Can you catch the signs of flea allergy dermatitis?

February 5, 2018

Allergies are likely an abundant aggravation in your veterinary patients. Here's how to key in if fleas might be at fault.

(Getty Images)

A little itch? A little missing hair? (Well, really, a lot of itch? A lot of missing hair?) Fetch dvm360 presenter Anthea Schick, DVM, DACVD, says that dogs and cats often have telltale dermatologic signs if they have a flea problem.

She says that fleas cause itching and hair loss because of irritation due to bites, secondary bacterial infections or flea allergy dermatitis. Clinical signs of flea allergy dermatitis are often worse in warm weather when fleas are most numerous.

“In dogs with flea allergy dermatitis, you often find some evidence of fleas,” says Dr. Schick. “You'll notice some flea dirt. You can do the flea comb technique where you schmear the comb on a wet paper towel and there's a nice little red line.” (That's the poop, of course.)

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In your always-more-subtle feline patients, of course, it's not so simple because cats are fastidious groomers. “You'll notice signs of mowing all over the fur,” says Dr. Schick. “And they'll do it so precisely that their skin will be super calm, yet they're completely bald.”

In cats, look for a caudal distribution (the pants area) of this mown-over, balding hair in cases of flea allergy dermatitis, says Dr. Schick. And she says that cats may also develop small crusts on their skin that are similar in appearance to tiny millet seeds, a condition known as miliary dermatitis.

A big take-home for flea allergies: Even one flea bite can cause a reaction. So as in all things, prevention is the best policy.