Question of The Month:
“I treat for fleas when I see them, but it doesn’t seem to give her relief. She bites at herself and is losing fur around her rear end. Her back is also covered in tiny scabs. What can I do?”
Veterinary Expert Answers:
Firstly we're very sorry to hear your dog is having problems. We'll try and explain how fleas 'act' and then offer some advice.
Checking for fleas should form part of a regular healthcare regime and should be relatively easy and it's good that you spotted the signs to treat. Adult fleas are about 1mm long, dark brown to black critters. Although they are fast moving, meaning as you most likely discovered that you are unlikely to be able to pick any from your pet's coat.
The best thing to look out for is the tell-tale sign of flea dirt. This is effectively flea faeces and is made up of dried, ingested blood. It looks like tiny black, shiny flecks of pepper in amongst your pet’s fur. The best place to spot this is around your pet’s rump – just behind the base of the tail above the hips. Here fur is at its thickest making it the prime spot for fleas to hang out. To check the black spots are flea dirt and not just a bit of mud, try and dab some flecks off onto a piece of damp cotton wool. Leave the cotton wool for a few minutes. If a reddish tinge develops around the flecks, this is blood and proves you have a flea problem.
Once a flea has settled into the cosy environment of your pet’s fur, it will start to bite and suck blood. To nourish her eggs, a female flea requires a high-performance diet, drinking up to 15 times her own body weight in blood daily. This means in heavy flea infestations, your pet, especially if young or under the weather for any reason, could actually be at risk of developing the serious disease of anaemia as a result of the blood the flea/s consume. This is one of the reasons it is important to keep these blood-sucking pests at bay.
As well as causing an itchy bite, some animals can develop terrible allergies to fleas. It is more common than you may think, with flea allergy dermatitis affecting up to 15% of the total dog population. A single flea bite can cause an appalling, irritating skin reaction leading to substantial fur loss, redness of the skin and a generally depressed pet. It is all down to being sensitive to flea saliva, which is reported as being the most irritating substance on the planet – quite impressive for an insect only 1mm long! It is vitally important to try and keep these animals flea free.
A small fact with an important consequence, fleas can also transmit tapeworms. If your dog accidentally swallows an infected flea, say through grooming, it could lead to tapeworms developing inside your pet's intestines. Therefore if you have found a flea infection, it is important to consider worming your pet too.
No dog should be left to suffer from fleas, it's horribly unpleasant and can lead to a whole host of serious health problems. But dogs that show extreme allergies to fleas are even more susceptible to severe health side effects.
If you believe your dog is suffering from a flea allergy it's vitally important to make an appointment to see your vet as soon as you can. Your vet will advise you on the most appropriate flea treatment for dogs (although it is always worth researching your own too, since you can save some money ordering online even with a prescription) as well as give you advice on how to treat your house to remove all traces of fleas and their eggs.