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Fleas are tiny parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts, which in this case are dogs. Flea allergy is the most common skin disease in pets - Flea Allergy Dermatitis could even result from minimal or occasional exposure to fleas. 

Dogs typically develop flea allergies between one and five years of age, although they can develop them at any age. It is believed that when the flea bites, it spits onto the skin of the dog - this is what causes allergies and sensitivity.

Dogs often get infested by ticks as well, which aren't the same species as fleas. While both are common parasites that live on the bodies of their host, that is where the similarities end. While ticks have six to eight legs and are a type of arachnid (same family as the spiders), fleas are insects without wings but with the added ability to jump. 

Ticks can move from one host body to another to feed, but fleas choose to live on one host and stay there until they die. The two parasites also differ in their environments, as ticks can survive on a host body all year round, whereas fleas tend to grow in the warmer months of the year.

  1. What is a flea cycle?
  2. What causes flea allergy?
  3. What are the symptoms of flea allergy?
  4. How is flea allergy diagnosed?
  5. What is the treatment for flea allergy in dogs?
  6. Home remedies
  7. Treat your home
  8. How to prevent flea allergy?
  • The flea life includes the adult flea, egg, larvae and pupa.  
  • Adult fleas live on the skin of animals like dogs and cats, where they lay their eggs. It is adult fleas that bite and suck blood to survive.
  • Eggs laid by adult fleas spread throughout your home and yard every time your dog scratches, shakes or lies down. 
  • The eggs then hatch into larvae. 
  • The larvae form cocoons during the pupa stage and hatch later to become adults. Then the adults again infest their hosts to complete the cycle.
  • Once an adult flea lays its eggs on the host, it falls off, leaving the eggs to continue their life cycle. 
  • This generational process continues on the skin of dogs until the flea population has been destroyed entirely.

There are over 2,200 species of fleas in the world, but surprisingly, the flea that infests dogs the most is not the dog flea but the cat flea, scientifically known as Ctenocephalides felis

Other than the cat flea, Ctenocephalides canis (dog flea) and Echidnophaga gallinacea (stickfast flea) are also responsible for flea allergies in dogs.

 

Fleas leave tiny, red, raised dots on your dog’s skin. They are typically smaller than other insect bites, although they can become inflamed after a dog scratches. Also, some dogs may have a stronger reaction to flea bites than others, which creates a much larger red area.

Some symptoms of flea bites on dogs to look for are:

  • Severe scratching and itching
  • Red, irritated skin
  • Biting and chewing of the skin
  • Hair loss
  • Scabs and skin thickening
  • “Hotspots” (red inflamed skin) over the rump and tail head
  • Dermatitis may extend to their thighs and abdominal area

As a result of significant blood-loss caused by numerous feeding fleas, some dogs may present with symptoms like extreme lethargy, weight loss, pale gums and breathlessness. It is mostly seen in extremely young, elderly or debilitated dogs.

The problem with identifying fleas based solely on bites is that we can’t always see flea bites on dogs because of their dense fur. The diagnosis is made on the basis of clinical appearance. 

If you find fleas or flea “dirt” on the skin of a dog, you can be certain of flea exposure. Your veterinarian may run some skin tests for mites or bacterial skin diseases if he/she suspects flea infestation but can't find any fleas on the dog.

Before using any product, it is essential that you ask your vet for advice. There are numerous products available in pet shops and supermarkets for treating flea allergy, but it’s always best to consult your vet as long-term medication may be the only effective method for flea control, depending on the severity of the allergy.

Spot-on dog flea treatment: Spot-on products are liquids that are applied onto the skin, especially on the back of a dog’s neck for effective flea control.

Spot-on contains insecticides like deltamethrin, dinotefuran, fipronil, imidacloprid, indoxacarb, permethrin, pyriproxyfen and selamectin. Some of these kill adult fleas, while others work by interrupting the earlier stages in the life cycle of fleas.

Flea medication: Always speak to your veterinarian before offering your dog any new medication to ensure it is safe to consume and determine the right dosage.

