Home / Blog / Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs

Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs

Flea bites are never pleasant. But if your dog is one of the 1.8% (as of 2017) that are allergic to flea bites, getting bit can lead to a world of discomfort.  

Flea allergy dermatitis in dogs is a leading cause of excessive doggy itchiness and scratching, and is a growing problem for dog owners. According to the 2018 State of Pet Health Report issued by Banfield, the prevalence of flea allergies in dogs rose by 12.5% between 2008 and 2018.

In fact, it's the most common skin disease in dogs in the United States and the symptoms of flea allergy dermatitis in dogs (and cats) are the most common nonroutine reasons pet owners seek veterinary advice.

(Find out more about other common dog skin problems to watch out for.)

What Is Flea Allergy Dermatitis?

Flea allergy dermatitis is defined by the Merck Veterinary Manual as "an immunologic disease caused by the injection of antigens from the salivary glands of fleas as they feed on the host animal."

Simply put:

  • Flea bites dog to get blood.
  • Flea has a specific protein (called an antigen) in its saliva that mixes with the dog's blood during the bite.
  • Antigen gets into dog's bloodstream.
  • If dog has allergy to antigen, the immune system overreacts, causing intense itchiness and other symptoms.

Researchers are still unsure what triggers flea allergy dermatitis, as most dogs are not born with it. For most, the disease appears between the ages of 2 and 5.

But it can develop at any age. So, if your dog develops any of the typical symptoms related to flea allergy dermatitis (see below), regardless of his age, you should bring him to a vet for diagnosis.

Dogs with other allergies, particularly environmental allergies like pollen, dust and mold, tend to be more sensitive to flea bites, as well.


Symptoms of Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs

Almost all dogs will scratch if they've been bitten by a flea. But dogs with flea allergy dermatitis will engage in excessive scratching. Enough, in fact, to do harm to themselves.

Here are a few signs to look for if you suspect your dog has flea allergy dermatitis.

  • Constant and excessive scratching, biting or licking
  • Small red or pink bumps that look like pimples
  • Hair loss in areas where a bite (or bites) may have occurred (typically the region from the middle of your dog's back to the base of his tail, and sometimes down the back legs)
  • Skin rash or patches of raw, irritated (and sometimes bleeding) skin

The best way to diagnose flea allergy dermatitis in your dog is to take your pup to the vet, who will look for the visible symptoms but may also perform an intradermal skin test.


Treatment for Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs

If your dog has flea allergy dermatitis, the best treatment plan is a prevention plan. But you'll also want to treat your pup's current allergic reaction.

To prevent future outbreaks of flea allergy dermatitis in your dog, you'll need to kill the fleas that are feeding on your dog and keep them off.

Veterinary Formula Clinical Care's Flea & Tick Shampoo kills fleas on contact to take care of any parasites that are currently causing a problem. While Veterinary Formula Clinical Care's Flea & Tick Spray for Dogs provides up to 14 weeks of protection against fleas. 

To help your canine dog with any current flea allergy dermatitis symptoms, Veterinary Formula Clinical Care's Hot Spot & Itch Relief Medicated Shampoo and Hot Spot & Itch Relief Medicated Spray provide rapid relief from itchiness and calm irritated skin.

If your dog's allergic response does not ease after treatment, reach out to your vet as your dog might need medication, like a glucocorticoid.

You may also need to treat your dog's environment (yard, house, etc.) to ensure he's not being continually exposed to fleas.


Using Supplements to Reduce Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs

Have you ever watched soccer? If so, you've probably seen a player overreact to an opponent's touch by dropping dramatically to the ground and writhing in pain.

That's basically what an allergic reaction is. It's the immune system's overreaction to a substance that is actually harmless.

Using a supplement that's formulated to boost your dog's immune system and reduce inflammatory responses, can ease your dog's flea allergy dermatitis symptoms.

Keep in mind, it's not a cure. But as part of a treatment plan that includes flea bite prevention, supplements can help reduce skin irritation and ease itchiness.

Veterinary Formula Clinical Care offers two supplements that can help dogs suffering from flea allergy dermatitis: Immune Defense and Skin Health & Itch Relief.

(Learn more about the best dog supplements for itchy skin.)