Symptoms of Flea Allergies in Dogs

Flea allergies are the most common canine allergy, and they affect about 40 percent of all American dogs. In most parts of the country, fleas are a seasonal problem, but in temperate climates, they can be a year-round pest. We'll look at the signs of canine flea allergy so you'll be on the lookout for them when flea season starts in your area.

Know Your Enemy

Fleas are tiny insects that live on blood. The length of 6- to 12-month lifespan depends on the environment in which they live. Fleas that live in warm (65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit) and humid (75 to 85 percent humidity) areas can live up to three weeks longer than fleas in a cooler, drier environment.

Adult fleas live on a host, such as your dog, but they jump off the host long enough to lay eggs in his bed or in other parts of your home. Breaking the flea's life cycle is key to controlling the flea population in your home, which is why most flea control programs require you to treat both the animal and his environment for best results.

Signs of Canine Flea Allergy

A flea-allergic dog is having a reaction to flea saliva rather than the presence of fleas themselves. This is why flea-allergic dogs often have very few fleas on their bodies, but they still have an allergic reaction. A single flea bite can trigger an allergic reaction in a dog whose immune system has been sensitized over time to flea saliva, and a few flea bites delivered regularly during flea season can keep your dog scratching constantly.

Signs of canine flea allergy include extreme itchiness on the dog's hindquarters and at the base of the tail. Some dogs develop hot spots, scabs on their skin or lose their hair if they continue to scratch without receiving treatment.

You may also notice a few fleas or small specks that resemble pepper on your dog's skin. This is flea dirt or flea waste, which remains on your dog's skin after the flea eliminates. Keep in mind that atopic dogs can also develop skin problems as part of their allergies.

Treat Both the Dog and His Environment

Once you and your veterinarian have determined your dog has a flea allergy, you'll need to take steps to treat both your pet and his environment to successfully resolve the problem.

Treating your dog may involve administering a topical flea control product on a regular schedule. Your dog may also need a short course of steroid treatment to relieve his itchy skin, or antibiotics to treat secondary skin infections that may have developed from his constant scratching.

Treating your house involves scrupulous vacuuming of your home, especially those areas in which the dog spends most of his time. Regular vacuuming helps remove flea eggs, which reduces the chances of future generations of fleas biting your dog. In most cases, dog owners can manage their dog's flea problem themselves, but severe flea infestations may require the services of a pest control company to be successfully resolved.