Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a common skin condition in dogs. Today, our Long Island vets discuss how to tell if your dog has a flea allergy and how allergic dermatitis can be treated.
Dogs & Flea Allergies
Fleas are the most common external parasite found on dogs around the world. FAD, or flea allergy dermatitis, is one of the most common dermatologic diseases seen in domestic dogs across the United States and is the leading cause of allergic reactions in dogs.
In this post, we'll explore what a flea allergy is, how to tell whether your dog has a flea allergy and how to prevent and treat the condition.
What is a flea allergy?
During an allergic reaction, the body's immune system becomes hypersensitive and overreacts to a substance (antigen) that is typically harmless.
To reproduce, adult fleas must bite a dog and consume its blood. These parasites won't usually remain on the dog except for the minutes to hours during which they're feeding on your pup. This is why dog owners do not often spot live fleas on their dogs - unless their pooches have a severe flea infestation.
What is flea allergy dermatitis in dogs?
A common cause of itching in dogs, flea allergy dermatitis occurs when fleas inject a small amount of saliva into the skin while they feed.
The saliva contains antigens, enzymes, peptides, amino acids and histamine-like compounds that can trigger a release from your pooch's immune system and cause intense itching in sensitive dogs.
Dogs with flea allergy dermatitis to not need to be infested with fleas to be itchy. Some dogs will display an immediate hypersensitivity within 15 minutes, while others have a delayed reaction that takes 24 to 48 hours to manifest. A single flea bite can cause a days-long itching episode. Dogs with atopic dermatitis are more likely predisposed to developing flea allergy dermatitis.
What are symptoms of a flea allergy in a dog?
The most common signs of flea allergy include:
- Biting and scratching around the base of the tail, rump and groin area
- Sudden jumping from a resting position when your dog feels a flea bite
- Hot spots of infected sores, usually located on a dog's legs, back end or tail
- Secondary skin infections
It's important to keep in mind that just because you don't see fleas, doesn't mean they aren't present. Fleas are a concern year-round and can come inside your house. They can live indoors as eggs, larvae and pupae. Pets and humans can also bring fleas inside.
How is flea allergy dermatitis diagnosed in dogs?
Your vet can check for clinical signs that your dog is suffering from flea allergy dermatitis. Itching may lead to hair loss on the middle of the back to the base of the tail - a clue that flea allergy dermatitis could be an issue. Left untreated, this hair loss may spread all over the body, up to the head and neck.
When a dog scratches, chews and licks, it can break the skin and cause scabs and sores. Licking and chewing can also leave ongoing moisture behind, which can lead to bacterial and yeast infections.
Specialized blood tests (lgE blood tests) and intradermal allergy tests (skin tests similar to those performed in humans) can be conducted to confirm a flea allergy in your dog. That said, this testing is only required in some cases as signs of flea allergy dermatitis are usually quite clear and response to treatment is typically quick.
Treatment for Flea Allergies in Dogs at Atlantic Coast New York Veterinary Specialists
Veterinary dermatology is the testing, diagnosis and treatment of skin diseases and conditions in pets. Our board-certified veterinary dermatologist in Long Island leverages cutting-edge diagnostics and treatments to provide your pet with the best possible dermatological care. Among dermatology services, we offer intradermal allergy testing.
During your appointment, the veterinary dermatologist will ask about your pet's background and current symptoms to help diagnose their condition. Lab tests can confirm the diagnosis and determine the cause your dog's condition so a customized treatment plan can be developed.
Corticosteroids are often used to treat sudden or acute episodes of extremely itchy flea allergy dermatitis, as they often bring about long-awaited relief. However, using steroids can lead to significant potential side effects.
Some steroids such as prednisone can be used safely for short-term relief while you introduce flea control. For many patients, treatment plans include combining antihistamines with corticosteroids and/or omega/fatty acid supplements with the goal of using the lowest dosage of corticosteroids as possible, as infrequently as possible, preferably once every three days or so, or on an alternating schedule.
Flea prevention is the best form of treatment. Because an allergic response occurs after a flea injects its saliva, it's important to keep fleas from biting your dog. That's why parasite prevention and flea control with oral and topical flea preventives are essential to keeping your dog happy and healthy.
Even if you haven't spotted fleas on your dog, it's important to prioritize rigorous flea treatment and control your pup's environment to keep fleas at bay. While most flea infestations occur in warmer weather, they can happen year-round. Talk to your veterinarian about your options for flea prevention.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.