Fleas and your pets, what’s biting?

One of the most common causes of itching and scratching in dogs and cats that we see at our practice is as result of flea allergy. Every time a flea bites your pet, it injects a small amount of saliva into the skin. Your pet can develop an allergic reaction to this saliva that manifests as severe itching and scratching, which may last for 2 weeks after the last flea bite. Not all animals develop this allergic reaction and you may thus have a pet with severe flea allergy dermatitis and one without!

Continual scratching leads to formation of ‘hot spots’ (surface/superficial pyoderma) on your animals skin. Dogs typically develop hot spots on the lower rump/tail base area, groin and sometimes on their cheeks. Cats most commonly develop scabbing around their head and neck (it’s called miliary dermatitis). You may also see areas of hair loss/very short hair on their lower rump areas and tail base, the hair on their tummies can also very often be short.

Please take note that you do not have to see fleas on your animals for them to have flea bite allergy. Dogs and cats are very good at catching and chewing fleas. You will be able to see flea dirt, however, this appears as small black grains on the skin of your animal.

Flea dirt on the skin of an animal

Fleas are as much an environmental issue as it is an animal issue. Humans can only see the adult fleas and they comprise just 5% of the total population in your environment. The rest of the population occurs as eggs, larvae and pupae. Adult female fleas can lay up to 1000 eggs per day! 

Adult flea
Flea life cycle

This all implies that you need to treat your animal and the environment on an ongoing, life long basis. 

Another aspect to keep in mind is that although you may treat your animals regularly, your neighbour or people walking their pets in the same area as you may not. You may therefore still have fleas on your pets despite regular treatment, thus necessitating ongoing treatment.

There are many different products currently available to treat fleas on your pet and your environment. It may include anything from tablets to collars, spot-on applications and sprays. 

The following 4 tips are important in your battle with fleas:

  1. treat all your pets
  2. treat every month
  3. follow instructions of product
  4. use environmental control

If you would like some advice or help in getting your pets all sorted out, please come and see us at the practice or contact us!