romania” is shown in a case report “Trombiculidae Harvest Mites (Neotrombicula autumnalis) Infestation in Dog in Winter Season - A Case Report” published in Scientific Works in 2012. 

Skin irritation and severe itchiness are the main consequences of autumn grass mites on dogs. Year-round use of antiparasitics helps prevent infestations. 

How does Harvest Mites Affect Dogs?

Harvest mites affect dogs by making them itchy and likely to cause self-inflicted injuries. Harvest mites larvae, known as chiggers, are the only life stage affecting dogs. 

Chiggers live on the surface of the skin and feed using their small hooked fangs. The larvae inject potent digestive enzymes into the dog’s skin. The enzymes liquefy skin cells, making them easily digestible for the chiggers.  

The enzymes are irritating and make the dog itchy. The itching causes skin wounds or abrasions susceptible to secondary infections. 

What are the Causes of Harvest Mites in Dogs?

The causes of harvest mites in dogs are listed below. 

  • Harvest Mite Larvae: The larva stage causes infestations in dogs when they feed on skin cells. The other harvest mite life stages are non-parasitic and feed on vegetation. 
  • Densely Populated Areas: Harvest mites inhabit plant-rich areas such as forests and grasslands with tall grass, pine straws, barks, mulches, and berry patches. 
  • High-Risk Parts of the Day: Harvest mites emerge and are the most active at dusk and dawn. 
  • Peak Seasons: The peak season for harvest mites is from April to October, although there are reported cases in other parts of the year. 
  • Lack of Protection: The main predisposing risk for harvest mite infestation is a lack of proper protection or an outdated antiparasitic product.  

How Different is Harvest Mites from Flea Allergy?

Harvest mites are different from flea allergy in the action mode. Harvest mites inject enzymes into the skin and feed on liquefied skin cells. 

Fleas inject saliva into the dog’s skin and feed on blood. Flea saliva contains a protein the immune system of sensitive dogs misidentifies as a threat.

Harvest mite and flea allergy dermatitis have similar symptoms and treatment. Itchiness and skin sores are telltale signs, and the treatment involves eliminating the parasites.   

What does Harvest Mites Look Like on A Dog's Skin?

Harvest mites look like bright, small, orange to red spots on the dog’s skin. A solitary chigger is minuscule and hard to spot with the naked eye. 

Harvest mites tend to form large groups. The groups are easily visible and resemble orange or red spots. A cluster of chiggers on a smaller area appears like sprinkled bright dust. 

The spots or dust are more common in certain parts of the dog’s body, including paws, the base of the tail, ears, armpits, and groins. 

What are the Symptoms of Harvest Mites in Dogs?

The symptoms of harvest mites in dogs are listed below. 

  • Skin Redness: Redness is a telltale inflammation sign widespread in dogs with harvest mites. Harvest mites inject digestive enzymes into the superficial layers of the skin, causing irritation and redness. 
  • Intense Itching: The deterioration of skin cells caused by the injected enzymes is itchy and makes the dog constantly lick or scratch itself for relief. The itching provides limited relief but causes more harm in the long run. 
  • Paw Chewing: The itchy feeling on the paws causes the dog to chew on its feet. The space between the dog’s toes is a predilection spot for harvest mites. The area is gentle, and the dog chews for relief. 
  • Ear Scratching: Harvest mites prefer to gather around dogs' ears. Dogs with mites in the ear region are keen on ear scratching. Intense scratching damages the skin barrier and leads to self-inflicted injuries. 
  • Stained Fur: Constant chewing and licking leave stains on the coat. The staining has a red-to-brown discoloration, giving the dog an unkempt appearance. Stained fur is visually distinctive in white and light-colored dogs. 
  • Scabs and Crusts: The irritation and itching cause open sores on the skin. The skin drys and bleeds, creating various lesions, including scabs, crusts, and painful pus-draining ulcers. 
  • Red/Orange Dust: The harvest mites gather in large groups, forming large red or orange clusters on the dog’s coat. The individual harvest mites look like tiny dust particles. 

How is Harvest Mites Diagnosed in Dogs?

Harvest mites are diagnosed in dogs by recognizing the tiny bugs. The vet confirms the mite presence with the naked eye if the parasites are clustered together. 

Large orange or red spots on the dog indicate harvest mite groups. The veterinarian performs a skin scraping examination and checks for mites under a microscope if the bugs are not clustered. 

