Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) is considered the most common allergic skin condition in both dogs and cats. FAD is extremely prevalent in flea-endemic regions but pets anywhere in the world can be affected.
FAD occurs when a pet develops a hypersensitivity to flea saliva. Even a single flea bite can trigger weeks of itching in a flea allergic pet. This incessant urge to scratch causes pets to traumatize their own skin. Inflamed, damaged skin is more likely to develop bacterial infections. This can further exacerbate the itch factor and a deleterious cycle ensues.
You might be surprised to learn that a flea infestation can be present even if you don’t see any fleas! Cats especially are fastidious groomers but even on dogs fleas are tiny quick creatures that lurk under the hair coat.
Your veterinarian may become suspicious of a flea allergy when he or she notices patterns of lesions on physical exam. FAD skin lesions often have a characteristic appearance, with lesions typically develop on the back, especially at the base of the tail and hind limbs.
While FAD is the most common cause of itching in dogs and cats, there can be other factors at play, so it’s imperative to uncover and treat these whenever possible. Other possible diagnoses include food or environmental allergies, and other mites such as sarcoptic mange.
The first step in managing an active flea allergy dermatitis patient is immediate and aggressive flea control. The goal is to kill adult fleas as quickly as possible as this decreases exposure to flea saliva from future bits and effectively breaks the flea lifecycle before they can lay more eggs.
If a bacterial infection is present it is quite likely that medicated shampoos and even oral antibiotics might be prescribed. There are anti-itch medications as well to provide your pet with some immediate relief.
Preventing recurrent flares is the ultimate goal for flea allergic patients. This can be accomplished only by adhering to a strict flea control regime.