The problems dust mites cause for dogs

What is atopic dermatitis?

Chiens atteints de dermatite lésions au niveau de la face

Chien attein de dermatite lésions au niveau des doigts logook

Much like with humans, dogs can be affected by dust mite allergies, which cause them to suffer from atopic dermatitis - a chronic disease characterised by a predisposition for developing allergies and disorders in the skin barrier. The skin is an organism’s natural barrier against contamination (infiltration of micro-organisms into the body, such as bacteria, viruses or fungi). If your dog suffers from atopic dermatitis, its skin is no longer acting as a barrier and is letting in allergens and germs and your dog’s body may produce an abnormally strong reaction to the penetration of these allergenic substances. This allergy is exhibited by itching and rashes around the face, perineal area (anus, vulva), fingers (spaces between pads, base of nails), abdominal folds and armpits. Furthermore, ear mites often cause ear canker (otitis externa) and the skin of atopic dogs has a high tendency to develop bacterial or yeast superinfections. 

Atopic dogs develop allergies when they come into contact with allergens in the air, otherwise referred to as aeroallergens. Many aeroallergens are potentially allergenic to dogs: mites, pollen, mould spores and animal dander and fur. This allergy affects 10-15% of dogs. However, in urban areas, more than 90% of canine allergies are caused by mites.

Are certain breeds more susceptible than others?

Certain breeds of dog are more likely to develop this disease. Some breeds are significantly more susceptible than others: Shar Peï, Fox Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Boxer, Bulldogs, American Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bull Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, Setters, Lhasa Apso, Shi-Tsu and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are the most highly represented atopic dog breeds. Studies have identified large families of atopic dogs. A puppy born of two atopic parent dogs is highly likely to develop the disease at an adult age.

How is it diagnosed?

The diagnosis is mainly clinical. Blood or intradermal allergy tests do not prove that the disease exists, rather they may serve as tools for treatment (elimination of allergens, desensitization).

Treating allergies involves using drugs to modify the body’s immune response. As such, corticosteroids can be used to control excessive itching. Desensitization may be preferable in some cases, but it is worth noting that it requires a long process and is only partially effective (50%).

There is no cure; the aim of the treatment is to control the disease. There is no universal treatment either, as each dog represents a unique case.
Since this disease is chronic, dogs suffering from it often require life-long treatment. Early detection and thorough, consistent treatment will help keep the disease under control. In certain animals, the disease is serious from the outset, with large areas affected by itching and skin rashes from a very young age. These are the most difficult forms of the disease to treat.

In urban areas, more than 90% of canine allergies are caused by mites. Since this disease is chronic, dogs suffering from it often require life-long treatment.

Which mites are found in dog beds?

Food storage mites

Acariens Tyrophagus putrescentiae

The mites found in dog beds predominantly belong to the Acaridae family (mainly Tyrophagus putrescentiae) and the Glycyphagoidae family (such as Glycyphagus domesticus) These mites are usually found in food reserves.

They can scatter throughout a mite-free house in a matter of months.

These mites are arachnids (related to spiders) that are invisible to the naked eye and live in the dust lying around our houses. Mites are not insects. They measure less than 1 millimetre (between 0.2 - 0.3mm in length).

They feed off a wide range of food waste. However, they also feed off the mould in their surrounding environment, with which they live symbiotically. In fact, the more they feed, the further they scatter the mould. When swallowed by the mite, the mould spores are not broken down by digestion, rather they are further scattered by said mite. The mite therefore uses the fungus as a food source and quickly scatters it across a greater surface area.

Food mites need warmth and humidity to survive (preferably 20-30°C and 70-90% relative humidity). They obtain the water they need to survive by harnessing the moisture in their surroundings. This is why they are so attracted to dog beds. While your dog is sleeping, it loses water through respiration and perspiration. The mites migrate towards it (never on it, the dog’s body is too hot for them) to harness the humidity generated by its respiration and perspiration. When your dog leaves its bed, the mites take refuge in the fabric folds and deep within the bed, which makes it difficult to eradicate them.

