One of the common reasons that we see itchy pets is because they have fleas. The fleas by themselves can make your pet itch, but some pets can develop an allergic reaction to flea bites called flea bite dermatitis.
Not all pets will develop flea bite dermatitis, and some pets may have a more severe allergic reaction than others. The allergy is a reaction to the flea’s saliva. Just having fleas crawling on your pet won’t give them an allergic reaction, but flea bites can. Some pets are so allergic that only one or two flea bites can start the reaction; other pets need to be bitten a lot before they start to have an allergic reaction, and most pets will never become allergic to fleas.
Here are some signs to look for that might mean that your pet has an allergy to fleas.
- Itchy skin, but no obvious signs of fleas (especially in cats).
- Hair loss over the itchy areas, most commonly the head, face, neck, and base of the tail.
- Raised red bumps and/or scabs on your pet’s skin in the itchy areas.
- Flea “dirt” in your pet’s hair, on their skin, or in places where they like to sleep.
Flea bite dermatitis can be very uncomfortable for your pets, but it is relatively easy to treat. One dose of a monthly flea prevention medication will start to kill any fleas on your pet in just a day or two, and will help prevent your pet from getting new fleas for up to a month. It is important to treat all your pets for fleas (not just the one with the allergy), and to treat for a minimum of three months. Fleas and their eggs can live in your home for a long time, and at least three months of treatment is necessary to get rid of any fleas and eggs that might be hiding in your carpet or your pet’s bed.
Many of the topical flea prevention medications work to kill fleas and prevent new infestations without the flea having to bite your pet. But, the fleas do need to jump onto your pet to get the medication. The fleas pick up the medication from your pet’s skin just by touching your pet. These medications can be extremely helpful in preventing future flea infestations, especially for a pet who is allergic to fleas!
Check out our Fleas Resource Page for even more information about fleas!