Thursday, June 17, 2010

Part 4: Pet is scratching a lot?

Dr. Schaeberle,

My dog’s skin has been itchy and my veterinarian diagnosed a flea allergy. I am confused because I have only seen one or two fleas on my pet. Can this be true?



Hi Terry,

Flea allergy dermatitis is a leading cause of scratching in dogs and cats. When fleas feed, they inject a small amount of saliva into the skin. Proteins in saliva are the usual allergen or chemical which causes of this intense itchy response. Dogs and cats with flea bite dermatitis do not have to be infested with many fleas to be itchy. In fact, a single flea bites can cause itching for up to a week.

So how is flea allergy dermatitis diagnosed?

Clinical signs often give the first clue that your pet may suffer from flea allergies. Itching and hair loss in the region from the middle of the back to the tail base and the rear legs is mostly associated with a flea allergy.

The treatment for flea allergy certainly includes very strict flea control. Utilization of monthly topical treatments such as Frontline and Advantix can help to kill adult fleas, and use of Sentinel (for dogs) or Program injectable (for cats) can help to quickly reduce flea populations in your house by preventing the development of immature flea stages which account for over 90% of the total flea population! Treatment of the home will also be recommended to cut down on flea infestations. As with an inhaled allergy, antihistamines such as Benadryl work poorly. Rather, corticosteroids or cortisone is widely used to treat flea bite dermatitis. They often bring about rapid relief to the poor itchy patient.

For more information about allergies, visit our website at, go to Resources and then click Pet Health.

Thomas Schaeberle, VMD

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