How to Help Pets with Flea Allergy Dermatitis

June 19, 2010

By Linda Cole

Responsible pet owners know how important it is to make sure their pets are treated for fleas. Unfortunately, some pets have an allergic reaction to a flea’s bite even with flea medication on them. Some reactions can be quite severe. I have a dog that has an allergic reaction to flea bites. Left untreated, a pet will whine and chew their skin raw, which isn’t good for them and can drive you and your pet crazy. My dog has flea allergy dermatitis, also called flea bite allergy.

The first and most important step in helping a pet who has an allergic reaction to fleas is to make sure they are treated with a quality flea control medication monthly. Start treatment at least one month before flea season starts and continue it until at least one month after flea season is over. Talk with your vet to determine which flea treatment would be best for your pet.

Fleas don’t actually live on our pets. Most of their life is spent lounging somewhere in the home. Some people assume that if they don’t see fleas on their pet, they don’t have a flea problem, but that’s simply not true. If you don’t find fleas on your pet at the time you inspect them, it doesn’t mean your pet or home is flea free. If it’s flea season and you have pets, a community of fleas could be hanging out in your home and yard, and using your pet as their own personal diner.

To help a pet who has flea allergy dermatitis, it’s important to treat the pet and the home at the same time and try to eliminate the little pests completely. The best way to control fleas in the home is to have a pest control service spray monthly during flea season; inside and outside. By having an effective flea control on the pet and with an aggressive attack on fleas around the home, you have a good chance of getting rid of the fleas.

Pets who suffer from flea allergy dermatitis are so sensitive that just one or two flea bites can cause them to chew on themselves constantly, and won’t stop even when their skin has become raw. You don’t have to have an infestation of fleas for your pet to be miserable. It’s not the flea bite itself that drives a dog or cat crazy, it’s the saliva of the flea that causes all the itching. Flea bite allergies are the most common type of allergy found in cats and dogs.

Dog Animated - no offerSigns of flea allergy dermatitis are constant scratching, chewing, licking and whining. Their skin may be red or even raw from constant scratching and chewing. You can feel bumps on their skin when you run your hand over the area they’ve been chewing on, especially along their back at the base of the tail and along the tail. You may notice an area where your pet scratched and chewed so much, they have a bare spot or thinning hair in the area. They can develop hot spots on their face or other parts of their body, and you are apt find flea debris in the area. The debris looks like little pieces of dried blood because that’s exactly what it is. Flea bite allergy can cause secondary infections if left untreated, so it’s up to us as responsible pet owners to make sure to tackle a flea problem aggressively and use all of the weapons available to us during flea season.

Keep your pet’s bedding clean. Vacuum regularly where your pet sleeps, along baseboards, and move furniture so you can vacuum under it. Remove couch and chair cushions and vacuum thoroughly underneath them. Dispose of the vacuum bag after each vacuuming and if your vacuum has no bag, dump the dirt out into a small trash bag and seal it before throwing it away. You don’t want any of your captured fleas to escape back into the home.

If your pet shows signs of having any adverse reaction to fleas even with flea medication on them, talk with your vet. They can recommend a flea control product that might work better for your pet and they can also advise you on other products you can use to help relieve their itching. You want to make sure to use flea control that kills adult fleas and has an insect growth regulator (IGR) which will kill immature fleas before they have a chance to mature into adults.

Flea allergy dermatitis can drive both you and your pet crazy. Start your fight against fleas before they have a chance to attack your pet or invade your home.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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  1. mark says:

    Do fleas bother a dog’s ears?

  2. Cindy says:

    My dog got fleas when we were on vacation and my son’s friends brought their dogs over that has fleas…I have had him 7 years and he never had fleas one time until now. He has had a history of hot spots, but he just has sensitive skin. We took him to the vet for the fleas, and of course his allergic. the vet gave him a steroid shot, a chewable pill and then something else and an antibiotic because his sores had gotten infected. He is so much better now, back to his old self, but I just felt so bad for him when he was itching constantly.

    For his hot spots we changed his foot to a grain free food, and changed his protein, chicken is actually bad for dogs, so the one we chose was lamp, and then we put this moist salmon on top of it, which the vet said the fish oil are very good for a dogs skins.

