What is Seasonal Canine Illness?

by Britt
Photo credit: alexei_tm / Shutterstock.com

We often talk about the health risks associated with the most extreme temperatures – heat stroke during the summer months and hypothermia in the winter. But we have to remember that there are risks and concerns throughout the entire year – including the possibility of developing Seasonal Canine Illness during the brightly colored season of autumn.

If this is your first time hearing about this seasonal illness in dogs? Don’t worry; We have you covered! In this post, we’ll take a close look at the most important details you need to know about this illness as a dog parent, including what it is, the most common symptoms to watch out for, available treatment options, and tips for keeping your pup safe.

What is Seasonal Canine Illness in Dogs?

Unlike many other health conditions we face, Seasonal Canine Illness (SCI) is relatively new, with the first case reported in 2010. But being newer doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take it seriously, especially with the growing number of us spending time outdoors in the woods to see the changing fall colors – which is where this condition is believed to be contracted.

As with any new illness or health condition, a lot about SCI remains unknown. Initially, it was believed that it was caused by algae or fungi in woodland areas, both triggers that could be more prevalent during the fall months, which would explain the timing. However, these potential causes have since been disproved. This has left veterinarians and researchers searching for a new explanation.

After comparing many cases of SCI, another potential answer has been brought to light – many of the dogs diagnosed with this illness were exposed to harvest mites.

This could be the revelation experts are looking for, or it could be a coincidence. So, what DO we know? SCI is a rare condition. However, there is enough of an increase in cases every autumn for veterinarians to refer to the condition as fall-specific. Dogs that contract the illness will show signs approximately 1 to 3 days after spending time in a woodland area.

What Are the Symptoms of Seasonal Dog Illness?

There are no vaccines or preventatives to protect your dog from SCI. Instead, the best thing we can do as dog parents is learn the warning signs we should watch out for. You can get your pup to a veterinarian for early treatment by recognizing an illness early.

The most common symptoms of Seasonal Canine Illness include:

  • Vomiting (Often Containing Blood)
  • Diarrhea (Often Containing Blood)
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Abdominal Pain and Sensitivity
  • Severe Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Muscle Tremors
  • Lethargy
  • Rash on the Legs and Underside of the Body (Occasionally)

Research has found that as low as 2% of SCI cases are fatal IF the dog receives prompt treatment. However, data shows that fatality could increase to as high as 20% if left unaddressed. If you notice any signs your dog may have SCI, contact your veterinarian and make an appointment as soon as possible.

What Are Harvest Mites?

Harvest mites, also known as chiggers (as a larva), berry bugs, red bugs, and scrub-itch mites, are tiny bright orange parasites commonly found living in the soil in grasslands and forests. They are more active in the summer and autumn months, from August to October.

As larvae, these pests latch onto animals, like our dogs, and live off their hosts. When feeding, they release digestive enzymes into the host’s skin, breaking down skin cells and triggering itching and discomfort. Some dogs are allergic to these enzymes, causing a much more severe reaction.

If your dog has been spending time in a wooded area during high harvest mite season, you should check them over for signs of harvest mites, much like you would do a tick check. Check for:

  • Small, Red Pimple-Like Bumps
  • Intense Itching
  • Hives
  • Rashes or Skin Lesions
  • Burrow Lines that Look Are Thin and Wavy
  • Red Wheel-Shaped Irritation with a Central Blister
  • Red Dust Appearance on Their Skin

The most common locations to find skin irritation include the chin, ears, chest, stomach, armpits, and toes. If you see any of these signs or suspect there may be a problem, contact your veterinarian.

How Do You Treat Seasonal Illness in Dogs?

Now that you are familiar with the signs of SCI in dogs, you may wonder what you should do if you suspect your dog is ill. There is no “cure” per se for the illness, as that would require a better understanding of the cause and what it is. However, there are steps your veterinarian can take to help your dog recover faster and better than they would on their own. This primarily includes supportive care to address the symptoms they are experiencing, allowing their body to then focus its attention on fighting off the root cause.

Standard treatment options your veterinarian may recommend include antibiotics to address any infections (or risk of future infection), pain management, and anti-nausea medication to keep your dog comfortable.

Photo credit: Bogdan Sonjachnyj / Shutterstock.com

7 Tips to Prevent Seasonal Canine Illness

If you’re an outdoor adventure lover, like we are in my house, this article triggers one big question – how can I keep my dog safe when spending time outdoors during the autumn months? This was in the back of my mind just this past weekend as I enjoyed a beautiful fall hike with my youngest puppy, Lucifer, at one of our Provincial Parks. Unfortunately, there are no SCI preventative products or vaccinations to stop the problem before it happens, like there are for many other diseases and illnesses. But there are ways we can adjust our routines to reduce the risk.

