Monday, August 9, 2010

Flea allergy dermatitis

Monsoon is at our door step and with the cool rain, humid season also commences. Humid season helps in breeding and increase in number of tiny jumping parasites, the fleas. Once fleas get a hold on your pets body, your pet will sooner or later develop an allergic condition. 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.


  • Severe itching
  • Chewing and biting of the tail, rump, back legs and occasionally front legs
  • Oozing lesions (lick granuloma) from chewing
  • Hot spots on the hips or face, which is severe skin damage from scratching
  • Flea excreta on your pet’s body surface (which is reddish brown coloured and when touched upon by moist paper turns red)


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:

  • Food allergy
  • Atopy
  • Trauma or other cause of local skin irritation
  • Sarcoptic mange
  • Cheyletiellosis (a mite infestation)
  • Otitis externa (ear infection)
  • Primary keratinization defects

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 involves four 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. Flea control can be done by spot on medications like Frontline, Revolution or flea powders and sprays.

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.

Nutritive support: One important phase to better your pet's coat which has been infected by fleas is to add a nutritive supplement for the skin and mainly the hair follicles. Supplements containing Omega-3, Omega-6 fatty acids and cod liver oil can be used to strengthen hair follicles and also ensure hair regrowth keeping your pet's coat healthy.

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.

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.

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