Flea-Related Illnesses that Affect Your Dog
This annoying parasite can pose real dangers to your dog’s health.
Left untreated, fleas can multiply rapidly and make your dog seriously ill. That’s why it’s important to check your dog for fleas on a regular basis and act quickly to eliminate any outbreaks that occur.
Flea Transmitted Diseases
- Condition: Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)
Some dogs are severely allergic to flea saliva and can experience extreme discomfort even from a single flea bite. Common FAD symptoms include excessive scratching, licking or biting around the tail, groin, or backside.
Scabs or bumps may develop on the neck or back. Some dogs will chew or rip out their hair or fur until the area is bare. Unchecked, FAD can cause painful sores and bacterial skin infections, or “hotspots” characterized by red, raw, and inflamed skin.
Don’t wait. Your vet can diagnose a flea allergy with a simple intradermal skin test. If your dog tests positive, she may need medication to control the scratching and chewing until you can begin a flea control program or complete pest management system. Severe cases of FAD may require intermittent use of prescription medications during very hot and humid weather when fleas are at their peak.
- Condition: Flea-Bite Anemia
Just like a person, your dog relies on a certain number of red blood cells in her body to keep her healthy and energetic. And, like you, she can become anemic from too much blood loss. Any dog can develop Flea-Bite Anemia, but some dogs are more susceptible; small dogs and puppies have smaller blood volumes than larger dogs. Elderly and sick dogs can’t manufacture blood cells as quickly as healthy dogs. A single flea can bite your dog hundreds of times per day. In a short time, even a mild infestation can have serious consequences. Very severe cases can be fatal. If your dog shows symptoms of lethargy, weakness, or pale gums, see your vet right away.
Your vet will rid your dog of fleas and provide supportive measures to restore her health. Dogs who are very anemic may receive blood transfusions and intensive care. With quick intervention, most dogs make a full recovery.
Fleas can transmit a tapeworm infection to your dog if she ingests a flea containing tapeworm eggs. Inside your dog’s digestive tract, the tapeworm egg matures into an adult tapeworm with a segmented body that can grow to several feet. The tapeworm hooks onto the lining of your dog’s small intestine and absorbs nutrients as they pass through her digestive tract.
Tapeworms can cause nutritional deficiency, weight loss, and debilitation for your dog. Symptoms include increased appetite and fatigue; a serious infection may be accompanied by chronic diarrhea or constipation. Examine your dog’s stool if you suspect a problem. Tapeworms will appear as small white “worms” or grains of rice. If you suspect your dog already has tapeworm, see your vet for an evaluation and bring a stool sample for testing.
Your vet can provide you with medication if your dog is diagnosed with tapeworms.
Other Flea-Transmitted Diseases
- Plague caused by Yersinia pestis
- Typhus caused by Rickettsia typhi
- Tularemia caused by Francisella tularensis
Flea Prevention is Key
Since fleas are the most common culprit of canine tapeworm, a proactive flea control program is the best way to keep your dog healthy. Follow a complete pest management system to rid your dog, home, and yard of fleas. A good rule of thumb is to treat your home and yard first, then your dog. This will minimize her chances of being re-infested.