Harvest mites are tiny bright orange mites, very like spiders and ticks. They’re a common cause of itchy feet for dogs in the autumn. Any dog who walks in damp grass or woodland can pick up harvest mites on their feet, legs and head.
Harvest mites are also called berry bugs, Trombicula, or chiggers. The immature mites attach to your dog’s skin to feed, and their bites are extremely itchy. Dogs who are very sensitive will lick, chew and scratch so intensely that they develop more serious skin problems. There aren’t any licensed medicines guaranteed to prevent or kill harvest mites. But regular treatment with a ‘flea’ spray containing fipronil will help prevent infestation.
What are harvest mites?
Harvest mites are tiny orange-red insects barely visible to the naked eye (which means only if you have good eyesight and you’re under 40!). Harvest mites don’t burrow under the skin. They release a chemical with their saliva when they feed, and it’s this chemical that’s very irritating.
- Adult harvest mites live in woodland, fields of long grass, or even gardens.
- Harvest mite larvae climb up grass and latch onto your dog as they brush past or walk over.
- Mites often clump together, and they’re attracted to your dog’s body heat.
- Mites feed on the skin for 2-3 days to mature and grow.
- The problem months are from July to late October.
- Bites may appear as a pinprick rash. But they’re so itchy that intense licking or chewing will turn the whole area very red and inflamed before you find out what’s going on.
Symptoms of harvest mites in dogs
The main clue to harvest mites in dogs is itchy inflamed feet in late summer and autumn:
- Licking, chewing, biting paws
- Red sore skin between toes and pads
- Tail and legs often affected as well
- Saliva-stained hair caused by licking
- Scratching and rubbing behind the ears- Henry’s pocket is a small pouch of skin at the base of your dog’s ear, and a favourite hide-out for mites
- Mites are sometimes visible as tiny orange flecks or orange clumps if there are lots of them
Which dogs are most at risk of getting harvest mites?
Any dogs who walk or play on damp ground in the woods or grass can pick up mites.
But some factors will increase risk.
Location and lifestyle:
- Mites are more common in regions with chalky soil than clay
- Dogs who exercise off-lead in cornfields, scrubby woodland, grassland
- Dogs who love rolling or plunging head-first into bushes are likely to get harvest mites on their face and ears.
Hair coat and size:
- Mites are harder to find on longer-haired dogs
- Sparsely-haired skin is easier for mites to feed on
- Dogs with sensitive skin prone to allergies or inflammation are more likely to be very sensitive to bites. So they’ll also be prone to more serious skin irritation and self-trauma when mites are around.
- Bacterial skin infections: self-trauma and bites themselves may introduce infection
- Sepsis: Life-threatening blood infection resulting from untreated or uncontrolled skin infection
Risks to other family members
- Harvest mites won’t spread between pets, but other cats and dogs who go outside will be at similar risk
- Harvest mites also bite humans – Itchy, red rash with raised bumps like tiny, hard pimples. Usually appears on ankles, legs, arms, or tummy. Please contact your GP if your dog has been diagnosed with harvest mites and you have these symptoms.
Seasonal canine illness
Seasonal canine illness is a rare but potentially fatal disease first recognised in Sandringham, East Anglia in 2010. We don’t know exactly what causes Seasonal canine illness. But the disease happens in autumn, in areas with harvest mites, and most dogs have mites on them when they get ill.
- By the end of 2013, 16 dogs had died of Seasonal canine illness and 300 cases been reported
- 20% of affected dogs died of the disease at the beginning, down to 2% 2 years later
- Most dogs recover with prompt and intensive veterinary care.
- Starts 1-3 days after walking in woodland or parkland
- Vomiting and diarrhoea,
- Abdominal pain and muscle tremors
- Becoming unconscious.
- Vets treat the symptoms
- Intensive hospital treatment
- Most dogs recover in 7-10 days
How do vets diagnose harvest mites
- Seeing harvest mites on your dog’s itchy feet or ears
- Examining samples from skin under a microscope
What’s the treatment for harvest mites in dogs
Harvest mites are annoyingly hard to get rid of!
- Killing mites: using certain types of flea and parasite treatment – especially fipronil spray
- Trimming/shaving affected areas to make cleaning and treatment easier
- Treating the itch: steroid injection and/or creams
- Treating skin infection: antibiotic creams, ointments, injections or tablets (or a combination of these)
- Using a buster collar or dressing to prevent further self-trauma
Home care for dogs with harvest mites
If you notice your dog chewing their feet between late summer and autumn:
- Check for the orange mites between and under your dog’s toes
- Bathe red or sore skin with warm salt water (1 teaspoon salt to 500 ml of boiled, cooled water)
- A mild soothing antiseptic cream will help soothe small areas of irritated skin
- Try to prevent licking with a cone collar, or cover the foot using a cotton sock secured with household tape
- Keep to lead exercise on dry paths and avoid walking where there are mites
- Give any medicines your vet prescribes according to the instructions and complete the course.
Tips for preventing harvest mites in dogs
Regular preventive treatment:
- No treatments are specifically licensed to kill harvest mites. But applying regular anti-flea treatment will reduce risk
- Use a fipronil-based flea spray under your dog’s legs, chest and tummy during the harvest mite season
Harvest mites are most active during the warmest and driest parts of the day. So changing walking routines can help:
- Walking early morning and after dusk is best
- Avoiding known locations for harvest mites
Constant vigilance: Parting hairs to check for pin-head orange flecks or clumps as soon as licking or chewing starts
When to worry
When to worry about harvest mites in your dog
Seek prompt help from a vet in practice if your dog:
- Is collapsed
- Develops vomiting and diarrhoea with abdominal pain (hunched, restless, tummy painful to touch)
- Has severe muscle tremors or seizures
Call a vet if:
- Your dog becomes distressed with the itch and can’t settle
- Skin looks broken, red and infected from self-trauma
- You dog is showing signs of illness:
- Eating less
- Being very tired
- Being sick or having diarrhoea
- Developing a high temperature (check for hot ears and tummy)
Joii can help with:
- Recognising and treating harvest mites
- Choosing the best preventive treatments for your dog’s age, breed and lifestyle
- Treating itchy irritated skin