This is probably the most common problem we as groomers see with the pets that have fleas. It is actually a two-fold process I have learned while researching this web article. There are TWO REASONS fleas aggravate our pets. First is the bite itself which is an unpleasant event. The fleas actually live off the blood of their host and therefore bite them to feed. The reason that flea bites ITCH however was surprising to me (for some reason). the saliva of fleas is an allergen for many people and pets. Just like mosquitoes. Imagine that! The saliva from the flea can remain on the pets skin for up to two weeks continuing to bother the pet and causing intense scratching. This scratching leads to hair loss, skin irritation and infection and a generally MISERABLE pet. ONE FLEA is enough to make some pets react.
To help solve this problem temporarily, every dog that has fleas gets a medicated bath in my shop to help stop the itching associated with Flea Bite Dermatitis. This is important because we will be removing hair and if the dog is itchy, then it will be easier for the pet to damage his/her skin while scratching. Think about this.......a dog with two inches of hair has not access directly to the skin, but one with a 1/4 inch of hair DOES! A soothing oatmeal or other medicated bath is a way to prevent problems before they occur. Remember though that all medicated shampoos do not stop itching, so you want to look for one that does. Some medicated shampoos are actually designed to treat specific illnesses of the skin, not to stop itching related to flea dermatitis. Choose your shampoos accordingly.
While not a pretty thing to see, the biggest concern of mine for pets losing their hair is that the skin is then open to the environment. This includes other insects (mosquitoes) and scratching. When the skin is open to the world, other things happen and then infection can set in. The best way to avoid this problem is to prevent fleas in the first place. I usually use a soothing oatmeal shampoo on these dogs to help with itching and to prevent further damage to the skin that could be caused by clipping.
Anemia and other illnesses
Because fleas feed off the blood of their host, it is not uncommon for animals with SEVERE infestations to have anemia. This is noted by a loss of color in the tongue and gums of the pet. If left untreated, anemia can lead to the death of the pet. I often check badly infested animals for color and if I notice a pale look about the gums or a lethargic behavior on the part of the animal I will call the owner to come take them to the vet IMMEDIATELY. IT is not uncommon for pets to require hospitalization for flea related illnesses like anemia.
Fleas are often found on mice and are also the carriers of such serious diseases as plague and typhus. While these diseases are not common in the U.S. they DO occur in underdeveloped countries and the risk is always there when mice and fleas are hand on hand.
Tapeworms are probably considered to be innocuous by the medical world in our family pets, but severe infestations of tapeworms can lead to skin and coat issues as well as weight loss and intestinal problems. Tapeworms are actually caused by the pet ingesting a flea in the appropriate stage of life. Fleas are the host for tapeworm eggs. They then hatch and develop in the dog or cats intestines where they are shed in segments that look like rice. You can tell if I dog or cat has tapeworms by looking at their stool. If you see flat segments of worms, then you have tapeworms. There is now an over the counter version of the medicine that your vet will prescribe available at many feed stores. Your vet can offer a pill or shot to eliminate this problem in your pets. HOWEVER! Unless you eliminate the fleas, the tapeworms will be back!