    People that are having trouble with your dogs skin, try a grain free food, we buy Under the Sun and the protein is Lamb. Wish everyone well and I hope all the beautiful dos feel better!

  3. Pam says:

    I want to address Emily’s request for help with fleas. A very inexpensive way to kill the fleas in short order is with the blue Dawn dish soap. Let it set on them for a few minutes before rinsing. Borax (20 mule team borax) water solution will kill fleas in your home on your floors by mopping with it. You can sprinkle it on your carpet, leave it over night, then vacuum. But you cant let the dogs in there until its vacuumed good cause it will get on their paws and they will lick it. Try to get a pill from your vet to kill fleas soon.

    1. UncommonSensesc says:

      Something better to use that is pet safe is diatomaceous earth. It’s a fine powder (be sure to buy food grade) and can be used in the house and in the yard. I had a flea outbreak last year and used it in the house. It is a fine powder and does get everywhere so the vacuum and dust rag will get a workout. I sprinkle it outside where the outdoor kitties eat (it also gets rid of slugs and we have problems with them too) and play.

  4. Lori Sue says:

    My Shih Tzu is allergic to flea saliva (diagnosed by two different veterinarians after I brought her in for constant itching and licking and raw skin). One gave her an oral medication that was supposed to last 3 months (forgot the name but was like $80 and didn’t do a thing) and then I brought her to her regular vet shortly that (he was out of town when I brought her to the first vet) and he gave her a shot of cortisone and had me give her Nexgard and it helped for a month and then we kept that up for the next couple months (Diligent with Nexgard chewables and steroid shots) and then after this week, she is as raw and itchy as ever and she had a cortisone shot two weeks ago and her Nexgard as well. She has really red hot spots over most of her back and tons of black specks all over her lower part just above her tail. I have never seen fleas on her when I bathed her and she is white and I look carefully but we are at a loss! She is miserable and I can’t help her! I feel so bad for her. Please help!

    1. UncommonSensesc says:

      I know what you mean – I imagine the 3-month medicine was Bravecto. My vet had given our dog the same thing and it was worthless and expensive. There is some allergy stuff out now called Apoquel (?) but we haven’t tried it yet. We give our terrier 1 1/2 Benadryl’s twice a day and that helps. I also spray his hot spots (places he chews) with chlorhexidine which is an antibacterial. The bad thing with flea medications is that with most of them the flea has to bite the dog to get poisoned and die. It’s a major problem and since he goes outside sometimes, keeping him bug and flea free isn’t an option no matter how many baths or how much medication we put on him. I put a cone on him sometimes to keep him from chewing himself raw – I feel so sorry for him. I know he’s got to be miserable. With our vet’s office (several different vets and techs), none of them are any real help. I finally kept pushing the last one to see what he could get and he very reluctantly told me about an allergy shot we could try but it’s about $150! None of the veterinarians (NONE) around here are low cost or give you a break for having been there X amount of times already. I watch a couple of animals shows on tv that only charge just what they have to but that sure isn’t the case around here (South Carolina).

  5. Emily says:

    My two pitbulls are allergic to flea saliva and have this problem. At first I thought fleas, but they are also allergic to chicken so I buy them Authority GNC skin solutions and that works wonders, but I accidently gave them treats with chicken and thought the rash was because of that, but then I saw the fleas and gave them Frontline plus, treated my cats, treated the home 4 times now and bathed them, tried aloe, tried itch relief shampoo and now I’m trying hydricortazone and one last oatmeal bath tonight. My one pitbull has a cone to stop him from chewing himself raw, the other one isn’t so aggressive with the chewing and doesn’t need one. but I don’t have the money to pay for any more vet bills this whole thing so far costs me about 500$. I NEED HELP, I tried bunch of suggestions from people and none of them work. I mean they’re depressed the one isn’t eating very much he isn’t going to the bathroom , and he just isn’t his happy self. I just need any suggestions possible!!! Please!

