One of the most common problems caused by fleas is a hypersensitivity reaction. In a nutshell, this is a severe allergic reaction to certain substances that are found in flea saliva. Dogs that are hypersensitive to flea saliva can have horrible reactions from only a few flea bites. They become intensely itchy. The most frequently affected areas are the rump, thighs, tail base, belly, flanks and upper arms (especially under the arm pits). Owners of dogs with fleas may notice one or more of the following signs in those or other areas:
A dog’s self-mutilation in reaction to flea bites sets the stage for potentially devastating secondary bacterial skin infections, which can be fatal. Many dogs that do not have flea allergies still develop severe flea bite dermatitis as a result of the mechanical skin irritation caused by these biting bugs.
In addition to causing skin damage, fleas can carry and transmit a number of potentially serious diseases. Fleas are intermediate hosts for Dipylidium caninum tapeworms. Dogs that ingest adult fleas during their licking and chewing episodes are at high risk for becoming infected with these tapeworms. Children can also develop tapeworm infections if they get fleas into their mouths through any route.
Fleas act as carriers of other infectious microorganisms, including those that cause plague (the bacteria Yersinia pestis), tularemia (the bacteria Francisella tularenis), typhus (Rickettsia bacteria) and myxomatosis (Leporipoxvirus, which causes severe generalized disease in rabbits).
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