Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is the most common veterinary dermatologic condition in the world, writes Candace A. Sousa, DVM, in the Dermatology Online Journal.
PetsMD.com concurs. “FAD is the No. 1 cause of itching in dogs,” according to its website.
This allergy usually flares up during flea season in the summer and fall. As many as 40 percent of dogs are allergic to fleas, notes peteducation.com, which writes, “Other studies show that many dogs with flea allergies also have inhalant allergies (atopy) compounding the problem. There does not appear to be a breed or sex predilection for this allergy.”
Here are the signs of a flea allergy to look for and how you can help relieve your pooch of his misery.
What are the Symptoms of Flea Allergies in Dogs?
PetsMD.com notes that dogs suffering from this type of allergy typically have a “flea triangle” of hair loss. This triangle begins in the middle of the back and extends to the base of the tail and down the rear legs.
These are the other symptoms to look for, according to Sousa and PetsMD.com:
- Excessive scratching
- Chewing around his rear end
- Pink, inflamed skin that may be dry and flaky
- Hot spots
- Hair loss
- Foul odor
Sixty-one percent of dogs develop an allergy to fleas when they’re 1 to 3 years old, Sousa notes. It is rare in dogs younger than 6 months old. “As animals age, with continued exposure to fleas, the degree of hypersensitivity may wane,” she writes.
How is are Flea Allergies in Dogs Diagnosed?
Your vet will ask you about your dog’s medical history and perform a physical exam, which includes checking for fleas and flea dirt.
“Slowly parting the hair against the normal lay often reveals flea excrement or the rapidly moving fleas,” according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. “Flea excrement is reddish black, cylindrical and pellet or comma shaped. Placed in water or on a damp paper towel and crushed, the excrement dissolves, producing a reddish brown color.”
However, Sousa notes, “Many dogs who are allergic to the bite of a flea have very few fleas on them at any time because their excessive grooming activity removes the fleas. Some of those patients will have recurrent tapeworm infestations from ingestion of the fleas.”
It only takes one little flea to make your dog miserable. “Interestingly, dogs are not allergic to the actual flea itself; it is their saliva that causes such an itching festival,” writes petsMD.com.
In fact, there are more than 15 different allergens in the saliva of a flea, according to peteducation.com, which notes, “Each one of these is capable of causing an allergic response in a sensitive dog.”
After the physical exam, your vet may take a blood sample for an IgE allergy test. “The test indicates the presence of IgE antibodies in the bloodstream and will also reveal the specific allergens your pet might be reacting to,” writes petsMD.com.
How are Flea Allergies in Dogs Treated?
The treatment for your dog will depend on the severity of his allergy.
Your vet may prescribe antibiotics to clear the bacteria from your dog’s raw skin, antihistimines to reduce the inflammation and a low dose of a corticosteroid to relieve the itching. She may also recommend a medicated shampoo and supplements to help your dog’s skin heal.
As for allergy shots, their effectiveness for dogs is controversial, reports the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.
“While symptomatic relief can be provided, the only real ‘treatment’ for a dog with this condition is to keep him flea-free if possible,” according to its website.
How Can I Prevent Flea Allergies in Dogs?
The best way to prevent a flea allergy is to eliminate fleas from your dog and his environment.
“Fleas don’t breed on the dog: they deposit their eggs in bedding and nearby objects,” notes the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. “The larval fleas aren’t on the dog, they’re in his environment. While flea-killing agents work on the dog, it’s also necessary to kill all the life stages, which means treating the dog’s environment.”
Sousa advises that carpets “should be well-vacuumed using a vacuum with a power head. Pet bedding should be washed. Dead vegetation should be cleaned away from animal resting areas outside.”
For your dog, PetsMD.com writes, “The best prevention is monthly flea control.” Control products for dogs are available in several forms, including spot-on treatments that you apply between your dog’s shoulder blades; flea collars; sprays; shampoos; and pills.
PHOTO: Lee J Haywood
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.