    1. Melissa says:

      Hi Emily, I just read this, I have a pit and a bulldog I live on land with lots of wildlife, I’ve tried a lot and what I’ve found that truly works is vinegar, yes white distilled vinegar ( you can Google if you think I’m craxy, lol) get a spray bottle, half water half vinegar, spray around your house everywhere and give them a bath, then spray them lightly, wash their bedding with the vinegar and stay the bedding when they aren’t on it, the fleas don’t like it, then spray a flea killer around your house, I’ve got a big house and I’ve seen results. I give them 2 benadryl ( the pink tablets) a day to help with the itching and irritation.. trust me if you stay on it, this works!! I spray the doorway with the vinegar before they come in so as not to bring any in too.
      I hope this helps .. good luck

  6. Christine kline says:

    My little dog has had a allergic reaction to flea bites. She has aquired a look of dirt stained tummy, legs, and hind quarters. She has a gray looking area that I spoke of. A regular bath does not remedy her skin. Its like the dirt is imbedded in her skin. There is black spots that i squeeze and small dark pieces come out. It is like the flea dirt has become embedded in the skin. Also there has been a crusty form on her back, neck, tail, back feet. She has chewed those areas till she bleeds and a foul smell. Please tell me what to do for her ..

    1. Julia Williams says:

      Please take your dog to the vet for a checkup. Your veterinarian will examine your dog’s skin and help you formulate a treatment plan.

    2. Kat says:

      It sounds like your dog may have Cushings disease. The black crusty skin may be calcinosis.

  7. tammy says:

    how do you treat flea dermatitis if dog is outside.

  8. Kari Elizabeth says:

    I wanted to share some advice after months of dealing with a cat who is allergic to fleas. He would lick himself to the point of oozing open wounds. The tips I am providing all produced successful results once I stuck with them.

    • First and foremost, Frontline Plus is no longer a good product. Their ingredients are out-dated and no vet will recommend it. If you are not able to purchase flea preventative from the vet, Advantage II works well.
    • Do not let the monthly flea medicine lapse, you must put your flea medicine on your pets every single month and do not be late.
    • Capstar is a life saver. It cost about $25 for 6 pills and you’re able to give them to extremely young cats and dogs. Give your pet one pill and it will kill every flea on its body within 30 min. This protection will last for 24 hours. So if you have a major flea outbreak in your home, you may have to do more than 1 pill treatment. It is safe to give it to them daily. I was given this advice by a vet tech that works for Animal Control Charlotte and the Humane Society. It does in fact work like a charm. The Capstar is given in addition to the monthly flea treatment, but it only necessary when you see itching.
    • Spray your yard, bushes and patio with a bug killer that works on fleas. You don’t need to spend a lot of money. If you can get one that hooks up to the hose and spreads at a longer distance, it will be easier on you. You will probably need to retreat every 3 months from early spring to fall.
    • Vacuum and keep your bed and pet bedding clean

    Good luck! If you follow these tips, you and your pet will feel much better.

  9. Rosen martinez says:

    When I first got my dog he was a pup and I never noticed any signs oh allergies as he is getting older the flea allergies are getting very severe (he’s 3 years old now) I’ve taken him to the vet three times for the same thing but I’m in college and cont be afforded $200 bills I do buy him good quality flea medication like Sentra and frontline but it only works for a couple of months. Then I bought him some allergy medicine from petsmart and it worked for a while. It’s driving me crazy because I can’t stand seeing him like that sometimes I just want him to be euthanized because he’s not happy I don’t know how he feels but he’s always depressed maybe three months of the year he’s himself. We need help.

    1. Lori says:

      Ask your vet for Bravecto which is a chewable pill. It’s for flea prevention and last 3 months. I give my dog Bravecto every 3 months because without it she is miserable from all the scratching and I’m miserable watching her suffer. Whatever you do, don’t euthanize your dog,,there’s got to be other choices. Surrender him to a rescue so they can find him another home. There’s no reason to euthanize an otherwise healthy dog.

      1. Dawn Warner says:

        Please do not give bravecto it has killed many dogs and gives seizures and other side effects that are horrible if dog doesn’t die. Not worth the chance.

