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The Dangers of Fleas in Dogs

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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If you have a dog, you are probably familiar with fleas. And you're probably familiar with the many commercials and advertisements that encourage you to purchase products to get rid of fleas or prevent them from feeding on your pet. We place a lot of importance in preventing fleas in our pets because fleas are more than just blood-sucking insects; fleas can also cause or transmit diseases in dogs. Some of these include:

Flea allergy dermatitis is a common ailment associated with flea bites. Though each bite from a flea can cause minor skin irritation, some dogs can develop an allergy to the saliva of the flea. What this means is that just one flea bite can result in significant irritation, itchiness and aggravation. Flea allergy dermatitis is an itchy illness and dogs will commonly scratch, resulting in hair loss. Typically, the hair at the base of the tail is usually affected but small scabs and redness are present all over the dog's body. The primary treatment of flea allergy dermatitis is to remove the existing fleas and prevent future flea bites.

Tapeworms are a common parasite associated with fleas. Though not transmitted by bites, fleas cause tapeworm infestations when the dog grooms and ingests a flea carrying the tapeworm larva. After ingestion, the tapeworm larva continues to develop in the dog's gastrointestinal tract. When developed, the head of the tapeworm will attach to the intestinal wall and small egg filled segments periodically break off and are passed out the rectum. These segments are fed on by flea larva and the cycle continues. Though tapeworms do not usually result in illness in the dog, removal of the tapeworm is recommended.

Flea bite anemia occurs in severe flea infestations or in tiny puppies. When a flea bites, it feeds on blood. With many fleas feeding at the same time, significant blood loss can occur. If the fleas are allowed to remain on the dog, severe anemia can result. Blood transfusions, iron supplementation and hospitalization are frequently necessary. Some dogs may not survive flea bite anemia.

By learning the potential illnesses that can be caused by those little tiny bugs, you may now understand why there are so many flea products available. Not only is the flea a nuisance, it can also be life threatening.

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