The diagnosis and management of insect bite allergy is still an important part of my specialty practice. I diagnose on average
2 to 3 new cases per week. With all the safe and effective insect control products currently on the market, you would expect
these numbers to be lower. But because of these wonderful products, we sometimes are neglecting to explain good flea control
to our clients. This is unfortunate, since flea allergy dermatitis is relatively easy to control but is extremely uncomfortable
if left untreated.
The diagnosis of flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is based primarily on history and clinical signs. Some of the clues that lead
you to the diagnosis of FAD are a history of fleas in the environment and on the pets, indoor/outdoor cats, no existing flea
control program and exposure to other pets and environments outside the family. The most common clinical signs include moderate
to severe pruritus, the presence of fleas or flea dirt, and the loss of hair on the lumbosacral area and caudal thighs. Some
dogs will also "corn cob" or chew their forelimbs. As time goes on, many of these dogs will develop secondary yeast and/or
bacterial pyodermas. The diagnosis of FAD is confirmed by intradermal testing with flea antigen or by response to complete
To accomplish complete flea control as quickly as possible, flea feeding must be kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, this is
not as easy as we would like, even though we have multiple safe and effective products available. The reasons for this vary,
but may include unrealistic expectations of these products on the part of practitioners and clients. Remember that fleas are
not killed instantaneously by any of the products, nor are any of the products 100% effective all month against every strain
of fleas. Because of differences in the products' speed of kill, some products may take longer than others to achieve complete
flea control. Also, it must be remembered that the time to kill increases and the percentage of fleas killed decreases as
the month progresses. Therefore, if the environmental infestation is not controlled, the client will probably see fleas on
the pet by the end of the month. This does not mean that the product is ineffective, just overwhelmed. None of these products
present an impenetrable barrier to fleas. The fleas will still jump on the pet and may be present several hours before dying.
Another obstacle to accomplishing complete flea control is the lack of client education about the flea life cycle. Informal
surveys have revealed that veterinarians may not be explaining the flea life cycle to their clients. Clients need to understand
that only the adult flea spends its life on the pet and adult fleas make up only 5% of the entire flea biomass. The adult
flea can start to feed within 10 minutes and start to lay eggs within 24 to 48 hours after feeding. The eggs are laid on the
pet, but soon drop off into the environment where they hatch and develop into larvae. In a few days the larvae become pupae.
The flea can remain in the pupal stage for as short as a week or as long as 6 months, depending on environmental conditions.
The pupae are also extremely resistant to all current flea control products. It is the adult fleas emerging from these protected
pupae that can cause a re-infestation 3 to 6 months after an environment has been treated effectively.
Inappropriate use of topical flea control products also leads to failure to achieve complete flea control. Bathing and swimming
may increase the kill time and decrease the kill percentage for any of the topical products. The only products not affected
by water exposure are the oral products. Flea control products must be applied at the proper interval and in the appropriate
doses if they are to be effective. All pets in the household must be treated to control infestations.
The final obstacle to reaching complete flea eradication is inappropriate or no environmental flea control. Many dogs no longer
live in closed environments. They now go everywhere with their owners. This means they come into contact with many more dogs,
other animals and environments that can reinfest them and their home environments with fleas. Many clients now have natural
landscaping that exposes pets to more wildlife and to a more flea friendly environment. Finally, more clients are averse to
using "poisons" in their yard or home.
Resistance to current flea control products at this time is not an obstacle to complete flea control. Monitoring efforts indicate
that true resistance is extremely rare. But flea experts warn that this does not mean that resistance will not occur with
continued use of these products.