Diagnosing harvest mites on dogs starts by taking the dog’s history and examining the dog in detail. The veterinarian considers the dog’s risk exposure and season when diagnosing. 

Dogs with secondary skin infections are subjected to more extensive tests. The vet orders blood counts, biochemistry panels, and urinalysis to establish the damage the harvest mites made. 

Can Harvest Mites Make Dogs Ill?

Yes, harvest mites can make dogs ill. Harvest mites cause severe skin lesions. The lesions disrupt the dog’s skin barrier, increasing the risk of secondary bacterial and fungal infections. 

The mite-caused lesions are itchy and make the dog uncomfortable. Added bacterial and fungal infections complicate the clinical picture and make the dog sick. 

Dogs with severe secondary skin infections experience systemic signs of illness, such as loss of appetite, lethargy, reduced energy levels, and fever.   

Are There Any Home Remedies for Treating Harvest Mites in Dogs?

Yes, there are home remedies for treating harvest mites in dogs. The most popular options are coconut oil, aloe vera, and chamomile tea. 

The natural ingredients have potent anti-inflammatory properties and help soothe itchy skin. Coconut oil, aloe vera, and chamomile tea relieve symptoms but do not actively deter mites. 

Garlic and neem oil deter mites, but it is recommended not to rely on them as natural remedies. Incorrectly used garlic and neem oil are toxic for dogs. 

One home remedy pet owners must avoid is alcohol. Rubbing alcohol kills chiggers and causes severe local skin reactions in the process. The reaction worsens the already present inflammation.  

Is Harvest Mites Considered as Allergies in Dogs?

No, harvest mites are not considered as allergies in dogs. Harvest mites are external parasites that cause mange. 

The symptoms of mange overlap with the symptoms of allergies in many cases. ETypical examples are skin sores, itchiness, and a high risk of secondary infections. 

The mechanism behind mange and allergies is different. Harvest mites act on the surface of the skin, triggering local irritation. The immune system mistakenly identifies a protein from the environment as a threat, triggering allergies occurred in dogs

How do You Treat Harvest Mites in Dogs?

Treat harvest mites in dogs by following the instructions below. 

  • Antiparasitic Medications: No products are licensed for the treatment of chiggers in dogs. Various insecticides used for flea control work against harvest mites and have residual activity. Fipronil, permethrin, ivermectin, and pyriproxyfen are some examples. “The combination permethrin-fipronil spot-on solution is well-tolerated, rapidly effective, and well-reported for controlling localized canine harvest mite infestation,” says a study “Treatment of Harvest Mite Infestation in Dogs Using a Permethrin 54.5% and Fipronil 6.1% (Effitix®) Topical Spot-On Formulation” published in Veterinary Sciences in 2019. 
  • Anti-Inflammatories or Steroids: The veterinarian prescribes anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids to reduce the itchiness and decrease inflammation of the skin sores. Do not use anti-inflammatories and steroids without the vet’s approval, as human formulations are dangerous for pets. 
  • Oral Antibiotics or Antifungals: Oral antimicrobials are used in dogs with severe forms of secondary skin infections. Antibiotics are prescribed for bacterial and antifungals for fungal infections of the skin.  
  • Topical Products for Symptom Relief: Soothing dog shampoos, washes, ointments, creams, and CBD oil soothe skin itchiness and provide temporary relief. Talk to the vet before using a topical product to ensure it is safe and effective. 

How Long Does It Take to Treat Harvest Mites in Dogs?

Treating harvest mites in dogs takes several weeks. 

Fipronil spray eliminated mites without recurrence in 15 out of 18 dogs within one month of treatment, in a study on the “Treatment of Trombicula Autumnalis Infestation in Dogs and Cats with a 0.25 Per Cent Fipronil Pump Spray,” published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice in 1998. 

Harvest mites were no longer detected three weeks after permethrin-pyriproxyfen combination use in 14 out of 15 dogs in a trial study, “Treatment of Neotrombicula Autumnalis Dermatitis in Dogs Using Two Topical Permethrin-Pyriproxyfen Combinations,” published in Journal of Small Animal Practice in 2004. 

The exact treatment length depends on the severity of the infestation, the type of antiparasitic used, and the owner's compliance with the treatment.

The skin sores need more time to be treated, depending on severity, and secondary skin infection is a complication. 

