If your dog has fleas, the first thing you may notice is hair loss along their neck, spine, and thighs. Their skin can become flecked with scabs and hot to the touch. Then, of course, there’s the frequent scratching. You may - or may not - see live fleas; you may only see flea dirt (specks of digested blood).
Often, a client will say to me, “But my other cat/dog is just fine.” That’s because not all pets are allergic to fleas. But for the ones who are, the suffering can be severe. Anyone who’s experienced mosquito bites knows that itching can be highly irritating.
The good news is that it’s pretty simple to prevent and treat fleas. Here’s how.
First of all, what is flea allergy in dogs?
Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) arises when your dog’s immune system overreacts to flea saliva. The severity of the itching doesn’t necessarily correlate to the number of flea bites your dog has; sometimes, it only takes a few to generate a lot of scratching. Many dogs will also have secondary bacterial and yeast infections and environmental allergies, all of which aggravate the itch.
Flea Allergy Symptoms:
- Itchy skin causing excessive scratching
- Fur loss
- Thickened skin
- Hot spots
- Scabs or crusts.
How do you prevent flea allergy dermatitis in ogs?
According to vet and dermatologist Dr. William Oldenhoff, you need to take several steps. The first is to use a flea preventative year-round, which can take a while to resolve infestations because the flea life cycle ranges from one to two months, depending on environmental conditions, and pupa can survive for up to a year before becoming adults.
Dr. Oldenhoff also recommends cleaning your house thoroughly. “Vacuum all surfaces, paying particular attention to the areas adjacent to walls and corners and under furniture,” he says. “Be sure to clean the furniture as well, and launder any bedding the dog sleeps on.” He does not recommend having the house itself sprayed or otherwise treated since flea preventives, and meticulous environmental cleaning are usually enough to keep fleas at bay.
How do you treat flea allergy dermatitis in dogs?
Dr. Oldenhoff recommends oral medication to relieve itching; speak to your vet to find out what is most suitable for your dog. However, he cautions that just because your dog stops their mad scratching doesn’t mean the fleas are gone. “When these therapies are prescribed, your pet will be feeling much more comfortable, but the flea infestation is still present, and thus flea control must still continue,” he notes.
Other flea-allergy dermatitis treatment options include medications for secondary bacterial and yeast infections and a dewormer for tapeworms. Fleas harbour dipylidium caninum larvae (aka, the flea tapeworm). If an infected flea is ingested - as the dog grooms themself - the larvae develop into adult tapeworms in the dog’s intestines. The good news is that tapeworm treatment is simple and effective (your vet will probably prescribe an oral medication called praziquantel).