Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs

Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) in dogs is an immunological disease triggered by the saliva of dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis). The flea triggers an allergic response upon feeding and injecting saliva into the dog’s skin, leading to immunoglobulin release and the proliferation of immune cells. The immune cell reaction results in subsequent itching and noticeable hair loss in certain areas of the dog’s body.

The lesion distribution as a FAD symptom is usually seen at the dog’s lower back, tail head, and caudal and inner thighs. The flea bites on dogs trigger an allergic reaction that causes intense itching, which further aggravates hair loss and causes pyotraumatic dermatitis. 

Diagnosis is based on the dog's history, pattern of hair loss, intradermal skin tests, and ruling out other types of allergies and dermatological conditions.

The treatment for flea allergy dermatitis involves lifelong chemical and environmental flea control. Supportive care using anti-itch medication, steroids, and antibiotics is necessary for severe flea allergy dermatitis or those with secondary bacterial/fungal infections.

What is Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs?

Flea allergy dermatitis, or FAD, is an immunological disease triggered by the saliva of the dog flea when it bites its canine host. This allergic reaction manifests as marked symmetrical alopecia, itching, and discomfort. 

The lesions occur mostly around the flank area of the dog, particularly the lower back, tail head, and caudal and inner thighs. As the dermatitis persists, the skin undergoes damage, revealing skin excoriations, papules with crusting, and pyotraumatic dermatitis. 

The type of dog allergy varies based on the pathophysiology of the allergic trigger and its induction of an immune response. In the case of flea allergy dermatitis, the allergic reaction is triggered by the presence of the salivary compounds that penetrate the dog’s skin barrier upon flea attachment. 

The compromised skin barrier is prone to secondary bacterial or fungal infections resulting from prolonged itching and inflammatory effects associated with the allergy.  

How does Flea Allergy Dermatitis Occur in Dogs?

Flea Allergy Dermatitis in dogs occurs as an allergic reaction to the bite of the dog flea Ctenocephalides canis. The flea’s saliva is an antigen containing histamine-like compounds and enzymes that trigger the dog's immune response. These components trigger the dog’s immune system, leading to the release of immunoglobulin E and G. Immune system activation has a chemotactic effect on basophils and eosinophils–the primary immune cells that regulate hypersensitivity. The result is inflammation, redness, itching, and alopecia. 

The signs of flea allergy in dogs appear at any age, without breed, size, or sex predilection. FAD is most prevalent in the summer due to increased flea infestations during this season. Countries with extreme temperatures and low humidity inhibit flea development, contributing to a lower prevalence of FAD. 

For those asking, “How to know if your dog has a flea allergy?” flea allergy detection for dogs is easily accomplished by a licensed veterinarian. Intradermal allergen testing (IDAT) is a helpful method for differentiating FAD from other types of allergies in dogs, along with physical inspection for the presence of fleas. 

Is Flea Allergy Dermatitis Harmful?

Yes, flea allergy dermatitis is harmful. Prolonged exposure to flea allergy dermatitis greatly affects the dog’s healthy skin barrier through pyotraumatic lesions. The skin lesion exacerbates the dog’s skin condition and leads to secondary bacterial or fungal infections.

These secondary infections strain the dog’s immune system response to the antigens in the flea’s saliva, causing immune system exhaustion and a prolonged skin recovery if not managed promptly. 

The prognosis of FAD is positive if strict compliance with flea allergy control and the flea bites on dogs are prevented using year-round antiparasitics and environmental control. 

How do Flea Allergy Dermatitis Affects Dog?

Flea allergy dermatitis affects dogs by inducing intense itching, inflammation, and marked hair loss due to activated immunoglobulins and cytokines (proteins) that recruit inflammatory cells to protect the immune system. 

The inflammatory cell reaction triggers an intense itching sensation in the dog, creating skin lesions that lead to papules with crusting, seborrhea, and excoriation. The skin damage adversely affects the dog’s behavior, leaving them restless, irritable, and preoccupied with scratching and licking themselves to alleviate the discomfort. 

What are the Causes of Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs?

The causes of flea allergy dermatitis in dogs are listed below.

  • Multiple flea bites. The cause of flea allergy dermatitis in dogs is the antigens found in the saliva of the dog flea Ctenocephalides canis. The flea injects saliva from its mouth glands into the dog's bloodstream, causing an allergic response after attaching to the dog's skin and feeding. The more frequently a dog gets bitten, the higher the exposure to the antigens in the saliva. 

  • Dirty environmental conditions. Females lay eggs soon after feeding on the host's blood as part of the flea life cycle. These eggs lie along the skin and fur, eventually falling onto the surrounding environment, ready to hatch. Regular disinfection of dog bedding, cages, clothes, carriers, and toys easily prevents egg hatching.

