Hello again! For my second post, I have some disturbing news to share.
Creepie Crawlies in the Cat Bed
There is a vector on the rise that you need to know about if your household includes at least one cat, dog, or rabbit, and secondary food source, such as yourself. The critter in question is the cheyletiella mite. We recently had an infestation on our strictly-indoor cat, Patience, and co-occuringly, on the rest of us. The rise in the appearance of this mite is attributed to the increasing use of flea-control products that do not contain a pesticide aimed specifically at mites. Climate change is also implicated as a factor.
If you have a strong stomach, you might want to check out this web site for more information and a truly disturbing photograph.
Signs that your cat might be afflicted with mites include irritability in the cat caused by the itchy bites and sensations that something is crawling across their skin. Granted, irritability in cats caused by an infestation of mites is difficult to distinguish from your everyday feline irritability. If the infestation is severe enough, you will notice the same symptoms in yourself, accompanied by a plethora of itchy red bumps that can drive you to complete distraction. If you are weak-willed and cannot resist scratching, these bumps only become more itchy and break into patches of open, bleeding blisters. Caution: giving in to the itchiness will also measurably up your irritability score.
As you might guess from their extremely small size, unlike other blood-sucking pests, these mites do not carry on board an anesthetic to be injected before sinking their feeding parts into your skin. Thus, their bites are often accompanied by a sharp pain much like a tiny bee sting. The itchy red bump follows a day or so later. None of this is going to improve your ability to get along with others.
The most reliable sign that your house is infested with mites is actual sightings of the mites themselves. For this you will need a bright light and a four year-old with perfect near-vision. If your household does not include such a person, and is instead made up of several vision-impaired older folks equipped only with “cheater” glasses from the discount store and a dusty magnifying glass, sightings of these mites may prove impossible.
If you do think you have spotted one, a tiny dot on a light-colored surface where your cat has recently been napping, you can try staring at the dot, watching for it to start crawling. Be careful not to breathe too enthusiastically while you stare as, due to their extremely small size, a single puff of air can blow them right out of Kansas. (This is a Californian’s feeble joke about tornadoes. I recognize that if you are reading this from most other parts of the country, tornadoes are no joking matter.) In any case, my point is, the dot can easily be blown away. Yes, they really are this small (that’s a penny to show scale). This mite is recently deceased.
If the dot you have spotted is alive, it eventually will begin moving, and usually in the direction of yourself. Mites are attracted to body heat and CO2, both of which you emit in abundance.
Once the dot begins crawling, do not try to pick it up with your fingers or roll over it with a fingernail to kill it. Take it from me, neither of those techniques will work. The mite is too small for you to feel, unless you are dozing fitfully at two in the morning and it crawls across your neck. You will feel it then, and will come abruptly awake, twitching, thrashing, and clawing at your neck. But I digress.
What I’ve found works best is to scoop the dot up with a funnel made from a white index card. These critters move fast, so have a small, preferably clear container handy with an air-tight snap-on lid. Tap the funnel over the container until the dot drops inside, and snap the lid on tightly. You will need this exhibit to prove to your veterinarian that your household is truly infested with invisible dots that crawl on your skin. Without this evidence, you are in some danger of being remanded to the local detox facility with a presumed diagnosis of delirium tremens. It is not unlikely that your veterinarian, primary care physician, and pest management company will all insist they have never seen, nor even heard of these mites, so take the name of the mite with you along with your carefully collected evidence.
Lucky for all concerned, the treatment for an infestation of cheyletiella mites is relatively simple and effective. Because both our dogs are on a flea-control product that contains a drug to kill mites, ivermectin*, the dogs were only transiently effected. Patience was not on any medication since she only leaves the house once a year and only then for the five minute ride to the vet’s office. We secured the ivermectin there, and within just a few days of its application our sightings of mites have significantly decreased.
Treatment should also include washing all of the pet’s bedding on your machine’s hottest setting and drying on high heat. If you are as squeamish as I, you will also want to similarly wash your own bedding, pajamas, towels, and all clothing. Thoroughly vacuum carpets, floors, drapes, and upholstered furniture. Wipe all washable surfaces with diluted ammonia including window sills, television consoles, and any place you have ever seen your cat sitting. Ever. I do not know that any of this is strictly necessary, but it will keep you busy while the ivermectin works its magic.
Check your flea-control medication box to see if it also controls mites. If not, you may want to begin your search for crawling dots. I sincerely hope you do not find any.
*Some herding breeds (of dogs) can have life-threatening reactions to ivermectin. There is a DNA test that can determine if your dog has the genetic mutation causing this reaction. Please check with your veterinarian before using this product on your dog.
Cherie O’Boyle, author of the Estela Nogales Mystery series, and On Scent, a working dog novel of suspense.