Can Dogs Get Red Bugs?

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The term, ‘red bugs’ describes a variety of parasitic creatures that might live on your dog's skin, but it is the common name for chiggers or Trombicula mites. Other common names are harvest mites, itch mites, and scrub mites. They are found in many parts of the US, especially in the central and southeastern United States, where they can be found in wooded areas where your dog might acquire them while on a romp in the forest. They tend to congregate, so if your dog does acquire a red bug, he will probably acquire a whole swarm of them! The larvae, which are so tiny you can barely see them, feed on a variety of animals skin, and their bites cause intense itching.

Can Dogs Get Red Bugs?

YES!

If your dog is available as a host, red bugs will happily transfer to them. Can they infest you? Yes to that, too. If both you and your dog have red bugs  or chiggers, you probably acquired them at the same time and place. Although it is possible for them to transfer from your dog to you, this is less common. Still, precautions should be taken to prevent transfer to yourself or other pets in the home. Cleaning bedding, vacuuming furniture and carpets, and treating your dog as soon as possible is recommended.

Does My Dog Have Red Bugs?

Red bug infestation occurs when chigger larvae hatch out and search for a host to feed on. They live in wooded areas and usually hatch in a large group, so if you or your dog acquire one red bug larva, you probably have a whole bunch to deal with. Larvae feed on their host by injecting an enzyme into your dog to liquify skin cells and then they “suck” up the liquified skin cells through a feeding tube. This process results in severe itchiness and red welts at the bite site, sometimes including hives or a widespread red rash, especially on your dog's belly.

The larvae feed for up to 4 days, at which point they detach from their host and become nymphs prior to becoming breeding adults. The entire cycle takes about 55 days. Bites are most common in the summer and fall.

The good new is, Red Bugs:

  • Do not carry disease, although scratching bites can lead to a secondary infection

  • Reside on your dog only temporarily

  • Rarely jump from dogs to people

  • Are easy to get rid of

 

The red bugs, or chiggers, are so small they can rarely be seen with the naked eye. They may look like paprika sprinkled on your dog's skin. Skin scrapings under a microscope can be used to identify them. However, veterinarians in areas where they are common are usually very familiar with the condition and recognize signs of red bugs even without analysis. They can be differentiated from fleas or ticks in that they are much smaller.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Red Bugs?

Because they do not burrow in the skin, suffocating methods may not be effective. The first step to take is to give your dog a soapy bath, to remove as many of the red bugs as possible. Your veterinarian can prescribe and anti-parasitic, systemic, or topical medication, the same as is used for fleas, ticks and other mites, to kill and repel red bugs.

Soothing the chigger bites can be done with a variety of methods including:

  • Oatmeal baths

  • Epsom salts and dish soap (soothes and removes chiggers)

  • Apply ice packs

  • Green tea rinses (sooth and wash away chiggers)

  • Hydrocortisone to relieve itch and inflammation

  • Calamine lotion

How are Red Bugs Similar in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?

Red bugs feed off skin cells in dogs, cats, wild animals and, more rarely, on humans.

  • The bites produce itchy, red welts on their host regardless of the species

  • Anti-parasitic medications kill and repel red bugs

  • Red bugs can be washed off, and bites treated with soothing preparations or medications.

  • Red bugs do not carry disease.

  • Red bugs are usually acquired in woody areas where the larvae attach to you or your pet.

How are Red Bugs Different in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?

Red bugs are usually acquired by people and pets from the same location; it is not common for them to transfer between species.

  • In cats, red bugs tend to congregate in the ears

  • In dogs, red bugs tend to be found on head, abdomen, and legs

  • In humans, bites are most common on the legs

  • If your dog is being treated regularly with anti parasitic medication, they may repel the red bugs and avoid infestation

Case Study

While walking in the woods, a pet owner and his dog make their way through some heavy underbrush. When they emerge, they have both acquired some new “friends”. Red bug larvae from a recent hatching have transferred from the underbrush to both the dog and owner. Within a few hours, both dog and owner are experiencing itchiness and red welts, although the dog is much more seriously affected. A trip to the veterinarian reveals that red bugs are to blame for their misery, and antiparasitic treatment is initiated for the dog. Baths with medicated, soothing shampoos and topical lotions help remove the red bugs and sooth both the owner’s and the dog’s inflamed skin. Both recover without incident, and avoid walking in heavy underbrush in the future.