Diagnosing Flea Allergies in Dogs

Flea allergies are the most common canine allergy. Diagnosing the cause of your dog’s problem is the first step toward relieving his symptoms, so it’s important that your veterinarian make a proper diagnosis. Let’s look at the ways veterinarians diagnose flea allergy, the symptoms of the condition and what other potential allergens veterinarians need to rule out during the diagnostic process.

Diagnosing a Canine Flea Allergy

Your veterinarian will use a combination of tests to determine the cause of your dog’s flea allergy. First, he or she will examine your pet for the presence of fleas, which will help narrow down potential allergy causes.

Next, your veterinarian may recommend blood tests or skin tests to help further narrow the potential allergens. The blood test combines a small amount of your dog’s blood with flea allergen in an attempt to create an allergic reaction in the laboratory, while the skin test injects tiny samples of flea allergen under your dog’s skin to try to create an allergen reaction as well. Skin testing is particularly effective in diagnosing canine flea allergies.

Symptoms of a Canine Flea Allergy

A canine flea allergy has some distinct symptoms that set it apart from other allergies that may affect your dog. The first specific symptom is the timing of the allergy attack. Many dogs with flea allergies have their worst symptoms during late summer, when flea populations are high in many parts of the country. If you live in a four-season climate, you will notice your dog’s symptoms coincide with the height of flea season, while your dog’s symptoms may be seen throughout the year if you live in a temperate climate where fleas can thrive year-round.

Another unique indicator of a canine flea allergy is the presence of a few fleas on your dog’s body (his excessive attention to grooming to relieve the itch from the flea bites has likely eliminated most of the fleas) or the presence of flea dirt on your dog’s rear end or around his tail. These tiny pepper-like flakes are the trail the fleas leave behind, and it’s composed of your dog’s blood.

Although many dog owners expect to see numerous fleas on their flea-allergic pets, the bite of a single flea is enough to set off an allergic reaction in a sensitive pet. Once the allergy has been triggered, just a few bites throughout flea season will be enough to keep the allergy attacks occurring.

Other Conditions that Resemble Canine Flea Allergy

The other common indicators of flea allergy – constant scratching, chewing at the feet or paws, irritated skin, hot spots and hair loss – can indicate other potential canine allergies, including food allergy or atopy.

Dogs with a food allergy seem to react overnight to an ingredient in their diet that they’ve been able to tolerate for years without a problem. Dogs with atopic allergies show allergy symptoms on their skin after they inhale an allergen, such as house dust, mold or pollen.

In both instances, the repeated exposure to the allergen eventually triggers a reaction by the dog’s immune system that results in an allergy attack.