Dog itching due to fleas

Key takeaway

 A flea infestation can wreak havoc on your home, causing your pets to itch and experience other irritating symptoms. Left untreated, your dog may develop scabs from fleas, posing a risk of infection. If your dog has scabs from fleas, it’s important to have them examined by a vet ASAP in order to devise a treatment plan and address existing wounds. 

Fleas are one of the most frustrating issues to deal with as a pet owner. Not only do they spread quickly between pets, but they can start to nest in your home’s carpets, bedding, and pet toys, making them seemingly impossible to get rid of. What’s more, flea infestations can lead to scabbing and dangerous pet health issues, like infections.

If your dog has scabs from fleas, you’re in the right place. In this post, we’ll explain what to do about dog scabs from fleas, how to deal with flea infestations, and more.

Flea Infestations

Before we explain how to treat dog scabs from fleas, let’s discuss some important information about flea infestations and how they affect your pet. 

Graphic defining fleas

What Are Fleas?

Fleas are tiny insects that jump rather than fly – they don't have wings – that need animal blood to survive. This includes human blood to an extent, but the fleas you find on your dog specifically need the dog's blood to survive long-term. Fleas are annoying and spread quickly to other animals, leaving infected pets itchy and irritated. Additionally, there is the risk of a flea bite transmitting a disease, aggravating allergies, or creating such noticeable blood loss that the affected animal develops anemia.1

When A Dog Gets Fleas, What's Really Going On?

Fleas breed as they eat. When a flea lands on your dog – and realizes the dog's fur is a great place to hide out – it will bite the animal, also known as having a blood meal. About one to two days after that, the female flea will be ready to lay eggs, and she'll do that as she continues feeding and crawling around in your dog's fur. This movement helps her lay more and more flea eggs as she can lay about 50 eggs per day, with a lifetime total of nearly 2,000 eggs.

These flea eggs are tiny and very, very hard to see, especially if your dog has light-colored fur and skin because the eggs are whitish. Even worse, the eggs can drop off the skin of the dog. If the fur doesn't catch the eggs, the eggs will fall onto the ground – or your carpet, bed, or garden soil. In less than six days, and often much sooner, those eggs will hatch and produce flea larvae, which can move on their own and seek out flea dirt (in other words, the droppings) and other organic litter.

Dogs and cats can pick up fleas outside, or a flea-infested pet visiting your home can drop flea eggs onto your carpet. That's all it takes for your home to develop a flea infestation. As those eggs hatch, your dog becomes flea food, and you suddenly find tiny bites on your ankles.

Where the dog is exposed to fleas is often anyone's guess. The dog could have gotten near an infested animal, and one of those fleas could have jumped onto your dog; or, your dog could have wandered near a section of soil that had fleas living in it, and one of those fleas hitched a ride.

Unfortunately, dogs can develop something called flea allergy dermatitis.1 This is a skin condition (dermatitis) that is an allergic reaction to substances in the flea bite. When the flea bites the dog, it's not a quick chomp, but actual feeding. As part of this feeding, the flea lets saliva flow into the bite. Unfortunately, this saliva is a common allergen for dogs and cats, and the resulting irritation can make the animal itch terribly, even more than it normally would itch just from the irritation of the bite alone. 

The dog might appear to scratch itself endlessly, or lick, chew, bite, or rub the affected section of skin, much as you might scratch an itchy mosquito bite. If you look at these bite sites and see crusted skin, especially around the tail and hips, there's a good chance you're seeing flea allergy dermatitis. The crusting can develop into scabbing and hair loss, and if the dog injures itself with all its scratching and biting, those sites can develop their own infections. Continued scratching and untreated dermatitis can lead to unnaturally thick skin, unnatural darkening of the skin, and long-term hair loss. In severe cases of flea infestation, the large blood meal taken by the fleas can lead to anemia, especially in puppies.

How To Recognize A Flea Bite

Technically, a flea bite on a dog looks like a little red dot that's slightly raised. However, since you're most likely to find flea bites after your dog has scratched them several times, look for reddened patches of skin that look irritated, as well as scabby with thinner fur (if not an actual patch of missing fur), along with excessive scratching, chewing, and biting.

Graphic listing characteristics of a flea bite

Why Do Some Dogs Develop Flea Allergy Dermatitis?

Flea allergy dermatitis occurs because the dog is allergic to the saliva that the flea injects into the skin. Note: flea saliva allergies are one of the most common allergies that your pet can have.

If the dog is allergic to the saliva, they’ll likely experience scabbing, especially around the hips and tail base. These are classic signs that not only does your dog have fleas, but that it also has a flea  allergy. You need to help your dog immediately, or the hair loss and scabbing can become chronic, and additional infections may set in.

 Graphic showing 4 steps to treat dog scabs from fleas

How To Treat Dog Scabs From Fleas

1. Make Sure It's a Flea Problem

Yes, your dog scratching continuously and seeing scabby, red skin is a major sign your dog has a flea allergy, but those symptoms can (frustratingly) also indicate other issues. Get your dog to a vet quickly to determine the issue at hand. Once you confirm the problem is from fleas, then your vet can recommend flea treatment.

2. Follow Flea Treatment Instructions Carefully

Don't wing this one. Fleas can be tough to eradicate. Follow your vet's instructions for getting rid of the fleas. If you have more than one pet, all pets should be treated as if they had fleas. If you treat just the affected animal, the fleas can simply hop onto the next available furry body in your home. Treat all the animals at the same time so that the fleas have nowhere to go.

3. Take Care Of The Wound And Symptoms

The bite site, scabs, and irritation will influence the dog to keep scratching, so you need to take care of the wound. Even worse, the scabs themselves can create an itchy feeling as they heal. Keep the skin moist and avoid harsh skin products; if you bathe your dog, use mild dog soap/shampoo and rinse it off thoroughly so that there's no residue. Make an appointment with your vet and in the meantime, check your dog's skin daily and watch for swelling and new redness, which can indicate that an infection is forming.

4. Stop New Infestations From Taking Hold

Not only are fleas hard to get rid of, but they come back so easily if you don't take steps to stop them. Whether or not your pet is allergic to flea saliva, you want to take preventive measures. Use flea treatments on your dog and other pets, and also treat your home . If you treat your pet but not your carpet, for example, the fleas can still overwhelm your dog again.

If you have a flea problem, you'll need to vacuum the carpet, wash all rugs and bedding, and any washable upholstery including pet bedding, in hot water with detergent. Vacuum uncarpeted floors, too, and use the crevice attachment to get at baseboards and corners. Clean out anything the dog uses outside, such as outdoor chairs or kennels.

Pet owner treating dog for fleas

Final Notes

Fleas are annoying, to begin with, but when your dog is allergic to their saliva and develops scabs, it can be devastatingly itchy and painful for your dog. If you suspect your dog has fleas, and you see scabs, take action quickly to create a treatment plan for your pet. 

If you suspect your dog is suffering from fleas, we can help. With Dutch, you can virtually connect with licensed veterinarians and receive a medication prescription, all from the comfort of your home. Better yet? We’ll send your medication straight to your door.

References

  1. Dryden, Michael W. “Fleas of Dogs - Dog Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Dec. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/fleas-of-dogs?query=fleas

  2. Burke, Anna. “What Do Flea Bites Look like on Dogs?” American Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, 5 Nov. 2019, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/flea-bites-on-dogs/

  3. Stephanie Lantry, DVM. “Does Your Dog Have a Flea Allergy?” PetMD, PetMD, 8 Feb. 2021, https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/skin/c_multi_flea_bite_hypersensitivity