Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common skin condition in dogs. It can strike any breed and may occur at any age, though it is most common in dogs between 1 and 5 years old. It can result in severe itching, redness, scaling, hair loss and open sores from continued licking and scratching, all of which can leave your dog feeling miserable. Worse, if measures are not taken to properly control the flea infestation, humans can be affected by fleas as well.
The problem with diagnosing flea allergy dermatitis is that the main symptoms can also be indicative of other skin conditions. Of course the presence of fleas is a strong indicator that the condition is flea related and it is the first thing a veterinarian will look for when making a diagnosis. Once the condition has been properly diagnosed, the vet can recommend a course of treatment that will be multi-pronged, involving the eradication of the flea infestation as well as treating the symptoms of the allergy itself.
All flea bites can cause itching and irritation but some dogs are particularly sensitive to the saliva of the fleas and in these instances the reaction can be much more severe. The main symptom of an allergic reaction is severe itching, called pruritis. This itching will cause the dog to constantly scratch, lick and even bite the affected area, which can lead to hair loss, reddening of the skin and sores. In most cases the hind end of the dog will be more directly affected, but the allergic reaction can spread over the rest of the body as well.
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Picture of flea at 10x magnification
It is impossible to successfully treat flea allergy dermatitis without first eradicating the flea infestation. There are many flea control products on the market today that can help to both kill adult fleas as well as eradicate eggs. These can be applied topically or taken orally. If a topical product is used it should be applied in an area such as the back of the neck where the dog cannot lick it off. For younger dogs, a flea shampoo may be used for an acute infestation but continual management with one of the long term products is recommended.
In order to completely control the condition it is also necessary to treat your home, paying particular attention to areas where fleas can gather including the cracks in flooring, carpets, pet bedding and under and between cushions. This is especially important as fleas can also affect humans if access to a canine host is limited. The more thorough you can be about removing all signs of flea infestation, the better off you and your dog will be.
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Close-up of dermatitis on dog's skin.
Since fleas can also live outdoors, you will also need to eliminate infestation in your yard as well. Dog houses, garages, the area under your porch and any shady areas where dogs tend to lie down for long periods of time should all be treated. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to stay ahead of flea infestation for breeds like the Australian Shepherd that spend a great deal of time outside and around other animals, as fleas can pass from one animal to the next.
Of course eliminating infestation is only one step in the process of treating flea allergy dermatitis. Prednisone may be used to control severe itching and a course of antibiotics may be recommended for treating secondary infection due to scratching or biting. Fleas are a serious issue for all pet owners but with the correct precautionary measures, you can keep flea allergy dermatitis from affecting your dog.
For more information about Aussie health issues see the Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute (ASHGI).