Fleas are the tiny vampires of the dog world. Like mosquitoes and other blood-seeking parasites, fleas bite their victims to obtain their blood and then live off the rich nutrients found there. It's also the bite that causes the flea allergy process to begin through an immune response within the dog's body.
Antigens: Basic Cause of Flea Allergies
Canine flea allergies are caused by something called an antigen. In simple terms, an antigen is a substance introduced into the body that the body perceives as dangerous. In this case, the antigen would be chemicals contained within the flea's saliva. It gets into the dog's body through the insect's bite. An antigen-mediated flea skin condition in dogs is called flea dermatitis.
What to Look for
Flea allergy tends to affect younger dogs, meaning those aged five and under and it's more prevalent in the fall. Don't assume that it takes an army of these parasites to cause flea dermatitis because that is not true. Potentially, a few of them is more than enough to initiate the problem. Watch for the following:
• Episodes of intense scratching
• Biting at the base of the tail
• Red, raised bumps and reddened patches of skin
• Patchy or generalized hair loss
• Hot spots
Also known as moist dermatitis, hot spots are smaller areas of ultra-inflamed skin. Skin will be moist and hot to the touch. These spots can easily become infected.
This is flea faeces. It resembles flakes of black pepper and is often concentrated around the base of the tail.
Flea Poop or Just Doggy Dirt?
Now it's true that pets go outside and they get dirty, so how can you tell if it's flea poop or just plain doggy dirt? Easy, just put some of the material on an old white plate and spray lightly with water. If it turns red or pinkish, then it's flea poop.
Prevention is Key!
Flea infestation must be eliminated and if possible, prevented altogether. It really is just that simple: no flea exposure, no flea bites and no antigen exposure means that your pet will not develop flea allergy dermatitis in the first place.
Flea prevention regimens
Ask your vet for a recommendation for a flea-control product to eliminate these parasites for use on or in the body. Some preparations are topical; some are oral. Some need a prescription; some don't. Check online for best prices either way. Make sure you understand how to use the product.
Make sure your pet's environment is clean and free of pests as well. Use a good external environment pest control product, intended for pets, as recommended by your veterinarian. You can treat the pet's bed and carpeting, drapes and household furnishings.
Your vet will determine if a dog already afflicted with an antigen-mediated flea allergy needs medical treatment. Sometimes just eliminating the offending antigen by eliminating the parasite is enough. If not, expect that the patient may be treated with short-term steroid therapy with a drug such as prednisone. This will effectively alleviate discomfort and promote healing until the parasites can be eliminated from the body and environment.
Flea control is paramount to your companion's health and comfort. There are many effective products on the market today. With your vet's help, choose one, use it properly and then just watch those fleas flee! Remember, your pet is depending on you!
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