Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is an allergic reaction to flea bites. Flea bites can pause a serious health risk in animals. They cause flea allergy dermatitis, secondary skin infections, anemia in kittens, transmit feline infectious anemia, transmit tapeworms, transmit cat scratch fever to kittens. With flea allergies, the number of fleas is not important. Since your dog or cat is allergic to the flea's saliva, that could be just one bite that triggers the allergic reaction. Most allergic dogs develop signs of FAD between 1 and 3 years of age.

The first sign of the flea allergy dermatitis is itching. The areas most affected are abdomen, tail, and thighs. With chronic itching, the skin becomes red, scaly, and crusty. If the inflammation is left untreated, there may be a severe hair loss (alopecia), the skin becomes hardened and leathery with pigmented patches. Your pet may develop odor due to skin secondary bacterial infections.

The treatment of the fleabite allergic dermatitis begins with eliminating fleas on all the animals in the house and in the close environment:

  • Remove all the fleas from the pet, paying special attention to the safety of the products on the pets, safety to the humans in the household, environmental effects of the products.
  • Carpets, pet bedding, and resting areas in the home should be well-vacuumed using a vacuum with a power head. Pet bedding should be washed.
  • Choose flea control products with effectiveness in mind.

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Medical treatment consists of reducing itching, improving the skin condition and decreasing the sensitivity of your pet to flea bites. The effectiveness of treatment with 10 per cent fipronil solution for controlling signs of flea allergic dermatitis in dogs was studied over a 90-day period. Flea counts and itching were significantly reduced, crusts, scales and papules (small bumps) were also significantly improved. (Fipronil is sold as Frontline and Top Spot).

Credit: Janice Haney Carr/CDC

The past 10 years have witnessed the development of products that seem to have a wide margin of safety when used in dogs and cats. Still, main ingredients of such products are officially categorized as "moderately toxic". Imidacloprid (Advantage™ Advantix® Bayer) is a topical adult flea killer that claims are that most fleas are killed within 24 hours, before they have a chance to lay eggs. It is considered safe for dogs and cats, but some may be allergic to it. Imidacloprid accumulates in the hair follicles and then is released over 3-4 weeks from the hair follicles onto the skin and hair. Imidacloprid should not be used in combination with other insecticides, on puppies or kittens less than 8 weeks of age or pregnant animals.


  1. Companion Animal Dermatology (vetmed.iastate.edu)
  2. Fleas, flea allergy, and flea control (dermatology.cdlib.org)

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