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4 Common Flea Diseases in Dogs

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Fleas and their bites can irritate your dog, spread diseases and lead to a variety of health concerns. Discover more about how fleas can make your dog sick — and how you can help stop them.
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Golden retriever licking its nose and scratching its body in the grass.

Can Fleas Make Dogs Sick?

Fleas are parasites that can spread a number of diseases to your dog, including:

  • Flea allergy dermatitis
  • Tapeworms
  • Anemia
  • Bartonellosis

1. Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Many dogs suffer from flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), an allergic condition caused by flea bites. In fact, flea allergy dermatitis is one of the most common reasons pet owners take their dogs to the veterinarian.

Flea bites can trigger an immune response in your dog with symptoms that include:

  • Intense skin irritation and itchiness that extending beyond the location of the bites
  • Hair loss
  • Skin infections

Dogs with FAD will continue to experience these symptoms until the fleas are controlled.

2. Tapeworms

Dogs can swallow fleas while chewing at irritated skin from flea bites or from licking or grooming their fur. If those ingested fleas are infected with tapeworms, the dog could become infected as well. Once in the digestive system, the tapeworms will attach themselves to the intestinal lining using their sucker-like mouthparts.

If your dog is infected with tapeworms, you may see pieces of the worms around your dog’s backside. These pieces, which look like grains of white rice, are packets of tapeworm eggs. If you look closely, you might even see them moving. Once the outer casing of these packets dries out, the eggs are released into the environment where the cycle can be repeated.

3. Anemia

Because of their rapid reproductive rate, one flea on your dog can quickly turn into hundreds. If a large number of fleas bite and feed, your dog can develop anemia, or low red blood cells. This serious medical condition must be promptly addressed through veterinary care, especially in puppies.

Symptoms of anemia include weakness, lethargy, rapid breathing and potentially death if the fleas are not killed. With severe infestations, treat the home and surrounding outdoor areas for fleas as well as the pet to eliminate the fleas in your entire environment.

4. Bartonellosis

There’s increasing evidence that dogs can be infected with a bacteria called bartonella, which can cause bartonellosis. While the source of infection is not as clear in dogs as in cats, bartonella bacteria infections in dogs have been linked to fleas.

Bartonellosis can cause a number of symptoms in dogs, including fever, nausea or loss of appetite, an irregular heartbeat, vomiting and diarrhea, joint pain or altered brain functions. However, affected dogs typically do not show any clinical signs.

How to Help Protect Your Dog from Fleas

Fleas can be found almost anywhere, which makes it difficult to avoid them. Routinely treating your dog with an effective flea preventive can help protect them from fleas before an infestation has the chance to begin. Choose a product that kills fleas through contact, so fleas do not have to bite your dog before the treatment takes effect.

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