What is the Role of Ivermectin in Harvest Mites Treatment for Dogs?

Ivermectin is an “off-label” or “extra-label” treatment for harvest mites in dogs. Ivermectin is an antiparasitic drug potent against various internal and external parasites. 

Medical formulations with ivermectin for pets are available as tablets, chews, topical liquids, and injectable solutions. Ivermectin eliminates mites and has a lasting efficacy, which helps prevent re-infestations within a limited timeframe. 

The main drawback of ivermectin is that it must not be used in ivermectin-sensitive dog breeds. Collies, Old English Sheepdogs, and Shetland Sheepdogs have a genetic mutation that makes them fatally sensitive to ivermectin. 

Can Harvest Mites Recur in Dogs After Treatment?

Yes, harvest mites can recur in dogs after treatment. Treatments with no residual efficacy leave the dog vulnerable to re-infestations. 

For example, apple cider vinegar (ACV) does not have residual efficacy. Dogs treated against harvest mites with ACV are susceptible to new infestations once the vinegar’s smell dissipates. 

Commercial antiparasitics, like permethrin and fipronil, have residual efficacy. Permethrin and fipronil remove harvest mites and temporarily protect the dog from re-infestations. 

Can Harvest Mites Transmit Diseases to Dogs?

No, harvest mites cannot transmit diseases to dogs. Harvest mites cause local irritation. Based on current knowledge, harvest mites are not vectors for infectious diseases. 

A connection, however, between harvest mites and seasonal canine illness (SCI) is suspected. SCI is a mysterious disease whose incidence and seasonality correspond with that of harvest mites.  

“Fipronil spray may protect dogs from harvest mites and other external parasites, but it may not prevent seasonal canine illness,” according to an observational study, “Could There Be a Link Between Seasonal Canine Illness and Harvest Mites?” published in Veterinary Record in 2013. 

The study results indicate no connection between seasonal canine illness and dog mites, but future research is warranted. 

Can Harvest Mites Cause Allergic Reactions in Dogs?

No, harvest mites cannot cause allergic reactions in dogs. Harvest mites inhabit the dog’s skin and do not provoke the immune system. 

Mites are able to trigger allergic reactions when inserting their digestive enzymes into the dog’s skin. No such cases are reported in practice. 

Harvest mites cause skin symptoms similar to allergies, including rashes, itchiness, open sores, and hair loss. 

How Can You Prevent Harvest Mites from Infesting Your Dog?

You can prevent harvest mites from infesting your dog by keeping it up-to-date on antiparasitics. Many commercially available products provide 24/7 protection against mites and other external parasites. Ask the vet for a recommendation. 

Other prevention tips include environment control, regular checks, and protective clothing. 

Mites prefer warm and moist places and are present in mowed grass and other plant debris in the yard. Regular removal of dead plants reduces the risk of backyard infestation. 

Inspect the dog after each walk to ensure it has not picked up harvest mites. Pay special attention to the region around the ears, tail, and between the toes. 

Consider dog socks or overalls to minimize contact with harvest mites if living in a high-risk area with plenty of vegetation. 

Can CBD Oil Help Dogs Recover from Harvest Mites Infestation?

Yes, CBD oil can help dogs recover from harvest mite infestations. CBD provides symptom relief rather than acting as a mite repellent. 

CBD, or cannabidiol, has anti-inflammatory and antipruritic effects. CBD soothes irritation and reduces itchiness when applied directly on damaged skin. 

CBD provides pain and anxiety relief when administered orally. The skin sores are painful, and the constant itchiness makes the dog anxious. 

Consult the vet before use and gradually introduce CBD oil for dogs to minimize the risk of side effects during treatment. 

Does Vinegar Get Rid of Dog Harvest Mites?

Yes, vinegar gets rid of dog harvest mites. Apple cider vinegar rebalances the skin's pH, reduces itchiness, deters mites, and makes the dog unappealing for future infestation. Mites dislike the smell of vinegar on dogs. 

Add half a cup of apple cider vinegar and half a cup of borax into the dog’s bathwater. Mix the two ingredients in a spray bottle if the dog hates baths. Remember to dry the dog after the bath and brush after the spraying. 

Apple cider vinegar, as a home remedy, is not universally effective and does not provide lasting protection. Call the veterinarian and get a commercial anti-mite product for the best results.