FLEA ALLERGY Part 2: 4 Rules for PERFECT Flea Control

As we covered in part I last week- we know that flea allergy is one of the most common causes of itching in dogs!  Flea allergy dermatitis occurs when dogs develop sensitivity the bite of fleas. Interestingly, dogs and cats that are not allergic to flea bites develop lesions or itching from the bites.  So… contrary to popular belief not all dogs with fleas itch!  

What flea allergy looks like on your dog

Flea bite allergy (“Flea allergy”, “Flea allergy dermatitis”) is worse during peak flea times. Therefore, symptoms are seasonal in temperate areas (warm weather through fall) and nonseasonal in subtropical or tropical areas. Believe it or not... in some areas fall can be the most severe season. When that first cold snap occurs it seems to awaken some of those fleas! Of course, if there is an infestation in your home there can be no seasonal pattern at all. 

Despite advances in flea control, flea bite allergies and flea bite dermatitis still continue to be common problems. Why is this?

 

This occurs because dogs with a hypersensitivity to flea saliva will start to exhibit symptoms (itch, rash) after exposure to a small number of flea bites. This is SEPARATE from seeing large numbers of fleas and having a “flea problem”. Most pet parents in my practice are vigilant and are doing some form of flea prevention on their pets and often in their yards. Dogs that are prone to developing allergies begin to show symptoms once they have become “sensitized” to the flea’s saliva. Dogs encounter the flea saliva when the flea bites and feeds on the dog’s blood while biting. Studies have shown that there are over 15 different antigens in the saliva of the flea! Each one of these is capable of causing an allergic response in a sensitive dog or cat.

 

How is flea allergy diagnosed?

·      Suspicious pattern of dermatitis (lumbar, rump, tailhead).

·      Visualization of fleas or flea “dirt” (feces)- however, this is not required because many flea allergic dogs and cats are very effective at removing fleas through grooming.

·      Allergy testing (prick testing or serologic testing), but false-negative results are possible

·      Response to aggressive flea control, symptoms resolve

 

Other itchy diseases can mimic flea allergy so your veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist can be helpful in making sure the diagnosis is correct. A few examples are environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis), food allergy and other parasitic diseases (various types of mange- scabies, cheyletiellosis, demodicosis).  

4 FLEA PREVENTION RULES FOR SUCCESS! 

1.     If your dog has flea allergy it is important to design a flea prevention program to meet your dog’s individual needs! A veterinary dermatologist or veterinarian can help you choose the best products to suit you and your dog’s lifestyle. For example, oral flea preventatives may be preferable if your dog is bathed or swims frequently.

2.     Dogs with flea allergy often require a combination of products to include both an insect growth regulator and an adult flea killer… THIS IS NOT UNUSUAL!

What are insect growth regulators? Think of this as flea birth control! It prevents the fleas from laying viable eggs & reproducing. Lufenuron, piriproxyfen & methoprene are examples.
 

Adulticidal products kill ADULT fleas. Spinosad, imidocloprid, dinoteferon, selamectin & fipronil are examples.

 

·      Affected and all in-contact dogs and cats should be treated with adulticidal products (see above) according to label instructions. Remember- do NOT use any product on a cat that is not labeled as okay for use in cats! Cats are NOT small dogs!

·      In heavily flea-infested areas, fleas may continue to be found on animals for several months in spite of topical flea control so… DO NOT GIVE UP! In these cases the use of nitenpyrum (Capstar®) daily to every other day for 2-4 weeks until fleas are no longer seen. Nitenpyrum is an oral tablet that starts killing adult fleas within 30 minutes. In studies, Capstar® achieved greater than 90% effectiveness against adult fleas on dogs within 4 hours and cats within 6 hours.

·      Nitenpyrum can also be used prophylactically in flea allergic dogs before they enter environments at risk for high flea exposure (groomers, veterinary hospitals, parks, beaches, etc.).

3.     If you are visually seeing fleas- consider treating the indoor and outdoor premises to gain greater immediate control over the flea population.

 

·      In heavily flea-infested areas, fleas may continue to be found on animals for several months in spite of topical flea control so… DO NOT GIVE UP! In these cases the use of nitenpyrum (Capstar®) daily to every other day for 2-4 weeks until fleas are no longer seen. Nitenpyrum is an oral tablet that starts killing adult fleas within 30 minutes. In studies, Capstar® achieved greater than 90% effectiveness against adult fleas on dogs within 4 hours and cats within 6 hours.

·      Nitenpyrum can also be used prophylactically in flea allergic dogs before they enter environments at risk for high flea exposure (groomers, veterinary hospitals, parks, beaches, etc.). 

4.     Consider use of flea prevention year-round in certain climates.
In temperate areas continue flea prevention from spring through the first snowfall. Year-round prevention is recommended in warmer climates.  Importantly- fleas can infest in-contact animals AND people… fleas can carry blood-borne diseases similar to ticks so using flea prevention is important!

 Symptoms & Prognosis for Flea Allergy:

·      Treat the itch & dermatitis with antimicrobial shampoos and rinses. The Canine Skin Solutions™ Recovery Shampoo & Spray were designed specifically for dogs with this problem.

·      Severe itch may require a short course of glucocorticoid therapy (such as prednisone, Temaril-p®) otherwise the itching cycle will persist.

·      Prognosis is GREAT IF STRICT FLEA CONTROL IS PRACTICED!

Make Canine Skin Solutions™ Recovery Shampoo & Spray a part of your dog’s life!