Itch and Beyond: How Fleas Impact Your Dog’s Health

The University of Bristol led rather interesting research that was published in the Parasites and Vectors journal. As per the findings, 1 in every 7 dogs today suffers from a flea infestation. Many experts also believe that climate change has much to contribute to this problem.

While fleas have always existed, today their numbers have increased, sizes have shrunk, and they’re feasting a lot more. And what do these nasties feed upon? Your precious pet’s blood! While we know you do not enjoy watching your beloved furry friend scratch away at their fur, the problem is not just skin-deep.

Pests like fleas and ticks are often ingested by cats and dogs, which then wreak havoc on their systems. Humans may be at risk in case they ingest fleas by accident, too. This article will dig beyond the itchy nuisance and delve into the most common flea-borne diseases in dogs to look out for.

1.     Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Also known as FAD, Flea Allergy Dermatitis is a common reason for vet visits. According to doctors at the VCA Hospital Group, this condition is actually an immunogenic response to fleas.

FAD is generally a result of a flea bite. This is why it is possible that you won’t find any live fleas on your pooch unless there’s a severe infestation involved. What happens is that the fleas inject a minute quantity of their saliva into the dog’s skin upon biting. The antigens present in the saliva trigger the dog to incessantly itch or scratch its skin.

Some common symptoms of FAD (besides rigorous itching) include:

  • Temporary Hair loss, especially at the tail base and rear legs
  • Skin inflammation or broken skin 
  • Infected sores or ‘hot spots’ in the affected areas
  • Extreme restlessness

If you notice the above symptoms, take your dog to a vet immediately. Doctors still believe that flea prevention is the only best form of treatment for FAD.

2.     Flea Tapeworms

This is another debilitating condition your pet might have to suffer, especially if they accidentally swallow fleas while grooming. But not just any fleas. Flea tapeworm is only caused when your dog swallows a flea infected with tapeworm larvae (as revealed by the CDC).

Once the flea is digested, the larvae tapeworm may gradually develop into an adult. These tapeworms can vary in size, from 4 to 28 inches. If your dog is infected by Dipylidium tapeworm, it might drag around its anus to the ground. This happens because the tapeworm irritates that area’s skin.

 There may also be sudden weight loss. Other symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • A shaggy coat
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Reduced appetite

While you must rush to a vet, the best way to stay safe is to control fleas in and around the pet.

3.     Tungiasis

According to the National Library of Medicine, tungiasis is a forgotten or somewhat neglected condition. It is usually caused due to a sand flea called Tunga Penetrans, mainly due to the female’s eggs burrowed in the legs of reservoirs like cats and dogs.

Once the flea eggs have reached beyond the outer epidermal layer, they begin to cause lesions and ulcerations. Skin irritation is also common. In severe cases, your pet may find it difficult to walk. Though the lesions are most commonly found on the foot region, some cases of hand, elbow, and butt irritation have been reported.

The Parasites and Vectors journal also released a study on tungiasis. It was found that the front legs were rarely as affected as the hind legs. Also, there was a significant degree of pain involved at the site of attachment, along with necrosis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the frequent use of a topical medication or repellent to keep sand fleas at bay.

4.     Anemia

As stated earlier, fleas feast on your pet’s blood. If they end up consuming too much blood, your dog may have an inadequate amount of red blood cells left. This condition is known as flea anemia.

Flea anemia is life-threatening if neglected. This is primarily true in cases of puppies with under-developed immune systems. Some of the most notorious signs of flea anemia in dogs include:

  • Poor tolerance for exercise
  • Dark-colored stools
  • Pale gums
  • Lethargy and a general sense of apathy
  • Bruising on the skin
  • Dark-colored blood released through stools or vomit

By the time you notice blood in your sick pet’s stools, the condition turns into a medical emergency. Severe cases may require a blood transfusion.

The Solution: Better Safe than Sorry

Underestimating a flea infestation in pets is more common than you might think. This is because many people do not realize how lethal a single infestation can be. What makes things more somber is that itching is only a symptom in dogs already sensitive to flea bites.

This means that no scratching does not automatically mean no fleas. If you notice tiny specks resembling pepper developing on your doggo’s fur, it’s time to get serious! Those specks are spots where fleas have sucked up your pet’s blood.

The National Institute of Health recommends the topical application of Revolution for pets in such scenarios. Also known as Selamectin, it acts as an antiparasitic agent, able to kill all kinds of fleas, ticks, mites, and hookworms upon spot application once a month.

According to PetCareRx, the medication takes anywhere from 12 to 24 hours to begin its work. During this period, do not allow your pet to roll around on the floor or touch against household items. In some cases (especially if severe), the infestation might take several days to disappear completely.  

As a prevention measure, the CDC recommends:

  • You limit the time your pet spends outdoors
  • Bathe and brush your dog’s fur regularly
  • Limit your pet’s contact with stray animals

The Takeaway

Fleas are not just a mere annoyance or agents of skin irritation for your pet (even though those are bad enough). As you brush your doggo’s fur, frequently check for adult fleas.

During grooming sessions, you must watch areas with thin hairs (abdomen) for fleas. Keep your dog’s hair trimmed if they regularly visit wooded areas. You can also use flea combs to detect eggs.

In case of dirt-like specks, put them on a white towel and add water. In the case of flea dirt, the patch should turn red as flea dirt is essentially digested blood. Regular measures like these will not only keep fleas at bay but will also help you detect them early. 

Photo by Stephen Andrews on Unsplash

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