Flea allergy is one of the most common conditions afflicting dogs today, and one of four main types of allergies typically found in dogs. We’ve already detailed the signs and treatments of environmental allergies, but now we’re talking fleas.
The symptoms of flea allergy are similar to environment allergies:
But the biggest distinguishing factor between environmental allergies and flea allergies is the location and distribution of the itching.
“The majority of lesions are focused on their tail base or on the back of their legs,” Dr. Eckholm says. “Also, any time there is a presence of flea dirt, it’s going to point you in that direction.”
So what exactly is flea dirt and how do you spot it?
“Generally, if your dog has fleas, you’re going to see the flea or you’re going to see flea droppings, which looks like black specks,” Dr. Eckholm clarifies. “The flea takes a bite of your dog and what you’re seeing is dried-up blood, so if you soak it on a white paper towel, the droppings will turn red.”
Dr. Eckholm points out there is a big difference between a dog with fleas and a flea-allergic dog with fleas.
“It takes a very low number of bites to cause a reaction in flea-allergic dogs,” Dr. Eckholm explains. “With flea-allergic dogs, you won’t necessarily ever see fleas or flea droppings because those dogs are allergic to the saliva from the flea bite and when the flea injects that saliva under the dog’s skin, it causes a hypersensitivity reaction.”
Studies show there are more than a dozen different antigens in flea saliva that your dog can react to. The biggest problem you’ll see with flea-allergic dogs is the itchiness, which makes them prone to secondary infections that require antibiotics to treat. But as previously mentioned, fleas can transmit disease to your pet, especially if he’s not protected.
“It’s possible but it’s much less likely for fleas to transmit disease if you are using flea control medication,” Dr. Eckholm states.
Dr. Eckholm does not think skin testing is necessary to diagnose or especially to treat flea allergies.
“A dog should never need allergy testing to look for flea allergy,” Dr. Eckholm says. “And I would never put flea extract in [environmental] allergy shots because flea control is going to work much better with prevention rather than trying to desensitize the dog to it.”