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Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs

By: Dr. Rosanna Marsalla

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Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.

Diagnosis In-Depth

Diagnostic tests often are performed to confirm a diagnosis of flea allergy dermatitis and exclude other diseases that may cause similar symptoms. Tests may include:

  • A complete medical history including questions about itchiness, areas of involvement, prior history of skin problems, diet, response to therapy, and any concurrent medical conditions

  • A thorough physical examination, including examination of the skin

  • Fecal flotation tests to determine the presence of concurrent gastrointestinal parasites or identify tapeworms, which are transmitted via fleas

  • Skin scrapings examined under the microscope to detect mange mites (sarcoptes, cheyletiella, demodex). The sarcoptic mange mite can be very difficult to find and several skin scrapings may have to be collected.

    Your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests to exclude or diagnose other conditions. These tests insure optimal medical care and are selected on a case-by-case basis. Examples include:

  • A complete blood count (CBC or hemogram) to identify infection or inflammation and anemia, which can be seen in severe flea infestations. Occasionally, a high percentage of circulating eosinophils may be seen in the blood smear. This type of white blood cell may be found in increased numbers in some animals with parasitic infections.

  • Serum chemistry tests to evaluate the overall health of the dog and to evaluate the function of vital organs such as the liver and kidneys

  • Allergy tests such as the radioallergosorbent test (RAST) or the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), although the accuracy and usefulness of these tests is variable

  • Intradermal allergy testing (skin testing) to identify the responsible allergens in allergic animals. Most flea allergic dogs will react to the flea antigen used in this test.

  • Microscopic examination of material collected from the external ear to check for mites or infectious organisms like bacteria or yeast.

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