Flea allergy dermatitis is an allergic skin condition that both cat’s and dog’s can be affected by. It occurs when an animal develops a hypersensitivity or allergic reaction to a fleas saliva that is transmitted when they bite. It is the most common cause of relentless itchy skin in dogs and cats but it is often wrongly referred to as eczema or mange.
Where normal pets can be bitten by a number of fleas with minimal reaction, a pet suffering flea allergy dermatitis only needs one flea to bite to result in severe and prolonged irritation causing them to suffer from weeks of continuous itching and scratching.
Flea allergy dermatitis is uncomfortable, painful and distressing for both the pet and a caring owner. The symptoms to be aware of include;
- Excessive grooming, licking, chewing, biting, scratching or rubbing on things.
- Hair/coat staining to a red or brown tinge caused by the saliva and excessive licking or biting.
- Hair loss
- Skin changes like a rash, redness, darkened, inflamed, thickened, cuts, scratches, wounds, red crusts.
- Most commonly seen on the base of tail, tummy, back, neck and ears in dogs and on back, neck and and face in cats.
- A bad smell/odour caused by possible bacteria and yeast infections.
- Breaks in the skin caused by continually scratching, biting or licking can allow bacteria in causing skin infections or hot spots.
A veterinarian will make the diagnosis of flea allergy dermatitis by looking at and assessing the pets skin. Finding a flea or flea dirt will confirm a diagnosis however they are not always seen because it only take one flea to start the reaction. The treatment for flea allergy dermatitis will include;
- Flea control and eradication with reliable flea treatment products and continual, compliant administration.
- Any secondary infections will need to be treated with antibiotics or antifungals.
- Steroids or antihistamines may be given to combat the sensitivity.
- Anti-inflammatories may also be given to reduce the pain and inflammation.
As always prevention is always best and particularly in the case of of flea allergy dermatitis it is the only way to control the condition. The only way to prevent flea allergy dermatitis is to stop fleas from biting which means continual year round treatment with a flea prevention product is necessary.
The condition can take some time to get under control as it does only take one bite to set it off, so therefore all fleas at all stages of the lifecycle will need to be eradicated. So this might mean that you may also need to take action in your pet’s surroundings and environment too.
If you think your pet is suffering from flea allergy dermatitis please consult your veterinarian as soon as possible for advice and treatment because it is a very irritating and painful condition for your pet.
For more information on flea control and eradication click here.
Originally published in My Pet Magazine Issue 14.
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