Here are a few tips and tricks for preventing Seasonal Canine Illness while enjoying the beautiful fall colors with your pup this season:

Stick to Designated Hiking Paths

Like with other pests, sticking to a designated hiking path reduces the chances of picking unwanted hitchhikers like ticks and harvest mites. This isn’t to say you will never pick up a parasite on a path, but they are more likely to be found in more natural and undisturbed areas. Do you have a dog that loves exploring every little patch of grass and pile of leaves? Consider using a leash, even if your dog has good recall and off-leash manners, just to keep them safely on the trail.

Use a Dog Bug Spray Effective Against Chiggers and Mites

There are many dog bug sprays on the market, with most focusing on prevention against fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. However, if you read into the product details, you may find your favorite products will also protect your dog against other unwanted pets – including harvest mites.

You should ALWAYS avoid Deet products on your dog. It is highly toxic to dogs, causing neurological issues like seizures and tremors. In the most severe cases of Deet poisoning in dogs, it can be fatal.

One alternative is using a permethrin spray like Sawyer Products Permethrin for Dogs. This is still a chemical product; permethrin poisoning can occur if you expose your dog to more than the recommended dosage. But, applied properly, it is just as effective as Deet at keeping unwanted pests away, including chiggers and mites. If you are unsure about the correct dosage for your dog, talk to your veterinarian for a recommendation.

For those who prefer a natural product, Cedarcide Original Bug Spray is a bug spray made from natural cedar oil with the safety of both people and pets in mind. Their list of pests that it is effective against includes chiggers.

Wipe Your Dog Down After Being in the Woods

Keep a package of pet-safe grooming wipes like Earthbath Hypo-Allergenic Grooming Wipes in your vehicle for after your woodland adventures. Before loading your dog into your vehicle or bringing them into your house, take a moment to wipe them down. This will help to remove any mites that may be on the fur before they have a chance to latch onto your dog’s skin. The sooner you do this after leaving the forest, the more effective it will be.

Conduct a Thorough Mite Check After Outdoor Adventures

You may already know that a tick check is a necessary step after your dog’s hikes and adventures. At the same time, keep your eyes peeled for signs of mites. This includes spotting the tiny reddish-orange pests or noticing signs of itching, discomfort, and irritation. There is no proven connection between mites and SCI, even though they were observed on most dogs with the illness. But even the presence of mites can be uncomfortable for your pup. Addressing the mites can keep your dog comfortable and possibly reduce the risk of further illness.

Consider Avoiding High-Risk Areas

There is currently no national map or resource that will warn you as to which areas of the country are at the highest risk for Canine Seasonal Illness. This is primarily due to a lack of data – with the illness being so rare, there aren’t enough cases to effectively track cases and identify problem areas the way that risks like Lyme Disease can be tracked. However, if you hear reports of a dog being diagnosed with CSI after hiking a local trail, it may be best to steer clear during the highest activity months for harvest mites and chiggers.

Pay Attention for Signs of Trouble

As previously mentioned, the warning signs of CSI will show approximately 1 to 3 days after being in a wooded area. This means you should monitor your dog closely during those first 3 days. If you do notice any of the above signs, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. They can run the tests necessary to reach a diagnosis and recommend the best course of action.

Keep Your Dog Well Hydrated

While this may not completely prevent CSI, extreme dehydration is one of the most significant complications associated with the illness. Make sure you always bring plenty of fresh, cool water on your hikes and take frequent hydration breaks. There are many handy pet-friendly water bottles available, like the Lesotc Pet Water Bottle, that make carrying water a breeze. We use this one on our hikes and love that it can easily be tucked into a water bottle pocket on our hiking packs while its leakproof design keeps our gear dry. If your pet contracts CSI, this step will help prevent severe complications, keeping your pet healthy enough to fight the illness.

Final Thoughts: Seasonal Canine Illness

The idea that there is an illness out there that could make our dogs so sick and yet we have so little information about it is frightening. But try to remind yourself that this is extremely rare, and the prognosis for dogs who receive early treatment is excellent. The sooner you get your dog to a veterinarian for care and treatment, the better. With this in mind, the best thing you can do for your pup is to take precautions and always stay vigilant.

When hiking in any wooded areas, try to stick to defined trails. This may mean leashing your dog so that you can better control where they are exploring during your adventure. Following time spent in the woods, wipe your pet down with a grooming wipe or wet cloth as quickly as possible to remove any mites they may have picked up. When you take the time to do your tick check, also keep your eyes open for any signs of mites or mite-related problems.

Most importantly, keep an open line of communication with your veterinarian. If you are concerned, contact them to discuss it. They can recommend the best course of action, whether it is monitoring your dog at home for possible signs or bringing them in for testing, diagnosis, and treatment.

But don’t let the possible risk of SCI keep you from enjoying the great outdoors with your pup! Hiking with your dog is a great activity for building your bond, offering mental enrichment, and staying physically active.


Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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