Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Allergy to flea saliva is a common cause of itching in dogs and cats in Southern California. The saliva injected into a sensitive animal from a single flea bite can cause itching for up to three weeks. An itch-scratch cycle of ten develops, in which the itching causes the animal to scratch and chew, causing skin irritation, which leads to more itching and scratching.

The tendency to develop allergies is inherited. Often animals with flea allergy also have other allergies to inhaled substances or food. These diseases cannot be cured, only controlled, and often become worse over time.

In dogs, flea allergy results in scratching and chewing, particularly along the back, tail, and thighs. This irritation can result in hairloss, redness, and bumps in these sensitive areas. Excessive chewing may result in a hair less, red, oozing, painful area known as a "hot spot".

Cats with flea allergy will develop a scruffy appearance and often have bumps and scabs along the back, on the abdomen, and around the neck. Occasionally, cats will develop hair less, firm, raised areas known aseosinophilic plaques.

Problems that commonly occur secondary to flea allergy include greasy, smelly skin (seborrheaoleosa); dry, flaky skin (seborrheasicca); skin and ear infections; and eye irritation. Chronic irritation may result in thickened, hairless, darkly pigmented skin.

Flea control is the most important treatment for flea allergic pets and must include vigorous and regular treatment of all the animals, the yard, and the house.

To relieve discomfort, break the itch-scratch cycle and give time to implement the flea control pro gram, the veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs (corticosteroids). These medications often cause increased appetite and water drinking. Cortico steroids are strong drugs and can have side effects; therefore, it is important to follow the veterinarian's instructions.

Fatty acid supplementation will help relieve itching and improve the coat in many animals. Fatty acids are often used with antihistamines or steroids to increase their effectiveness.

Topical medications can be an important part in the treatment of flea allergy dermatitis. Bathing in cool water with an oatmeal-based shampoo will help relieve itching. Antibiotics and antibacterial sham poos may be prescribed for animals with skin infections. Antiseborrheic shampoos are used for pets with scaly, greasy, or waxy skin. A conditioner or rinse will help with some conditions. Consult your veterinarian regarding the correct shampoo to use for your pet's specific skin condition. Treatment for hot spots include shaving and cleansing the area, and administration of anti-inflammatory and antibiotic medications.

Some dogs with flea allergy dermatitis also have a condition known as hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism may worsen the coat condition, cause excessive wax and scaling, contribute to skin infections, and lead to a “rat-tailed” appearance. For dogs with this disease, diagnosed by a blood test, supplementation with thyroid hormone pills may improve the coat and skin.


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