San Marcos Vet Speaks: Flea Allergy Dermatitis

For some pets just a single flea can make their life miserable because they have a condition called Flea Allergy Dermatitis. Flea Allergy Dermatitis is a condition where your pet is actually allergic to the saliva of the flea – this hypersensitivity can cause you pet to start itching madly as soon as within 15 minutes to 48 hours after a flea bite has occurred. The crazy thing about this condition is that it only will take a single flea bite for it to occur in some pets, and many times owner may not even have realized their pet has fleas yet, because fleas are tiny insects – about the size of a pen tip. Since in southern California fleas can be found year-round, and peak in the summertime we recommend pets that have flea allergy dermatitis be on a good flea control product year-round to prevent them from having these allergic reactions.

Classic clinical signs seen in flea allergy dermatitis is redness, irritation and itching in the lower back, thighs, tail and tailhead region. Sometimes scabs, pustules wounds may be seen in the area due to secondary infection and continued itching.

Treatment for flea allergy dermatitis can vary – if caught early sometimes just placing your pet on a good flea preventative will stop the itching and allow the body to heal itself. If the skin is very red and infected your pet may need antibiotics, and sometimes even steroids to help you pet with the secondary infection and inflammation of the skin.

Prevention of flea allergy dermatitis is simple – keeping your pet on a good flea preventative should do the trick. There are a couple of things to consider when choosing a flea preventative for a pet that has flea allergy dermatitis.

  1. What part of the flea life-cycle does the product work on. For pets that suffer from flea allergy dermatitis, you want to make sure that the product acts on the ADULT FLEA. If the product also works on the larvae or egg as well that is a great bonus.
  2. How quickly does the product work to kill the adult flea. For pets the suffer from flea allergy dermatitis you want to keep bites to the minimum (ideally keep them from happening at all!). Shorter kill times for the adult flea is ideal, and having a product that works fast, and doesn’t require the flea to bite your pet to kill the flea is even better.
  3. Pick a product that works with your family’s lifestyle. If you bathe your pet more than twice per month, have a pool, or take your pet to the beach often a topical product (the drops that go on the back of the neck) are probably not a good idea, each time your pet is bathed those products will wash away a little. Most products that are topical, the efficacy will drop below 80% after the second bath. On the flip side if you have a pet with a sensitive stomach, food allergies, or that is a terribly picky eater an oral product might not be a good option for your pet.
  4. Choose a product that’s primary function is fleas, and that works well. Not every flea product out there is the same, and some products work well and faster than others. For example, Revolution is a great all-in-one topical product, however if your primary concern is fleas you may want to look for another product. Revolution does kill fleas, but not as well as other products such as Activyl. Activyl starts working on the adult flea by immobilizing it and causing it to be “drunk” within about 15 to 30 minutes, then kills within 8 hours. Older products such as Advantage and Frontline are labeled to kill fleas within 12 hours, however in recent years we personally have found that fleas seem to be more resistant to these products and sometimes they will take closer to 48-72 hours to kill fleas.
  5. Read the labeling on the package to see how often you will need to give or use your flea preventative – some products like Capstar will kill all fleas on your pet within 15 minutes, however have no residual effect after 24 hours. From first glance that may not seem like a problem, however if you pet has fleas and flea allergy dermatitis – you probably have fleas, flea eggs, flea larvae, and flea puppa in your environment ready to jump onto your pet sometime within the next 3-6 months. So keeping your pet on a flea preventative with lasting effects is extremely important to prevent re-occurrence of flea allergy dermatitis. We recommend products that can either be given monthly or even three months.

If you have any questions or concerns about flea preventatives you should bring it up during your pet’s annual physical examination. This way you can speak with a veterinarian about the different types of products out there and what would be best for you and your pet.

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