June 2006
Pet Corner

Chiggers, Fleas, and Ticks

Chiggers, fleas, and ticks can be big problems to pets.

Chiggers, fleas, and ticks are external parasites that feed on the bodily fluids of other animals.

Chiggers, harvest mites or red bugs are all the same thing and have a life cycle that is complete in 50 to 70 days. The adult females can live up to one year and produce several generations of offspring during this time.

The larval stage of the mite is the only parasitic stage. These larvae occur particularly in forested and swampy areas during summer through early fall. The larvae crawl onto plants from which they pass to animals like dogs, cats and humans. The larval mite then grabs tightly to a hair follicle and secretes powerful digestive enzymes that dissolve skin cells. It then sucks in the juices of dissolved skin.

Larvae feed on the host for 7-10 days then fall off and transform into eight-legged nymphs that mature to the adult stage. Eggs are laid on the ground where they hatch and the cycle continues.

Lesions develop where the larvae contact the animal leading to scales, crusts, scabs, hair loss, and intense scratching. The scratching caused by chiggers may lead to secondary infections.

Fleas live most of their lives off the animal, coming on board mostly just for blood meals. Fleas have a four-stage life cycle that typically lasts about one month. A flea can develop from an egg to an adult in seven to 10 days, but environmental conditions can lengthen their development from egg to larva, then pupa and adult.

Left untreated, fleas can be a major annoyance to dogs and cats, acting as an intermediate host for tapeworms then transmitting them to your pet. Dogs can become allergic to a protein in the flea’s saliva and scratch excessively, irritating their own skin and creating open sores that are susceptible to secondary infec-tions.

Ticks can live about a year, with a four-part life cycle that includes egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph and adult. While they can carry and transmit through blood feeding such diseases as Lymes disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the most common tick-borne disease in the state is Ehrlichiosis, a bacteria that can make an infected dog sick with swollen joints, a high fever and loss of appetite.

If you want to remove a tick from your pet, wear gloves. Since ticks do carry disease, if you have open wounds or open cuts and crush a tick, you could get some of those disease organisms in your blood. Use tweezers and slowly and gently pull the tick out at the same angle that it entered. Clean the area with an antiseptic.

Ask about chigger, flea, and tick control at your local Co-op store.