If you’ve already come across flea bites on dogs, you know how itchy and irritating they can be. In fact, flea bites can also be painful and cause skin infections where dogs itch them and break the skin, meaning it’s even more important to get them soothed as quickly as possible. Let’s look at how to soothe sore skin in dogs, including sore skin caused by flea bites, mosquito bites, and other insect bites on dogs.
Why are flea bites on dogs so itchy?
Flea bites are inherently itchy – their saliva can be irritating just like mosquito bites are for us. In addition, the adult fleas themselves tickle and itch when they climb over your pet – just like when a fly or tiny spider gets in your hair.
However, many dogs (and cats!) are also allergic to flea saliva, meaning a single flea bite causes severe irritation for your pet. This hypersensitivity is known as flea allergic dermatitis (FAD). If your dog is unlucky enough to be allergic to fleas, avoiding bites as much as possible is an essential part of their care, which means using regular flea prevention treatment.
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Has my dog been bitten by fleas, or by something else?
Many insect bites have the potential to be really irritating to dogs. Dogs can be bitten by mosquitoes, sandflies, ants, and flies among other things, and it’s not easy to tell whether a bite is due to a flea or something else. However, flea bites are definitely the most commonly seen source of irritation in our pets.
As well as bites, there may be other signs that your dog has fleas. This includes specks of flea dirt in your pet's coat, which appear like dark brown/black bits. If you smudge these on a piece of damp cotton wool they should see a pinky red colour, indicating digested blood. You may see actual fleas in his coat if you part the fur and carefully look. These are small shiny wingless insects that can move quite quickly! Your dog may also have hair loss and excessive itchiness.
What do flea bites on dogs look like?
Flea bites disrupt the skin and can leave a small red, angry bite mark – especially when a dog is allergic to fleas. However, some of the other insect bites can also look like this. It doesn’t actually matter what your dog has been bitten by, though – soothing them will be a similar process no matter what has irritated your dog’s skin.
Soothing your dog’s flea bites
So, how do you soothe flea bites on a dog? Firstly, you’ll need to treat the source of the bites. There’s no point soothing the bites if your dog is going to continue to get bitten! For fleas, that means using one of the best flea treatments for dogs as often as recommended by the manufacturer. Speaking to your vet can also be helpful when trying to decide which flea product to use for your pet.
As well as treating your pet for fleas, you should treat the environment too, to kill off other stages of the flea life cycle. This will reduce the number of immature fleas hatching out of the carpets or floorboards hopping onto your pet.
For mosquitos and sandflies, a repellent collar may be helpful. You can also reduce habitats for flying insects by removing sources of standing water, and moving compost or dung heaps further from the house. Electronic fly killers can also be useful in reducing fly numbers in the house.
Secondly, a soothing shampoo can be helpful. Many of the best dog shampoos contain oatmeal and aloe vera, so look for these ingredients to help soothe and condition the skin, and avoid those with fragrances, or anti-flea ingredients, as these harsh chemicals can make the problem worse.
Don’t forget that topical spot-on flea treatments can be easily washed off by excessive bathing – and most rely on the skin oils to work, so applying them immediately after a bath (or within 48 hours of a bath) is not recommended.
Sometimes you’ll need a prescription medicated shampoo, particularly if your dog’s skin is infected – talk to your vet about the best options if your dog has an itchy rash or sore skin from fleas.
If you’ve found yourself asking the question, ‘how often should I bathe my dog?’ we’d always advise a less is best approach. When it comes to shampooing your dog, you mustn’t shampoo too frequently – this can strip the natural conditioning oils from the skin, resulting in dry and itchy skin.
You should also read the instructions on the shampoo bottle – many soothing, conditioning options should be in contact with the skin for at least five minutes, and sometimes more. If the bottle doesn’t say a contact time or to rinse it off immediately, opt for five minutes, and adjust depending on your dog’s response.
If you do need to treat your dog’s skin with soothing shampoo, you might want to consider an oral flea treatment for your dog rather than a topical spot-on, so as not to reduce its effectiveness.
Dog flea bite treatment
If shampoo isn’t sufficient, there are lots of things your vet can give your dog to help with itchy skin after flea bites. Creams containing steroids can provide comfort for small areas of irritation, and sprays can work for slightly larger areas. If the problem is widespread your dog may need a steroid injection or an oral anti-itch medication. These will all need a prescription, so you’ll need to visit your vet.
Some flea infestations result in a secondary skin infection called a ‘pyoderma’. This is especially likely if your dog has been licking and itching his bites excessively. These skin infections are very, very itchy and they’ll need proper treatment to resolve. Medicated creams, oral antibiotics, and injectable antibiotics may all be necessary if your dog’s skin infection is severe.
Take your pet to a vet if you aren’t sure, it’s always best to seek prompt treatment rather than leaving things to get worse.
As anybody who has suffered from mosquito bites knows, itchiness is no fun, and flea bites on dogs can be just the same! Soothing your dog’s skin is sometimes necessary after they’ve been bitten by fleas or when other insect bites are irritating your dog. Soothing shampoo can be bought over-the-counter and is a good option for mild irritation, but sometimes medications are needed, especially if your dog’s skin is very itchy, sore or infected.
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After graduating as a veterinarian from the University of Nottingham, Dr Joanna Woodnutt went on to practice companion animal medicine in the Midlands. She quickly developed a love of consulting and helping clients with medical problems such as dermatology, behaviour and nutrition - anything that involved helping clients understand their pets better. Jo started writing about pet health in 2017, realising that it meant she could help even more pet parents. Since then, she has written for countless online and print publications and is a regular contributor for Edition Dog Magazine. Jo now lives in the Channel Islands with her husband Ian and terrier Pixie, and they are expecting their first child very soon.