    2. JDeLima says:

      I am not sure if you have thought of this..but could he be allergic to any or all of the following his food, his shampoo, the detergent you use to wash either his blankets or dog beds? I just adopted 2 rescue puppies after the last of my 2 pits passed away June 3Rd. Both puppies have horrible allergies, one is all white his skin is even 100X more sensitive on top of all of the allergies. Neither of my 2 prior pits had any allergies. These 2 pups both about to turn 4 months old. Allergic to flea bites and yes they still get bitten even with the yard treated and with monthly prevention. They only eat grain free food and can’t eat chicken fish only, Detergent is All free and Clear or something of the sort. I have started putting pure cold pressed coconut oil in with their food and after they take a bath with special shampoo for allergies and sensitive skin I have a bottle that I have mixed coconut oil and water in. I spray that all over them and keep it on. Benadryl helps when the itching gets really bad and extra coconut oil used as an ointment rubbed into hot spots or itchy spots works great. All special food, shampoo and other dog products are super cheap at if you sign up for autoship you receive 20% off your first order and 5% each additional order. You can set it to deliver as often as every 2 weeks or far apart as 4 months or cancel after your first order. Coconut oil can be found at publix Walmart…
      But putting your dog to sleep should never be an option unless you don’t have an option. Like when my babies had cancer. My 1st male was almost 14 he had lung cancer… we were told he had 6 months to live. 2 weeks later his cough was so bad he couldn’t breathe and his spirit was gone you could tell in his eyes the spark was gone..he was a shell of himself he was my first child..that was two and a half years ago and I still feel the pain like it was yesterday. My female was diagnosed with lymphoma out of nowhere..she was 14 1/2 one day her face started drooping and she was walking like she was drunk… took her to the vet her lymph nodes were swollen they did a biopsy and gave her meds. Told us she could have a year.. 3 days later she couldn’t even walk it was a Sunday my vet wasn’t open but I truly knew she was REALLY SUFFERING lymphoma had spread to her brain she could not lift her head or anything. I found the nearest vet to put her to sleep. Another horrible day not even 4 months ago. As far as money goes…I am a single mom of 2 on ss disability income. My ex-husband doesn’t pay full child support.. But I still made sure both and all dogs had/have what they need. There are so many options for financial help.
      If you have any questions please ask..

      1. Jeff says:

        Sorry to hear what you have been through. I’m reading every story up here. I’m so sorry for your pets. 🙁

      2. Jami says:

        I’m glad you’ve been able to afford what your babies need, despite low income.

        I’m in no way condoning euthinization. That’s absolutely last option for only an “unfixable”, pet.

        However, there are people that are even worse off than you & so can’t afford such care.
        That said, although I have slim hopes… I am curious about your mentioning of there being many options for financial help. Now, if you’re talking help for cancer, etc. There is absolutely help.
        Otherwise… I have scoured the www for any hopes for financial help. Just to get my baby to a vet & likely for antibiotics. I have her on flea drops now, continuously treating the house, washing bedding, bathing her, etc.
        I can’t treat the yard, as it’s apartments & she could have picked them up anywhere along her walks. The apartments won’t do anything about it, as they’re government funded & dont give a rats azz. So for now, she can’t even go on her daily walks. Which is making her even more miserable.

        So, if you know of financial help that’s not only for major illness, or the like. As well, isn’t based on location. Please, please share.

        Thanks bunches,
        Jami, Joshy & Missymoo

    3. UncommonSensesc says:

      I really hope you didn’t get your poor dog euthanized! That’s only a solution for you and it just infuriates me to even read that someone considers it to be a reasonable solution! YOU will have to help him and even if you have to put a cone around his neck for a while to keep him from digging and chewing, it’ll let his skin heal.

  10. liz maietta says:

    My dog gets hot spots what dog food do recommend

  11. Edward says:

    I spray outside my home front back and sides and my neighbors yards on either side as well with bug b gone every 3 months…. With the invasive a vacuuming of carpeting and furniture along with front line on your pets the flea problem will go away… And after the 1st year…. Just spraying the yards you won’t have to buy front line any more and I have20 pets now with no

  12. Michelle t says:

    My dog is allergic to flea bites, and her skin looks sensitive. Would it be possible for her to be allergic to flea sprays also? I haven’t used sprays on her but wanted to ask before I tried.

