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Chiggers in dogs
Chiggers are a type of mites from the genus Trombicula that can cause redness, itching and crusting in dogs. Chigger mites are known under a wide range of local names, some of them referring to the adult mite while others are only used for the larval stage. Examples of common names for these mites are red bugs, berry bugs, velvet mites, harvest mites, harvesters, harvest bugs, bracken bugs, orange-tawneys, scrub-itch mites, and of course chiggers. It is only the larval stage that causes problems for dogs.
In North America, the most common species of chigger is Trombicula alfreddugesi, while dogs in the United Kingdom normally develop problems with Trombicula autumnalis. All chigger species lives in forests and grasslands. Just like all the other mites, chiggers are relatives of the spiders. Chiggers stay around 0.4 mm in length (roughly equivalent of 1/100 of an inch) and their colour is chrome-orange. During their larval stage, chiggers must find a host, e.g. a dog, to which they can attach themselves and feed on the skin.
What are the chiggers doing on the dog?
Chiggers attach themselves to the skin of the dog and inject their saliva. This saliva is filled with digestive enzymes that will start breaking down the skin cells of the dog. Once the skin cells have been broken down, the chigger mite will drink the nutritious liquid. It is the enzymes that cause itching and rash formation in the dog.
Chiggers and dogs and myths
A lot of people believe that the chiggers are burrowing under the skin of the dog, drinking its blood. The truth is however that they stay attached to the skin, living off broken down skin cells. If someone recommends you to put nail polish on your dog’s chigger bites in an attempt to suffocate the chiggers, please refrain from doing this. Since the chiggers are not burrowing under the skin of the dog, suffocating treatment is not a good idea.
Chigger treatment and removal for dogs
Chiggers can stay attached to the skin of your dog for several days, but once you have noticed them they are very easy to brush off. In many cases, the dog will even knock them off on its own by scratching.
If you notice that your dog has chiggers, give it a bath or a shower. Playing in a nearby lake can also do the trick, as long as the chiggers get under the water line. In some cases this will not be enough to remove the chiggers and you will have to use a more aggressive treatment. Dog owners can for instance give their dogs a series of pyrethrin-based dips spread a few weeks a part if they know that a dog is having chigger problems. The dog owner can also apply a topical anti-parasite drug, such as Tresaderm, on the area of skin where the chiggers are causing skin irritation.
If your dog is very itchy, you can ask a vet to recommend a good oral or topical anti-itch medication suitable for your specific dog. In severe cases, injectable steroids can be administered to the dog for a couple of days to prevent excessive scratching.
Parasites in dogs: (click for more info)
Cheyletiellosis in dogs
Chiggers in dogs
Ear Mites in dogs
Fleas in dogs
Heartworm disease in dogs
Hookworms in dogs
Mange in dogs
Roundworm in dogs
Tapeworms in dogs
Ticks in dogs
Trichinosis in dogs
West Highland White Terrier