When both Paddy and Poppy started to itch, the first thing Nicola thought of was “fleas”, even though she couldn’t see any on either dog. She used some “flea drops” from the supermarket, but both dogs continued to scratch themselves, and they also developed a rash along their backs, especially in the area over their back legs. When Nicola used the tips of her fingers to rub the dogs in this area, they scratched furiously, as if it was really bothering them. She brought them to see me to see what else could be going on.
When I examined the dogs, I agreed that fleas were the most likely cause. There are dozens of possible causes of itchiness in dogs, but when two dogs in the same household are itchy, parasites are high on the list. While allergies are a very common cause of itchiness in dogs, it would be exceptionally rare to have two dogs in the same house itching because of an allergy at the same time. And when I checked with Nicola, there was nothing else going on in her home that might make two dogs start to itch (such as using new floor cleaning products, new bedding detergents, or other possible direct irritants of any other type).
Furthermore, the location of the itchiness in both dogs – along the back – is classical for fleas: this is the area where fleas like to crawl.
So the first thing that I did was do carry out an ultra-careful check for fleas. I looked through the fur of both dogs carefully, searching for any fleas crawling around. There were none to be seen. I then ran a fine-toothed comb through their coats, picking up small flakes and pieces of scurf. I was hoping to find some “flea dirt”: the black specks of dried blood that fleas leave behind them. However after looking for a full ten minutes, I could find no trace of any flea dirt.
I asked Nicola more about the flea drops that she’d used: it turned out that they included a herbal extract designed for “amateur flea control” so if there was a heavy flea infestation, while the drops might reduce the numbers of fleas, they would not be sufficient to cure the problem completely.
Despite the fact that I couldn’t find any direct evidence of fleas, I remained convinced that they were the underlying problem. In most flea infestations, adult fleas or flea dirt is seen on the dog, but the truth is that fleas spend most of their lifetimes off the dog, hiding in bedding or in carpets. They hop onto the dog for a blood meal, then hop off again. I guessed that the flea drops may have reduced the number of fleas on the dogs, but it was likely that there were hundreds of fleas in the dogs’ beds and in the carpets at home too. These would be causing the dogs to continue to itch by hopping on, biting them, then hopping off again.
The answer was simple. First, I gave each dog an anti-flea-and-tick tablet that lasts for a full three months. Any fleas (or ticks) that nibble on the dogs will die at once. Second, I gave Nicola a spray to use in her home, on the dogs’ beds, the carpets and any other areas where the dogs spend time. This will kill any adult fleas, as well as leaving a residue that prevents any flea eggs from hatching out over the next year. These two treatments will effectively de-flea the dogs and their environment completely. Finally, I gave each dog a short course of anti-inflammatory medication to stop them itching: by the time the medication is finished, the fleas should have gone, so the itching should not start again.
Fleas are a challenge, but with the right anti-parasite products, they can easily be conquered.