Vet Blog

When Your Dog or Cat Has a Flea Allergy

May 31, 2019

Many people think that fleas and pets go hand in hand.

Whilst they are certainly very common and your cat or dog is guaranteed to get them if she isn't adequately protected, if you invest in proper preventative measures, there is no need for your pet to suffer from them at all. This is important as not only do they cause unpleasant symptoms that can make life miserable for your pet, but they can also have implications for her health and wellbeing. This is because many of our fur babies are actually allergic to fleas. In fact, flea allergy dermatitis is the most common skin disease affecting dogs in the U.S.

Here is what you need to know about fleas and what to expect and do if your pet has a flea allergy.

About Fleas

Lots of people have heard of fleas but they don't really know what they are or what they mean for the animals that they affect. Fleas are tiny, wingless parasites that move between hosts by jumping. Despite their size, they can jump as far as 18cm vertically and 33cm horizontally, making it easy for them to get around. Once onboard their host, they will bite and drink their blood to sustain themselves.

One of the most prevalent problems with fleas is how quickly they reproduce. A female flea can lay between 20 and 50 eggs per day and with a lifecycle of around 21 days, it is possible for a couple of fleas to turn into a large population before you even realize that there is a problem. This short life cycle makes it very difficult to treat a flea infestation, particularly as flea eggs are microscopic and lurk in the environment. For this reason, if your pet has fleas you will need to treat your home and yard as well as your pet herself.

What Is a Flea Allergy?

Most Gainesville pet owners are familiar with the itching and scratching that is a core symptom of a flea infestation. This is caused by the tickling of flea legs on your pet's skin. However, there is also a much more intense itch that can occur, and this is a result of a flea allergy. If your pet has a flea allergy it is not the fleas themselves that she is allergic to but their saliva. Flea saliva contains proteins that can trigger your pet's immune system to overreact - the key characteristic of an allergy. Sometimes, the allergy can be so severe that your pet can feel the effects for as long as a fortnight after the bite. However, just a single bite can be enough to trigger an allergic reaction.

Signs that Your Cat or Dog Is Allergic to Fleas

There are a variety of symptoms that indicate that your furry feline or cuddly canine has a flea allergy. These include the following:

  • Intense, persistent itching and scratching, particularly on the hind legs and tail.
  • Biting and chewing her skin or constantly grooming herself.
  • Hair loss around the area where your pet has been bitten.
  • A rash on your pet's skin. This can look like small, pink, or red raised bumps. On dogs, it is most likely to occur near the hind legs and stomach, while in cats it is more likely to be evident on the neck and face.
  • Broken skin that becomes infected - requiring antibiotic treatment.

Can Flea Allergies Be Treated?

If your pet suffers an allergic reaction, corticosteroids can be used to counteract the allergic reaction and provide relief from many of the symptoms that she is experiencing. These are often supplied as part of a treatment plan that may also involve the administration of antihistamines and topical treatments to help make your pet comfortable. She may also need a course of antibiotics if aggressive scratching has caused broken and infected skin.

When it comes to fleas, prevention is always better than trying to treat the problem. This is because not only will you need to treat the symptoms of the allergy, you will need to get rid of the fleas themselves which involve treating your pet and home. Fleas are notoriously hard to get rid of and it can take many months to fully deal with an infestation. Fortunately, there are lots of preventatives available including oral medication, topical treatments, and spot-on solutions. Each is only effective for a set period, so it is crucial that you stay on top of the schedule of administration required to keep your cat or dog safe. Being late with your chosen preventative could put your pet at risk. If you aren't sure which preventative is right for your pet, our Gainesville veterinary team will be happy to advise you.

If you would like more information on flea allergies, or if you are concerned that your pet may have a flea allergy and you would like to arrange for her to be assessed by our team, please contact Prestige Pet Resort & Spa in Gainesville, FL today (352) 505-5304.