Buzz Woof & Meow: What to do if your dog has fleas

May 2015

In spite of common belief, a normal dog experiences only minor skin irritation in response to flea bites. Even in the presence of dozens of fleas, there will be very little itching. On the other hand, the flea-allergic dog has a severe, itch-producing reaction to flea bites. This occurs because the dog develops an allergic response to flea saliva.

What to do when your dog has fleasWhen the dog is bitten, flea saliva is deposited in the skin. Just one bite causes intense itching. This type of reaction is not to the flea itself but rather to proteins in its saliva. Dogs most prone to this problem, interestingly enough, are not dogs who are constantly flea ridden, but those who are exposed only occasionally. A single bite can cause a reaction for five to seven days, so you don’t need a lot of fleas to have a miserable dog.

The dog’s response to the intense itching is to chew, lick or scratch. This causes hair loss and can lead to open sores or scabs on the skin, allowing a secondary bacterial or yeast infection to begin. The area most commonly involved is over the rump (just in front of the tail), and left untreated will very often develop a yeast infection. Many flea-allergic dogs also chew or lick the hair off of their legs, leading to hot spots.

In most parts of the country, the problem is seasonal. It is most severe in summer and fall in areas of the country that have cold winters. In warm climates where fleas are active year- round, they are a year-round problem that intensifies during summer.

Veterinarians may recommend treatment with small amounts of corticosteroids to give some affected pets relief during the flea season. However, these treatments may be dangerous to your pet if prolonged, and only offer relief of symptoms at best.

The most important treatment for flea allergy is to get the pet away from all fleas. Therefore, strict flea control is the backbone of successful treatment. Unfortunately, complete flea control is not always possible for pets that live outdoors in warm and humid climates, where a new population of fleas can hatch out every 14 to 21 days.

The best idea is to prevent a flea infestation, or to get rid of it fast, before it can become a serious problem.

If you suspect your dog has fleas, or if you see one or two, it’s time for a bath. An anti-microbial shampoo provides a calming and therapeutic effect for dogs with both dry and oily skin.

The second step to elimination of fleas is to kill them in the pet’s environment with flea dust.

A salve can be applied to relieving itch from flea allergies and fight the associated fungal and bacterial infestations, and promote healing of affected areas.

Reprinted with permission by Dr. Adelia Ritchie, PhD, organic chemist for Dirty Dogs Spa and Boutique, 929 Heritage Lake Road, Wake Forest. Phone: 919-453-0765,  Vanessa Davis, owner.