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Whilst it’s back to school for some, it’s party time for harvest mites. The harvest mite, Trombicula autumnalis, is an 8-legged mite that lives on vegetation and is prevalent in late-summer early-autumn; but it’s the 6-legged larval stage that can cause a problem for dogs, cats and even humans.
Photo courtesy of http://www.bpca.org.uk/pages/?page_id=185
During warm sunny days these tiny red/orange mites can congregate on warm-blooded animals, and can be typically found in clusters on the margins of the ears, the chin and in between the toes. The larvae hook their fangs into the skin layer and inject a fluid containing digestive enzymes that break down the skin cells. The resultant liquid is then sucked back up by the mites, who feed like this for 2-3 days until they drop to the ground to continue their life cycle.
Photo courtesy of https://www.enpevet.de/Lexicon/ShowArticle.aspx?articleid=41001&language=en&noop=
Harvest mites themselves are not harmful to your pet, but for some they may cause significant itching. There is no licensed treatment, but Frontline Spray (not the spot-on) is often used every 2 weeks for treatment and prevention. If some animals have a particular hypersensitivity to the mites they may develop a nasty skin irritation or rash, which can sometimes then lead to infection (pyoderma), in which case veterinary treatment should be sought. In mild cases skin supplements containing omega 3’s and 6’s, essential fatty acids (EFAs) and Vitamin E may help to relieve itching and increase the skin’s natural defences.
Harvest mites are prevalent in certain areas, so for some animals they may never be a problem. To help reduce the risk of infection this autumn, try exercising your pet earlier in the day before the mites become active, and keep moving – they have a better chance of jumping on if your pet is sitting still for too long in the long grass.
Harvest mites have been suggested as one of the possible causes of Canine Seasonal Illness (CSI), although nothing has been confirmed. CSI causes sudden onset sickness, diarrhoea and lethargy in dogs, most commonly between the months of August and November and often within 72 hours of walking in Woodland. There have been no reported cases of dogs becoming infected in the New Forest to my knowledge. Sadly CSI can be fatal without immediate and aggressive treatment, so if you have any concerns contact your vet straight away.