Flea allergy dermatitis is by far the major cause of itchiness in Australian pets.
All pet owners need to accept flea infestation is not a social disease, it’s a fact of life for pretty much every Australian pet. And it’s important to recognise that fleas don’t live on your dog or cat – they only hop on to pets to feed. Fleas live and lay their eggs in dirt, in cracks and crevices of buildings and kennels, and frequently, in your carpet (a favourite spot). They can survive up to a year without a blood meal.
This means both your pet and your environment must be treated.
Flea faeces or “flea dirt” is often detected more easily than the flea itself. Check over your pet’s rump and back for tiny black specks of dirt (these turn red from ingested blood when you wash your pet).
Fleas are very annoying to the average dog and cat, but to those pets that develop a specific flea allergy, a constant and painfully itchy dermatitis stays with them for life. These pets become acutely sensitised to fleas (specifically, flea saliva) and can develop a severe skin problem called flea allergy dermatitis. When feeding, fleas inject saliva with irritant substances into the skin. The saliva also contains an allergic protein. Pets with a flea allergy develop antibodies that react to this substance every single time a flea bites – the irritation is intense!
Allergic dogs and cats chew and scratch constantly, developing wheals, pimples, raw and eventually bald skin in specific areas: over the rump and lower back, the base of the tail and inside the hind limbs. Untreated, the skin becomes grey, hairless and thickened. Even puppies and kittens can become allergic to the flea, and the problem stays with them for life.
Treatment and control
There is a myriad of flea control products available and the best available products change frequently – please speak with our staff, they can help you develop an effective flea control program to suit your dog or cat.
Monthly flea control “spot-ons” are effective and simple to use. In cases of flea allergy dermatitis, the use of a spot-on every 2 weeks may be necessary – speak with us about a safe intensive prevention schedule. Monthly tablets can be useful for dogs that like to swim regularly (making spot-ons less effective). Some flea products also control other parasites such as fleas, ear mites, hookworm, roundworm and whipworm, lice, heartworm and sarcoptic mange. It's really important to speak with our vets to help you develop an effective control program.
Treating the environment
Ridding your home environment of fleas is critical! Prevention includes regularly hot washing your pet’s rugs and spraying kennel areas, using flea surface sprays and/or flea bombs (a combination is most effective) concentrating on areas such as skirting boards or under furniture. Engage a commercial pest controller in flea plague situations.