Berry Bugs

What are they?

These are mites, which live in grass & other vegetation. The larvae are little reddish-orange specks, just visible to the naked eye. These are the parasitic stage. They are active only in late summer at harvest time, hence their other name “Harvest Mites”. They are found throughout Britain, but are especially prevalent in the East of Scotland.

What do they do?

The larvae have hooked mouthparts, which attach onto the skin.  They are most commonly found on lightly haired areas of the body such as between the toes, ears and abdomen.  They can occur on any species of animal.  They do not suck blood but secrete an enzyme, which helps them to digest skin tissue.  This enzyme causes severe itching and a weeping dermatitis.  Repeated attacks by “berry bugs” results in an allergic condition, where affected animals lick, bite and scratch the infested areas.

These larvae only feed for 3 or 4 days at a time before dropping off into the vegetation again.

Treatment

Many animals do not require treatment.  However animals, which are sensitised to them, require ongoing treatment during the “berry bug season”.  Fortunately the season is short, lasting eight weeks at most.

The ideal treatment would be preventing animals coming in contact with the larvae.  This is rarely practical.  You could try to keep your dog away from grass or your cat indoors for eight weeks.

Treatment is therefore aimed at removing the “berry bug” larvae and to reduce the severity of the hypersensitivity reaction to them.

Washing your pets in antiseptic shampoo can help a lot.  This can be carried out daily if required. Often only the feet or underside are affected and only these area need be bathed.

At Dunedin Vets we use a type of flea spray and apply it directly to the affected area. However this method of application is not licensed so must only be applied by us or under our direction. Please ask us for further advice about this.

Nothing repels “berry bugs”, so animals regularly become reinfected, hence the need for ongoing treatment.

If your pet has itchy feet or legs as described above your pet may need veterinary treatment to relieve the itch. This is recommended if the skin has become broken from excessive licking or scratching. A short course of corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce the allergic reaction and relieve the itch along with measures described above to remove the berry bugs. If the broken skin has become infected antibiotics may be prescribed in addition.

Summary

  • Once animals are sensitised to “berry bugs”, they will always be affected by them.
  • Try to reduce exposure to them.
  • Treat as soon as signs are noticed.
  • Treat regularly.
  • Treat intensively.
  • At least the season is short.