  13. paul woollums says:

    Can anybody tell me what i can do to help my dog with fleas she is constantly biting, chewy,pulling her out, and crying and that breaks my heart…i have tried dawn i have tried the very expensive shampoos from her vet…i have tried frontline nothing has helped her…she doesnt want to go for walks or even go with me in my anymore….i see shes in pain and that hurts me because i dont know what else to do to help her and take her pain away…..can anybody please help me????

    1. Lisa says:

      I have found the only thing that works is a product called Adams flea powder you have to put it under cousins in between mattresses carpet floors everwhere! Wash all clothes and bag them for at least a week I even took all dresser drawers out and put powder down after 24 hours vacuum for my dogs I put a thick hair conditioner on them added a little water kept it on them for 20 minutes than bathed them twice a day to try to suffocate the fleas it worked and the powder lasts for a year killing fleas and eggs good luck

    2. Lorraine says:

      My dog is so allergic to fleas. She scratches, rips her hair out, bleeds and then it gets infected. I’ve tried everything from natural products to the drops, sorays,everything and finally my vet suggested Bravecto. It’s a chewable pill that I give my dog and it last for 3 months. It’s the first time I can get through the hot months without watching my dog suffer from fleas. To me it’s worth it. Since I first started using it a year ago I haven’t had one incident with fleas…no fleas..what a releif..for both of us!

    3. S williams says:

      DUAL SOAP, warm water, towels, wash cloth, 2 buckets, blow dryer optional. You can wet your dog with a rag and water. I use dial soap, kills fleas instantly, soap the rag good with soap and water, lather dog or cat real good, let stay on for five to ten minutes if you can, first start to wash around neck, fleas will try to run to their nose, eyes, ears. Don’t get soap in pets eyes, I wash as close to face without getting near eyes.You will see the dead fleas surface, just pick or comb them off pets hair. I lather real good. Then I get a small bucket , fill with warm water, use another rag rinse pet by using clean water and a clean rag. Dry them with towel, later use a blow dryer on low, if they tolerate it, do not put close to pet, i put hand over area i am drying so i know it is not too hot. Then check for any fleas left. Put flea meds on pet when thoroughly they are. To keep cats from bugging out, have toweI,2 buckets of water warm all ready. Talk to them while you soap them up. I have mine holding on to the back of the tub,so they do nit scratch me, if they are not use to water, do not turn it on while in tub, if you need some more clean water turn on low. try to prepare water in advance.alit of wirk, but your pet will love the relief and you. I have always washed my pet’s from babies.

      1. S williams says:

        I meant use Dial soap.

  14. Rygil says:

    Please help my dog is
    Basically chewing his skin off because of flea allergy I found him on the porch and his back was
    Bleeding badly

  15. key says:

    I have a black lab that has a coming and going of a red scabby “rash”. It was pretty bad over a year ago and the vet said, like all of them, it’s allergies.. either food, weather, or fleas, you need to figure out which. I used Dinovite for some time and noticed it has gone away a bit but now given the hot summer months we are fighting off fleas.. we are de-fleaing and i vacuum all the time. We have changed the food and still not sure what causes these scabs. They are only on his belly, they don’t seem to both him. I just want them to go away.
    thank you for your help!

  16. Terri Mindieta says:

    My cat gets the sores on her. If she gets bitten from a fleas she breaks out. I have ask what to treat her bites so they will clear up. Can’t seem to get an answer about this.

  17. rachel says:

    Does anyone know if there is a natural remedy for my shin tsu allergy to flea salvia? I’ve used dawn but doesn’t seem to help anymore. Please help us

    1. Cindy says:

      Dawn kills the fleas, not the allergy. Find a good soothing shampoo like oatmeal.

