Food mites in the food
Many cats and dogs are allergic to food mites. Read here how you can prevent contamination of the food by simple tricks and make life easier for your pet with a food mite allergy.
What are food mites?
Food mites (storage mites) are tiny arachnids very similar to house dust mites. They are not visible to the naked eye, however, you can tell when food mites have proliferated in it.
Food mites are very resistant and widespread in our environment, for example in house dust. The mites are usually killed by heating them above 60°C (e.g. in the washing machine) or by freezing them for several days.
What is a food mite allergy?
Allergies to food mites are almost as common as to dust mites and many animals are allergic to both types of mites at the same time. The immune system has an exaggerated reaction to both the mites themselves and the mite feces. Typically, affected dogs and cats show e.g. itching and inflamed skin (atopic dermatitis). It is then often suspected that it is an allergy to food components in the feed (e.g. egg or beef). A feed allergy can be combined with a feed mite allergy, but it does not have to be.
Feed mite allergy can be diagnosed by a skin test (prick test) or a blood test.
How do the food mites get into the feed?
Basically, there are three ways that storage mites can get into pet food:
- The raw materials can already be contaminated with mites, e.g. grain.
- During processing and filling of the feed, mites from the environment can get into the feed packaging if the plant is contaminated with dust or flour residues, for example.
- During storage at home, storage mites from house dust colonize the feed. The risk of contamination increases the longer dried feed is stored. If the food is not in an airtight package, but in an open food bag, for example, colonization with food mites is all the faster.
How often is dog and cat food contaminated with storage mites?
Various scientific studies have shown that freshly purchased store-bought pet food is usually not contaminated with mites. However, expired closed feed and feed that has been stored open for a longer period of time have definitely been found to be colonized with food mites more frequently.
What do the feed manufacturers do to keep their feed free of mites?
In the case of “normal” dog food or cat food, it is not usually necessary to take special precautions against feed mites during production. The usual hygiene standards are sufficient to prevent heavy contamination, and the usual heating during processing reliably kills any mites that may be present in raw materials.
However, absolute freedom from mites is important for dietetic food, especially for food for allergy sufferers. For this reason, manufacturers such as Royal Canin, for example, apply particularly high quality standards in the purchase of raw materials and in production, and regularly test their feeds to ensure that they are mite-free.
How can I tell if the feed is contaminated with mites?
If food mites have multiplied in the feed bag or feed garbage can, the dry food will take on a “minty” odor. You will find brownish looking mite dust at the bottom of the empty container.
How can I prevent food mites from contaminating our dry food?
If your dog has a food mite allergy, you should feed a diet food for allergy sufferers to be absolutely sure you are feeding a mite-free, uncontaminated food. Canned food for allergy sufferers is and will remain mite-free, but with dry food, a lot depends on how you store it.
The most important precautions to take when storing feed are:
- Use an airtight container to store the feed.
- Open the feed container only briefly to remove the daily ration and use a clean (washed) feed cup, feed spoon or similar.
- Wash out the empty feed container regularly with hot water.
- Storage mites can also be found on food for human consumption, e.g. on the outside of flour packaging. Therefore, store pet food separately from other food.
- Storage mites also live in house dust. True mite breeding grounds are e.g. mattresses, upholstery, pet beds, etc.. Therefore, please do not store dry food next to the dog bed or similar.
- Food mites can be found in large quantities in hay and straw. Therefore, storing dog or cat food in the barn is also not recommended. Allergic dogs and cats may experience problems after a barn visit.
The shorter you store the dry food at your home, the lower the risk of mite contamination. You can either:
Buy small bags of feed more frequently, rather than a large one every few months, or
- Freeze some of the dry food, since storage mites do not survive in the freezer (i.e., cannot migrate or continue to reproduce).
How useful is freezing dry food for food mites?
If you freeze a mite-free dry food (allergy food), it will remain mite-free as a result. However, if the food was already contaminated with mites or mite feces prior to freezing, the food mites may not continue to multiply, but your dog or cat may still have an allergic reaction even with minor contamination of dead mites or mite feces. In addition, mite-free dry food may become contaminated with mites on the food cup or bowl after thawing.
What else can I do to make life easier for my pet with a food mite allergy?
Food mites are found in house dust and dogs or cats with a food mite allergy are often allergic to dust mites as well. Therefore, food mite allergy sufferers should have as little contact with house dust as possible.
You can ensure this by, for example.
- Washing dog blankets, cat beds or similar weekly at 60°C.
- Do not let your pet sleep in the bedroom, as a lot of mites live in mattresses and bedding.
- Treat the environment (not the food, of course) with a mite spray.
- Quarantine your pet while vacuuming and/or equip the vacuum cleaner with an allergen filter.
- When furnishing the home, make sure the floors and furniture are wipeable, if possible.
- Keep the humidity in the house below 50% if possible.