Overview of Canine Flea Allergy Dermatitis
Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common allergy in dogs and is caused by flea bites, 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 – because they are so itchy, they groom themselves excessively, eliminating any evidence of fleas. However, a couple of flea bites 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 life span 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.
What to Watch For
Signs of flea allergies in dogs include:
Diagnosis of Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs
Flea allergy dermatitis is a common cause of itchiness and scratching in dogs, but other medical problems can lead to similar symptoms. Other disorders that must be excluded are:
Some pets may have more than one medical problem. For example, scratching or biting due to flea irritation can cause a “hot spot” (acute moist dermatitis) and secondary bacterial skin infection (pyoderma) can follow.
Diagnosis of flea allergy is made based on history, clinical signs and a positive response to flea control.
Treatment of Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs
Treatment of flea allergy dermatitis in dogs involves three phases:
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.
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.
Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.
Diagnosis In-Depth of Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs
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:
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:
Treatment In-depth of Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs
Treatment for skin infections may include antibiotics, steroids, or antihistamines.
The type of treatment for fleas on your dog will depend on several factors:
Flea Control Recommendations for Dogs May Include
Prescription flea control products are most potent and include:
If your pet already has fleas, they must be killed first with products such as Capstar® (nitenpyram), Frontline Plus® (fipronil) or Advantage® (imidacloprid).
Recommendations for flea control will vary depending upon local and regional variations in climate. New flea control products are constantly being developed. Consult your veterinarian about the newest and most effective product for your particular area and circumstances.
Optimal treatment for your dog requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up is important especially for flea allergic dogs. Administer as directed any medications prescribed by your veterinarian.
Mark dates on your calendar that treatments and follow-up evaluations are due. Follow the preventative measures recommended by your veterinarian as appropriate for the season of the year and your geographic location.
Contact your veterinarian if you are having difficulty administering prescribed medications to your dog or if the results are not as expected.