Flea Dermatitis in Dogs

Flea dermatitis is among the most frequent allergies in canines. This allergic reaction is developed to the flea bites or the saliva of the fleas. One flea bite is enough to make the dog develop dermatitis. The condition will cause severe itchiness, skin rashes and the dog may develop secondary skin infections.

Causes of Flea Dermatitis

Fleas are external parasites that feed on canine blood and can live between 2 weeks and 12 months, depending on the environmental conditions. Fleas are species specific, so the dog fleas can only be transmitted to other canines. Certain dogs may be allergic to the flea bites, as the saliva contains substances the dog may be allergic to.

Typically, dogs that develop flea dermatitis have very few fleas; but a flea bite can cause an allergic reaction which may last for up to 2 weeks.

Symptoms of Flea Dermatitis

The flea dermatitis will be manifested through:

  • Itchiness
  • Dermatitis (skin rashes)
  • Scratching, biting and chewing of the skin (tail, legs or back)
  • Lick granulomas (lesions that may have a foul odor and may also be oozing)
  • Hot spots or acute moist dermatitis (mainly on the face or hips)
  • Secondary skin infections (mainly bacterial or fungal) due to skin damage and excessive scratching or licking

These symptoms may point to other conditions such as food allergies, inhalant allergies, sarcoptic mange, mites, ear infections or skin irritation.

Diagnosing Flea Dermatitis

Flea dermatitis is difficult to diagnose, as the dog may have no or very little fleas present on the skin. Due to the severe irritation, the dog will groom excessively and may remove all fleas.

However, the vet will consult your pet and establish if he has flea dermatitis or if the dog is affected by other conditions. A skin scraping test may be necessary.

In some cases, the vet needs to test whether the dog responds well to flea medication in order to be sure the diagnosis is flea dermatitis.

Treatment Options

The treatment of flea dermatitis will focus on removing the fleas first, so as to prevent future bites. The fleas may be eliminated through several aggressive methods:

  • Topical ointments that contain insecticides
  • Sprays
  • Shampoos
  • Powders

You need to make sure that the dog is not allergic to the flea treatment that you apply. Certain sprays or powders may cause allergies.

It is equally important to remove the fleas that may be present in the home. There may also be flea eggs and larvae which need to be removed.

In addition, the dog should also receive topical ointments to control the dermatitis. Steroid ointments are effective in relieving itchiness and healing the granulomas and hot spots.

If the dog has secondary skin infections, these should be treated as well.

Safe flea control products may be used preventively, to prevent fleas on your pet and to prevent the occurrence of flea dermatitis.