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Another Reason To Hate Fleas: Flea Allergy Dermatitis

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Fleas are nasty little critters that make life miserable for your dog and for you. First there are the bites that hurt and then itch and itch. Then there is the problem of keeping your home environment and your pet insect-free. But here's one more reason to hate fleas: They can really do a number on your pet if he is allergic to flea bites by causing another itchy problem called dermatitis.

Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common allergy in dogs and is caused by fleabites, specifically the saliva of the flea. It is a very itchy disease and predisposes to the development of secondary skin infections.

Oddly enough, most animals with flea allergy have very few fleas. The reason is that they are very itchy and they groom themselves excessively eliminating any evidence of fleas. A couple of fleabites every two weeks are sufficient to make a flea allergic dog itchy all the time. Any animal can become allergic to fleas, although some dogs are more attractive to fleas than others. Fleas are bloodsucking insects with a lifespan of 6 to 12 months. This life span is influenced by environmental conditions And can vary from two to three weeks up to a year. Optimal conditions include humidity of 75 to 85 percent and temperature of 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity is more important than the temperature. The adult flea spends most of its life on the host, while the immature stages (eggs) are found in the environment.

In dogs, common signs of a flea allergy are chewing and biting of the tail, rump and back legs. Sometimes they chew their front legs and cause oozing lesions (lick granuloma). In fact, the itching may be so intense that the animal will cause severe skin damage in a short period of time ("hot spot"). These are usually found on the hip area or on the side of the face.

Diagnosis:

Diagnosis of flea allergy is made based on history, clinical signs and a positive skin test.

Treatment:

Treatment of flea allergy dermatitis involves three phases:

  • Prevention of flea bites. The most important part of treatment is preventing flea bites with aggressive flea control on your dog and in the environment.

  • Treatment of secondary skin infections. Antibiotics and antifungal drugs may be necessary to treat secondary skin infections triggered by the flea allergy.

  • Breaking the itch cycle. If your dog is intensely itchy, a short course of steroids may be necessary to break the itch cycle and make your dog more comfortable.

    Preventative Care

    Use an effective safe flea control product on your dog on a regular basis beginning one month before the flea season starts and continuing up until one month after the flea season ends.

    Use frequent vacuuming and carpet cleaning strategies to remove eggs and larvae from the dog's indoor environment. Use a professional cleaning or exterminating service in difficult cases.

    Use appropriate yard maintenance especially in shaded areas preferred by your dog. Immature stages of fleas are sensitive to dryness and heat. They die in sunny areas. Trim trees and rake away all the debris. Keep the grass trimmed short. Fleas survive only if there are enough animals to support them, so one dog roaming a one-acre yard would not pose a problem.

    See your veterinarian promptly if your dog develops acute skin lesions (acute moist dermatitis) as a result of biting or scratching at fleas. Frequent grooming of your dog with a "flea comb" may be helpful to remove fleas.

    To learn more about flea allergy, please click on Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs.

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