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A Simple Look at Chiggers on Dogs

You go on a nice autumn walk with your dog across a freshly cut field thinking all is well, the last thing you’re thinking of are chiggers on dogs.  The next day, however, your dog is scratching up a storm. You don’t see any fleas or flea debris. But there are all these tiny red bumps on your dog’s stomach. The itching is driving your dog crazy. Could it be chiggers?

We are going to go over everything you need to know about chiggers on dogs, and how to treat and prevent these parasites from making your dog an itchy mess!

In this post, I’m going to talk about the life cycle of chiggers, what they look like, and how to get rid of them.

A Simple Look at Chiggers on Dogs

So how do you know if your dog has chiggers? Let’s take a quick look at what chiggers are and why they make our dogs (and us) so itchy.

Chigger Life Cycle- The Basics

Chiggers, also known as berry, storage or itch mites, are a common parasite found in many parts of the world. Scientifically, they belong to the same class as spiders and are related to other mites in the Trombiculidae family.

They are red in color and tend to prefer warm, humid environments.  They are most active in the spring and fall in North America, and are difficult to see with the naked eye unless they are in large groups.

Chiggers have 4 stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, nymph and adult.

It is during the larval phase where chiggers make themselves known to other animals by feeding on their skin cells. It is this activity that causes the welts and itchiness so associated with chigger bites. The nymphs and adults are not themselves parasitic. You can learn more about the biology of chiggers here.

Chigger Bites

The larval form of this parasite clings to your dog’s skin and makes a small tube, called stylostome, into the deeper part of the dermis. Then they use this tube to inject an enzyme into the skin that breaks up the skin cells, allowing them to “drink” the cells and mature to the nymph phase.

Contrary to the common myth, chiggers do not burrow into the skin or feed on blood. They stay on the surface, and drop off when done feeding.

It is this stylostome and the enzymes injected into theskin that cause the noticeable red, raised welts and associated itchiness. These welts can take up to a week to heal and stop itching.

Chiggers on Dogs

So how do you identify if there are chiggers on your dog? You could go to the veterinarian and have them do a skin scraping. This allows them to see the larva under a microscope and confirm the diagnosis. Most of the time, your vet will just skip that step and go straight to medicating the symptoms.

Chigger bites on dogs are most common in areas where there is little fur and are often found on the belly and inside of the legs, around the eyes and even occasionally in the ears (more common with cats). The bites look like a series of raised, red welts that are very itchy.

It is unlikely that you will be able to see the larval chiggers themselves unless there are a lot of them, such as in an ear canal. In that case, they may look like a cluster of red, moving dots, similar to paprika.

How to Treat Chiggers on Dogs

The good news is that chiggers in North America do not carry any diseases, and your dog will not pass the chiggers on to you or other members of your household.

The first thing you should do if you suspect your dog has chiggers is giving him/her a bath with a good oatmeal shampoo. This will remove the chiggers from your dog, and hopefully soothe their skin.

Use lukewarm water and gently wash the areas where the welts are, being sure to rinse well to remove all of the shampoo. To clean around the eyes, you can carefully wipe with an unscented baby wipe or an approved veterinary skin wipe, if you have any handy.

Don’t use soap and water around your dog’s eyes or in their ears.

Once the mites are removed, it can take up to 7 days for the welts to heal. You can use oatmeal baths or a canine anti-itch spray on the welts for temporary relief.

A topical hydrocortisone cream may also help, but be sure to only use small amounts and prevent your pet from licking the medication off. Don’t use sprays or creams around the eyes or in the ears, although you can use them on the ear flap itself.

If you’ve followed the steps above and see no improvement, please bring your dog to a veterinarian. Things to watch for include:

  • Your pet is causing damage to their skin by scratching, biting and/or rubbing at the welts. He/she may need oral steroids to stop the itching, or antibiotics for a secondary skin infection.
  • The welts and itchiness do not subside in a couple of days.
  • You see clusters of moving, red dots in the ear canal. You will want the experts to do an ear cleaning and identify the culprits in this case.

How to Prevent Chiggers on Dogs

The easiest way to prevent chiggers from biting your dog is to use a flea control product that also works on mites. This will kill any chiggers on your dog before they have a chance to cause problems. Frontline Plus, Revolution and the Seresto Flea and Tick collars are all effective at preventing chigger bites.

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