    2. LS says:

      Dawn is used in shelters for severe flea infestation. But only once. And they apply flea medication afyer. Buy using dawn you over dry your animals skin and he starts scratching from that too. Plus the fleas.
      If you really love your per lease use flea medication REGURALLY. It will help.I know from experience

      1. Tammy says:

        I was a professional groomer for 20 yrs.
        Plain Dawn is typically used for flea infestations in young kittens and puppies that are too young for flea kitten or puppy shampoos. The Dawn does a good job of suffocating the fleas. Sometimes it takes more than one application of Dawn, but this is all done during the same bathing procedure. Eye drops or salve to guard the eyes from irritants in shampoos should be used, cotton balls in the ears to keep water (and many times fleas) from entering and starting the shampooing on the head should be done and then working your way down the body. Be sure all shampoo is washed off, paying attention to under elbows, chests, bellies, between hind legs and throats. Be gentle around the face in rinsing, but be sure it’s done well.
        Problems can start from a flea allergy and those needs to be addressed. Consult your vet.
        While your pet is being treated for fleas, so should the environment. House, bedding, outside, etc.
        It’s best to use only veterinarian approved topical flea medications or oral medications, as OTC medications have caused extreme allergies and death.
        Pets with dry skin can benefit from a good oatmeal shampoo, but for it to really work it needs to stay on the skin around 15 min. A good moisturizing conditioner should be followed up after the shampoo.
        The public typically doesn’t have access to many of the shampoos professional groomers do, but one that was moved to OTC and is an excellent shampoo is Eqyss Micro-Tek. It does an awesome job in dealing with skin conditions and is safe for kittens and puppies. I retired around 6 yrs. ago, but saw a lot of major improvements in the dogs I used this product on.
        This is not a substitution for veterinary advice, just my experience with 20 yrs. of being a groomer, running pet and show dog kennels and being a vet’s assistant.

    3. Kay Livezey says:

      We also have a Shih Tzu and she has an allergy to flea saliva (pretty common in these dogs). The only thing that has helped her is Trifexis. It REPELS fleas, not just killing them. Most other flea products only kill the flea’s after they have gotten on your pet and biten it. It’s too late if they get on her and bite her. Trifexis is rather expensive and requires a prescription from your vet but cheaper than the vet bills and the medications needed to clear up the allergy, not to mention the suffering our poor baby had to go through. We’ve been using it the last 5 years. The Trifexis is hard on her tummy so we break it in two and give her 1/2 in the morning and the other 1/2 in the evening. It is a once per month pill so this is not so bad. Some vets will do price matching if you find it online cheaper than what they sell it for at their office. Best of luck with your pup. Hope this has helped.

      1. Dwan says:

        Please do research on Trifexis. It caused my Shih Tzu to begin having seizures. Thankfully I didn’t lose her and only have to deal with aggravating skin issues for her now. It breaks my heart that vets are still prescribing Trifexis when it has killed or caused serious health issues for so many dogs.

  18. rita says:

    I took plain dawn washed the areas, then rubbed her down with generic baby diaper rash med sure helped!

    1. Cindy says:

      Thank you. It’s Saturday as I write this. So, the vet is closed. I can get the baby wipes and try that until The vet opens n Monday. What you suggest would be safe to use.

  19. Gina says:

    My Shih Tzu has been suffering from flea saliva for months now. The shots from the vet are just a temporary fix. After spending a lot of money on expensive dog shampoo…I bath her with Dawn dish washing liquid (inside secret from an experienced vet) making sure to use plain, unscented version….The same used to clean the oil off the wildlife after the oil spill. I wash her weekly and also use a oatmeal shampoo to soothe her skin. Let the shampoo sit on her skin at least 15mins, after I dry her….then put a thin sweater on her to stop her from scratching her hair off and damaging her skin. Hopes this helps others. My Zoe is my family!

  20. kay says:

    This is all great info, but my dog has developed bumps from being bitten and is itching one spot. I have cleaned and there are no fleas BUT she is still itching the rash. What do i do to make it less itchy for her? Ps she has been de flead.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I want to thank you for the info you have provided. I’ve been searching information on my dogs condition and I have noticed a pattern and you gave me the answer. My lil kodi is only about 10lbs and will develop big oozing sores all around his neck and ears. Even along his spine and tail. His face will itch so bad He’s constantly licking and rubbing til his paws are so raw it hurts him to walk. I’ve treated my home two month ago thinking they were gone. I have to say you are right. It only takes one. Thank you so much.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I want to thank you so much for the information that you provided in your articles. Now I know alot of different way to help my poor itching dog. I needed more than article to read and help me out, to my surprise all of the articles were very informative. I thank you and so does my dog. Thank you,thank you, thank you
    Barb Ward, Ann Arbor MI