  • Poor grooming. Parasites like ticks and fleas thrive in environments with excess dirt, debris, and moisture, making them harder to eradicate if a dog’s skin and coat are unkempt. Regularly bathing using shampoos with antiparasitic ingredients provides the dog with an extra layer of parasite control.
  • Environmental temperature. Ectoparasites like ticks and fleas proliferate in humid environments due to favorable breeding conditions. Countries with balmy climates generally experience more frequent flea infestations than temperate climates, leading to a higher prevalence of FAD. Fleas reproduce more rapidly during summer, so it is best to be strict with preventatives, especially during this season. 

What are the Symptoms of Dog Flea Allergy Dermatitis?

The symptoms of dog flea allergy dermatitis are listed below.

  • Itching. The allergic response releases histamine and immune cell activation, leading to intense itching (pruritus). The itching is accompanied by heat, redness, and mild to moderate swelling. 
  • Alopecia. The typical FAD alopecia pattern is symmetrical hair loss in the dog’s flank areas. This distinct pattern gives the appearance that the dog is wearing pants due to the symmetrical nature of hair loss on both sides. 
  • Papules. The initial stages of dermatitis form raised patches of skin or papules. These patches are often itchy and can progress to become pustules when scratched and infected. 
  • Pyoderma. Open wounds infected with bacteria exhibit a “wet” appearance from pustular growth called Pyoderma. These wounds require antibiotic treatment along with anti-itch medication. 
  • Crusting. Prolonged dermatitis causes the skin to thicken and form patches of crusts. Crusting typically occurs after going through a pustular phase. Secondary infections from fungi induce crusting.  

How to Soothe Flea Allergy Dermatitis for Dogs?

To soothe allergy dermatitis in dogs, follow the five steps below.

  1. Strictly comply with medication. A veterinarian typically prescribes a series of medications, including anti-itch remedies or antibiotics, once they diagnose FAD in the dog. Compliance with administering medication and visiting the vet for follow-up check-ups helps to control itching, prevent infection, and soothe the symptoms of flea allergy dermatitis. 
  2. Give supplements. Skin and coat supplements such as fish oils contain omega fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to combat inflammation. EPA and DHA have anti-inflammatory properties and are used to treat inflammatory diseases like allergies. CBD Oil contains anti-inflammatory flavonoids and terpenes. These flavonoids activate the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which helps alleviate the intensity of itching.
  3. Keep parasite preventatives up to date. Controlling flea infestation is key to removing the allergic trigger of FAD. Long-term flea and tick preventatives that deter and kill fleas that latch onto the dog are available in pet supply stores. 
  4. Provide a clean environment. The flea life cycle involves adult fleas shedding their eggs onto the dog’s skin or fur and leaving them to hatch when conditions become favorable. Proper environmental control, including frequent disinfection of bedding, cages, clothes, and carriers, ensures that the eggs are discovered and eliminated before they hatch. 
  5. Shift to a skincare-centric diet.  Dogs with dermatological challenges benefit from skincare-specific food for canines with skin issues to reduce daily irritation and inflammation. Consult a veterinarian for a prescription diet tailored to the dog’s specific needs. 

Is Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs Contagious?

No, flea allergy dermatitis is not contagious. Being allergic to flea saliva is a genetic predisposition rather than being acquired from another animal. The exact pathophysiology of how dogs develop allergies to flea saliva is not fully understood and is generally idiopathic by nature. FAD does not exhibit any predilection to specific breeds, sexes, or ages and can occur spontaneously at any point in a dog’s life. The allergic response to flea saliva is an individual trait and not transmittable between dogs.

What are Flea Allergy Dermatitis Treatment for Dogs?

The treatments for flea allergy dermatitis for dogs are listed below.

  • Anti-itch medication. Managing the itching sensation in the dog is crucial in dealing with FAD. Long-term anti-itching medications such as Oclacitinib (Apoquel) and Lokivetmab (Cytopoint) are used to chemically soothe itching by decreasing cytokine production in the dog’s immune system.
  • Antibiotics. Flea allergy dermatitis with secondary bacterial infection is normally treated with beta-lactam antibiotics such as Cephalexin or Co-Amoxiclav. Beta-lactam-resistant bacterial infections require bacterial cultures and antibiotic-susceptibility testing in order to identify which antibiotic would be best suited for the particular bacteria present. 
  • Steroids. Dogs exhibiting severe FAD benefit from steroids such as prednisone or prednisolone to provide potent, short-term relief from itching. The steroids are prescribed at a low dosage over a short duration and then tapered to a lower frequency to decrease steroid dependency.  
    Medicated baths. Topical treatment with chlorhexidine, miconazole, or ketoconazole prevents further bacterial and fungal secondary infections. The dog should be soaked in the medicated bath for several minutes before rinsing thoroughly. 

How to Control your Dog's Fleas and Health?

To control your dog’s fleas and health, anti-tick and flea preventatives are available that provide long-term protection. Oral medications with Isoxazolines (Fluralaner, Afoxolaner, and Sarolaner) are effective single-dose chewable tablets that last 30-90 days. Topical medications like Fipronil and Imidacloprid are single-dosespot-ons that last 30 days.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications that control dog fleas are useful, but product labels should be read carefully. Dog owners must recognize the product contents, correct application instructions, and contraindications with regard to breed, size, and interaction with other medications. Picking the wrong medications could lead to drug overdosing or underdosing, lack of efficacy from improper application, pregnancy termination, or the dog experiencing adverse reactions from the flea preventative being given together with pre-existing medication. 