Flea medication can be administered orally (in tablet form) or injected in dogs with dense fur, or in cases where a spot-on treatment is difficult. It works by preventing the development of eggs into adult fleas, thus eliminating new generations altogether.

A flea medication with nitenpyram (also an insecticide) as an active ingredient could be given to a puppy as young as four weeks old with a minimum weight of two pounds (over 900 grams) to treat flea infestations. 

Flea shampoos & collars: Consult your veterinarian before using any product on your dog, especially if she’s pregnant or nursing.

Flea shampoos can’t kill fleas but they remove those present on the skin of your dog. Flea shampoos can also be beneficial for nursing dogs - the shampoo washes off the fleas, thereby reducing the exposure of young puppies to any fleas on the mom's skin and fur. 

Flea collars are designed to slowly release active chemicals (imidacloprid and flumethrin) that help in stopping flea larvae from going into a cocoon. It is effective against fleas and ticks for up to eight months and can be used on a dog as young as seven weeks old.

Some flea collars can also cause irritation to your pet. This method should only be used if the flea collar is of high-quality and recommended by your vet as a safe product.

Flea comb: Flea combs are fine-toothed combs which can be used as an alternative to medications (or for pups younger than four weeks) to check for the presence of fleas and safely (manually) removing them.

Combs can be useful to remove the fleas that can be seen on the fur of your dog. Use one of these fine-toothed combs on your dog over a clean white surface. It also removes the flea faeces that get stuck to a dog’s fur.

Dog flea treatment powders: Flea powders are only active for the few days that they remain on the coat and only kill adult fleas, but not the larvae. They have no long-term effect and are not a good choice for treatment.

Remember, fleas can easily jump from your pet on to your furniture. If you notice fleas or flea dirt on your pets, be sure to vacuum your home thoroughly, even as you treat your pet for the infestation.

Fleas are a very common problem in pets. In addition to chemical treatments, pet owners can also look into home remedies that can ease some of the symptoms. Some of these remedies may also be effective for killing adult fleas.

The following home remedies can be helpful in alleviating the problem, and help your dog maintain a better coat and hygiene:

  • Coconut oil rub: Not only does it repel fleas, coconut oil also helps your dog in maintaining a shiny fur and keeps any kind of odour away.
  • Neem oil: Either applied directly or diluted into a bath, neem oil acts as a great substitute for conventional shampoos and soaps to keep fleas away.
  • Ayurvedic shampoos: Organic and ayurvedic shampoos do not contain any of the chemicals used in commercial products, but some of them can be effective in keeping your dog in good health and flea-free.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Mix with water and spray it on your dog's skin. You can add a spoonful of Apple Cider Vinegar in your dog’s bowl of water, which also helps keep the nasty insects at bay.

Only five per cent of the entire flea population constitutes adult fleas on pets; the rest, in various stages of life cycle can be found outdoors or in your home.

Vacuum: Flea eggs are resistant to many flea control products, and the cocoons are impervious to insecticides, but they can't escape a vacuum. These fleas could get stuck in dark crevices like baseboards, cracks in the floorboards, under furniture, bedding, cushions, pillows and carpet fibres. Vigorous vacuuming can help in eradicating hidden fleas.

Spray: Spray an indoor insecticide. Pick one that contains an insect growth regulator to prevent the eggs from turning into adults. Spray after vacuuming and then spray again after a week. A single application can last for six months up to a year. 

Try to avoid using any products containing permethrin - although deemed safe for application, products containing permethrin can cause allergic reactions.

Wash your pet’s bedding, blankets or anything they sleep on frequently to ensure there aren’t any fleas left on them.

Ongoing, year-round prevention is your best weapon against fleas. Giving your pet monthly flea preventives is a much easier, simpler and more affordable alternative to treating infection and infestation.

Depending on the severity of infestation, it may be necessary to also treat your home to ensure flea eggs and larvae don’t grow to infest your puppy later. Vacuum your carpets and clean all bedding your pet has used as well as any chairs with padding. 

Speak to your veterinarian about any additional steps you should take to treat the problem and prevent it from happening again.

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