The “Flea vs. Host Dog” Scenario

Excerpted from Keeping Your Dog Flea Free by Nancy Kerns, Gregory L. Tilford, Kathleen Dudley, and Eileen Fatcheric, DVM

When approached from a holistic perspective, long-term flea control does not begin with insecticide flea sprays, dips or shampoos. It begins only after the caregiver reaches an understanding of how fleas live, behave, and how they select their hosts. From this perspective we can see that it is the effects of fleas, and not their existence, that cause so much misery to our dogs – the fleas themselves are only a single symptom of deep-seated and complex health problem.

To clarify, let’s take a look at what I call the “Flea vs. Host Dog” scenario.

Dogs have been host to fleas, as well as thousands of other parasites, for millions of years. Certainly, like all cross-species relationships, nature maintains certain checks and balances that allow parasites and their hosts to coexist in symbiotic harmony.

But in the case of fleas and domesticated canines, we keep seeing the same scenario repeat itself: Host Dog is completely tormented by fleas while his canine companion, although in the same house, seems relatively trouble-free. Why? Because the natural countermeasures that exist between flea and Host Dog are no longer working. The parasite-host relationship is out of balance.

Flea problems do not actually stem from the mere presence of fleas, but from health-related and environmental circumstances that allow parasites to wreak havoc upon a weakened host.

Like all parasites, fleas are opportunistic, preying on the easiest meal they can find. While it is true that dogs with healthy skins and coats are usually less bothered by fleas than those with flaky, dry skin and constantly shedding coats, this is only part of the picture. Deeper toward the root of the problem are issues involving Host Dog’s immune system and the way his body reacts to flea bites. Host Dog is allergic to flea bites, and for reasons that have little to do with the fleas themselves, his body system can neither repel nor tolerate their bites.

For more information on ways to prevent and treat fleas and flea bites, purchase Keeping Your Dog Flea Free from Whole Dog Journal.