And a few house dust mites

Agrégat dacariens Dermatophagoides

Dog beds are often also home to a few individuals from the Pyroglyphidae family (Dermatophagoides farinae et Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus). These are the same mites we find in our own beds.

Due to the fact that dogs have less regular sleeping hours and may have several different sleeping areas, the dog bed is a less favourable environment for the mites that usually inhabit our beds, which explains why they are not the most commonly found mites in dog beds.

The mites present in dog beds are predominantly food mites.

Current solutions

Cleaning by vacuum cleaner

Mites are everywhere, even if a house is clean. A dog will not become allergic to dog bed mites because their living environment is poorly looked after. However, it is still useful to clean their bed and the areas they regularly spend time in as it helps remove the dead skin matter that fosters dust mite population growth. This cleaning must be done with a vacuum cleaner. It is not an easy task! Dead mites and their excrement are so light that they can escape vacuum cleaner bags and therefore scatter through the surrounding air. In order to eliminate them, it is essential to use bags equipped with adequate (HEPA) filters. Living mites, on the other hand, use their suction feet to help them stick to whichever surface they are inhabiting. As such, you will need to use a much more powerful vacuum cleaner than a regular domestic one in order to eliminate them.

However, vacuum cleaning with a high quality device does not eliminate the cause of the dermatitis because dust mites can hide deep within cushions, fabric and quilted material. During vacuuming, some mites attach themselves to fabric and therefore avoid being sucked up. Since these creatures reproduce rapidly, any small remaining populations will quickly proliferate and re-infest the dog bed.

Using acaricides

There are products available on the market called acaricides or biocides. Formed from a base of vegetable extracts (vegetable pyrethrum, essential oils) or synthetic products, these products are easy to use and fairly cheap. However, they have a short shelf life and can be toxic to the user and their dog. Moreover, many dust mites have grown resistant to them. 

Vacuum cleaning with a high quality device does not eliminate the cause of the dermatitis because dust mites can hide deep within cushions, fabric and quilted material.

Our solution

A dust mite trap

We are developping a very easy-to-use trapping device that is aimed at extracting and killing allergenic dust mites living in dog beds.

The principle in a few words : the user takes a towel, then put it on the dog bed. This towel is sprayed with the solution attracting mites. After spraying, the mites which are in the bed are attracted by the scent and take refuge in the towel, which is then placed in the washing machine to get rid of the mites.

After washing, when the towel is dry, it can be placed on other upholstered furniture and sprayed again with the attractive solution to trap other mites…

Please note that dust mite species present in a human mattresses are not the same as those found in dog beds (see section ‘Which mites are found in dog beds?’).

Our trap will soon be available on the market.

Why are the dog bed dust mites attracted to the solution?

Dust mites obtain the water they need to survive by harnessing moisture in their surroundings. If the air is too dry, in order to avoid losing water, dust mites send each other chemical messages to gather together. These messages are called aggregation pheromones. After sending these messages, dust mites form aggregates in our mattresses, which can contain thousands of individuals. Once gathered, they are able to avoid dying of desiccation. It is crucial to their survival that they understand this chemical message and attractive pheromone. When the humidity of their surrounding environment drops dust mites that are unable to gather with their fellow species will die of dehydration.

We have identified and quantified these pheromones. They are present in the attractive solution in quantities sufficient to attract dust mites hidden even in the depths of mattresses. These molecules are not toxic. Moreover, they are an existing part of dust mite biology and therefore the mites will not form a resistance to them, unlike biocides. The ‘attractive’ solution is harmless to pets and humans. 

Our will is to develop an easy-to-use trapping device that is aimed at extracting and killing allergenic dust mites living in dog beds.

Did you know?

Glycyphagus, one of the species found in dog beds has a strange morphology that allows it to transform and undergo a unique development stage. This stage is called an immotile hypopus. Glycyphagus mites adopt this form when the conditions in their surrounding environment become particularly harsh (drought, intense heat, etc.). Hypopi are oval-shaped and flat with long legs. They do not feed because their mouth parts are atrophied. While in this form, their exchanges with the environment are reduced to the minimum necessary for survival. This stage enables the mite to survive without water or food, often for years at a time.

Link to find out more about pests of all kinds

www.acari.be