Dr. Kate Mezan
Experienced companion animal veterinarian; Stanford University B.A. & M.A., Massey University Veterinary School BVSc, Veterinary Medicine
Here in California, fleas are a year-long struggle for both dogs and cats. Even indoor cats can fall victim to these pesky parasites, especially if they share a household with other furry family members. When clients present me with an itchy patient, fleas are always the first thing on my mind. While environmental and food allergies are also possible, fleas are much more common, and thankfully, much easier to treat!
Despite their prevalence, clients are often indignant or embarrassed when I suggest a flea allergy might be the source of their pet’s constant scratching. I’ve even heard, “My pet can’t possibly have fleas--we live in a gated community!” Unfortunately, I can assure you that fleas are stealthy and small enough that even a sturdy gate won’t keep them out. They bother patients from all walks of life, and even the most pampered pooch is a potential victim.
So what are some hints that fleas may be the problem? Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to be unable to find any live fleas or even flea dirt (the brown specks of waste that fleas leave behind) in your pet’s fur. Some pets are so sensitive to flea bites, that even a bite or two can cause irritation. So how do we tell?
Location: Fleas tend to congregate around the base of tail and thighs. We call this the “pants lesion” -- the most itchy areas are what would be covered if your pet was wearing a pair of pants!
Exposure: If your pet is not on any flea prevention, the problem is fleas until proven otherwise. Again, why go looking for more complicated explanations until you have ruled-out the number one cause?
Itchy owners: When a pet has fleas, humans in the household often suffer as well. Unexplained itchy bumps, especially around the ankles, are a wonderful (or terrible?) clue that fleas are the culprit.
In any case, getting your pet on consistent, monthly flea prevention is the best way to ensure fleas are not the problem. While itch can certainly be due to other causes, you will save yourself time and money in the investigation by ruling-out this easy-to-fix and all-too-common source of dog and cat discomfort.
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