Environmental control is crucial in stemming the flea cycle of eggs shed onto the dog’s environment. Regular disinfection of beddings, cages, clothes, and carriers ensures that the eggs are eliminated before they hatch. Regular bathing schedules to control dog fleas must be followed to keep the dog well-groomed and clean. 

When to See the Vet Regarding Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs?

See the vet regarding flea allergy dermatitis in dogs when the itching has interfered with normal behavior. Persistent licking, itching, and scratching negatively affect the dog’s temperament, appetite, and playfulness. The dog’s preoccupation with scratching results in a severely damaged skin barrier with skin and coat quality changes. The sooner FAD is diagnosed and treated, the faster the dog’s skin barrier heals. 

How Long can Fleas Stay in Dogs?

Fleas stay in dogs from a couple of weeks to several months. Fleas mostly feed, breed, and lay eggs on the host to complete the life cycle in 3-4 weeks or longer, depending on environmental conditions. In multi-dog households, flea infestations can persist for several months to a year if anti-tick medication is not strictly administered to all the dogs. Lack of environmental control by way of proper grooming and disinfection can allow the fleas to hatch, persist, and reproduce for at least two weeks without a host, thus repeating their life cycle. 

What are Prevention to Avoid Flea Allergy Dermatitis?

The prevention to avoid flea allergy dermatitis are listed below.

  • Maintain parasite preventatives. Flea allergy dermatitis is easily managed by identifying and neutralizing the allergic trigger. Maintaining the use of preventatives removes the allergen from the dog’s environment and prevents the occurrence of FAD.
  • Provide a clean living environment. Regular disinfection of the dog’s possessions eliminates the chances of flea egg hatching and ends their life cycle. Washing the beddings, toys, blankets, and clothing the dog typically uses with pet-safe detergents ensures that the eggs that have been shed are killed and are unable to hatch. 
  • Provide high-quality, low-preservative diets. Give high-quality, skincare-specific food to dogs with skin issues to reduce daily irritation and inflammation. Consult a veterinarian for a prescription diet tailored to the dog’s specific needs.
  • Give skincare supplements. Skin and coat supplements such as fish oils contain anti-inflammatory properties and are used to treat inflammatory diseases like allergies. CBD Oil contains anti-inflammatory flavonoids and terpenes and activates the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which helps to alleviate the intensity of itching.

How does the CBD Oil can Help with Flea Allergy Dermatitis Treatment?

CBD Oil helps with flea allergy dermatitis treatment by relieving itching discomfort. CBD  (or Cannabidiol) is a bioactive compound extracted from Cannabis. It reduces discomfort by providing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 

CBD’s inflammatory action involves activating the CB1 and CB2 endocannabinoid receptors, predominantly found in the central nervous and immune systems. This receptor activation reduces ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species) and TNF-α (Tumor Necrosis Factor Alpha) levels, alleviating oxidative stress and inflammation.

CBD Oil is beneficial for managing itching intensity and discomfort in dogs with contact dermatitis. The CBD oil should contain high-quality ingredients and be tested by a third-party laboratory. Using CBD Oil for dog flea allergies often coincides with maintenance medication, so consult a licensed veterinarian for advice to avoid adverse reactions between the medication and CBD oil. 

Is CBD Oil Safe for Dogs with Flea Allergy Dermatitis?

Yes, CBD Oil is safe for dogs with flea allergy dermatitis. CBD helps manage the uncomfortable symptoms of flea allergy dermatitis by soothing itching and inflammation, making them more comfortable. Choose high-quality, lab-tested CBD oil and consult a veterinarian about the appropriate dosage for the dog. 

Can Food Trigger Flea Allergy Dermatitis?

No, food cannot trigger flea allergy dermatitis. The main trigger for flea allergy dermatitis in dogs is the antigens found in flea saliva. These antigens enter the dog’s bloodstream when the flea feeds on the dog’s blood, triggering histamine release, which results in an allergic response. 

Can Puppy have Flea Allergy Dermatitis?

Yes, puppies can have flea allergy dermatitis. Flea allergy occurs in dogs throughout their lifespan. Clinical symptoms of FAD appear at any age but are easily managed with early detection and medication. 

What is the Difference Between Flea Allergy Dermatitis and Contact Dermatitis?

The difference between fleas allergy dermatitis and contact dermatitis lies in how the allergen triggers the immune response. Flea allergy dermatitis occurs when dog flea salivary antigens enter the body while feeding, while contact allergies result from prolonged skin contact with allergens. 

These allergens include rugs, carpets, fabrics, concrete, chemicals, detergents, and medication. Contact allergies in dogs and flea allergy dermatitis share similar symptoms but with different causes.