Chickweed, like fleas and ticks, is a parasite that attaches itself to specific areas of your cat’s skin, causing strong irritation that can cause it to scratch very strongly, sometimes even to the point of to blood.
Our feline friends are not the only targets of these little parasites, however, which like to feed on the cells of any warm-blooded animal. The skin of dogs, horses or even humans can then be a delicious meal for them.
Although chiggers are in no way fatal, they are still very disturbing for our pets and for ourselves, so it is important to know how to recognize their presence in order to act quickly and correctly in the face of this parasite. .
What is a chigger?
What we call Augustat is not actually the parasite in its adult state, Trombicula autumnalis, but its larva. It is also called harvest, red mullet or puron depending on the regions of France. For English speakers, it will be harvest moth or chigger.
These microscopic parasites reproduce in summer, and its larva, which is therefore the cause of all the problems, is particularly virulent during the month of August, hence the name given to it, and more exactly, between the last fortnight in July and the first fortnight in September. Be careful, however, with global warming, it is not uncommon for it to be present until winter.
It can be found in tall grass in meadows or fields, but also in gardens where the lawn is not regularly maintained.
The chigger is characterized by its red color and by its small size (approximately 0.3 mm), which makes it invisible to the naked eye. it is also often confused with the silky trombidion, also red in color, but which is not dangerous and which is larger (4 to 5 millimeters long), therefore visible.
The larva of Trombicula autumnalis has a very special way of eating. She waits for her prey perched on the tall grass, and climbs on it as soon as the latter passes near her. Unlike fleas and ticks, it will not sting to drink its victim’s blood. She injects an enzyme into her skin to pre-digest her cells, and then suck them out. This method of feeding is strongly reminiscent of that of spiders, which also liquefy the organs of their victims using an enzyme, and then suck them up. These animals are said to be histiophages (principle of feeding on cell tissue.)
Once it is sated, the chigger will drop to the ground and join the tall grass to wait for new prey.
How to recognize the presence of chiggers?
Chiggerheads cause very specific symptoms due to their particular way of eating. First of all, you need to know the areas in which chiggers like to settle on a cat:
- between the fingers,
- on the inside of the thighs or on the armpits,
- on the ears, and especially on the area where the skin is split (called mumps.)
Once installed, the chigger will then inject its enzyme which will pre-digest the cat’s cells, before drinking them. The larva will then take on an orange color very specific to its species, before dropping to the ground. This will therefore be the only time when it will be visible, at least if the larvae are present in large numbers in the same place (which is not rare).
The chigger enzyme will cause the following symptoms:
- lesions on the surface of the skin, as if the animal had scratched heavily,
- very strong itching on the infected area. In fact, the chigger enzyme causes allergic reactions in the vast majority of cases. The cat will scratch then for several days or even weeks, and often until blood. If it is the fingers that have been attacked, we can then observe the animal licking and biting the affected parts very regularly.
If, as said above, the attacks of this larva are in no way fatal, they are very virulent, and the cat can injure itself by dint of scratching. In addition, the sores caused by this itching can become infected.
Treatment against chigger attacks: how to relieve your cat?
It is still strongly recommended to take your cat to the vet, even if you can easily form your own opinion on the matter, depending on the time of year, or even by observing orange spots on the cat’s skin (presence of larvae).
The veterinarian can then analyze the symptoms with more expertise and even observe the larvae under a microscope if they are still present on the animal’s body, thus making it possible to ascertain the cause of the itching and thus prescribe a treatment adapted to the situation.
In most cases, it will initially be a local insecticide (spray), to eliminate the larvae remaining on the body of your feline friend. Be careful, however, that the cat does not lick the product, which is obviously harmful to its organism. Prefer to spray the infected area just before a meal. Your four-legged friend will then have their minds occupied and will not think about licking themselves. If, however, the cat cannot help licking itself, it may be necessary to wear a collar.
Then the vet will prescribe something to calm the inflammation caused by the enzymes if the allergic reaction is too severe. There are various types of treatments, such as tablets or lotions, but the most common is an ointment to help heal the wound and calm inflammation.
How to prevent an attack of chiggers in cats?
While it is easy to avoid these larvae on a dog, by simply avoiding walking with him in tall grass between the months of July and September, it is less so for a free-roaming cat.
Using an antiparasitic repellent in the form of a spray during these periods will nevertheless help your cat to avoid these parasites, which will be put off by the smell of the product.
Finally, if you have a garden, consider mowing the grass regularly to prevent these larvae from enjoying it too much, and evacuate freshly cut grass, in which adult chiggers love to reproduce.