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How to soothe flea bites on dogs

How to soothe flea bites on dogs: a beagle dog scratching the side of his face
(Image credit: Getty Images)

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 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. If your dog is unlucky enough to be allergic to fleas, avoiding bites as much as possible is an essential part of their care.

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. 

Flea bites disrupt the skin, leaving a 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

How to soothe flea bites on dogs: Small mixed-breed dog outside scratching

(Image credit: Getty)

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, so try to prevent your dog from getting bitten more. For fleas, that means using one of the best flea treatments for dogs as often as recommended. 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. Sometimes you’ll need a prescription medicated shampoo – 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, it’s important you don’t shampoo too frequently – this can strip the natural conditioning oils from the skin, resulting in dry and itchy skin. Twice weekly is the maximum for most dogs unless you have been advised otherwise by your vet.

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. 

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 also a no-no. If you need to soothe your dog’s skin because they have an excessive reaction to their fleas, talk to your vet about an oral flea product, or one you can use alongside bathing.

What about drugs and creams to soothe itchy skin?

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 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. These skin infections are very, very itchy and they’ll need treatment to resolve. Medicated creams, oral antibiotics, and injectable antibiotics may all be necessary if your dog’s skin infection is severe.

Conclusion

As anybody who has suffered with mosquito bites knows, itchiness is no fun, and flea bites on dogs can be very itchy. Soothing your dog’s skin is sometimes necessary after they’ve been bitten by fleas or when there are other insect bites irritating your dog. Soothing shampoo can be bought over-the-counter and is a good option for mild irritation, but sometimes medications are needed.

Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS

Dr Joanna Woodnutt is an experienced vet with an interest in companion animals. She recently left full-time practice to work as a relief vet and write articles about pets.