What Got Under Pumpkin’s Skin

November 16, 2020

Pumpkin with ASPCA staff

Southern California is not only known for its sunny and warm climate, but it’s also an attractive environment for pesky fleas.

Pumpkin, a five-year-old Chihuahua-mix, recently experienced the agony that fleas can inflict on vulnerable dogs.

“I didn’t know what his problem was,” admits Connie O., Pumpkin’s pet parent. “He was shaking his head all the time. He was suffering so much, I thought he might die.”

Connie, a resident of South Los Angeles, made an appointment for Pumpkin on May 29 at the ASPCA Primary Pet Care (PPC) clinic in South L.A. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the PPC has been operating in the lobby of the ASPCA Spay/Neuter clinic.

Pumpkin was diagnosed with a skin infection and fleas, as well as a severe ear infection in both ears. He also had hair loss around his eyes.

“Skin conditions in dogs are one of the most frequent cases we see because fleas can survive here year-round,” says Dr. Peyvand Silverman, Veterinary Staff Manager of the ASPCA Community Medicine program in Los Angeles. “While fleas themselves can make animals uncomfortable, it’s really their droppings and bites that cause itching and irritation. Dogs can also develop an allergic reaction to the saliva that gets in and around the skin where fleas bite. That’s what happened to poor Pumpkin.”

A Summer of Treatment

Dr. Silverman and Dr. Jacqueline Juarez treated Pumpkin with a combination of antibiotics and steroids, as well as flea preventive. Over the following few weeks, due to the severity of his condition, they extended the duration of antibiotic treatment and suggested switching Pumpkin’s food —another potential culprit in skin allergies. 

“If severe skin infections are left untreated, the bacteria can penetrate the blood stream and cause sepsis, which can be fatal,” says Dr. Silverman.  

Pumpkin’s severe allergies and secondary infection also caused his ears to fill with pus.

“His ear infection was painful,” Dr. Silverman explains. “If left untreated, it could have led to hearing loss or neurological disease.”

After a three-month course of treatment, Pumpkin recovered significantly, and made his last medical visit to the ASPCA on September 15.

pumpkin's ear healing

“You could tell he felt so much better,” says Jennifer Ramirez, Patient Liaison. “The treatment made such a big difference in Pumpkin's quality of life, as well as Connie’s.”

Back to Being A “Fun-Loving Dog”

Connie, a retired museum attendant, acquired Pumpkin from a friend when he was a puppy.

“He’s my protector, my companion,” she says of the 10 lb. pooch. “If we’re in the living room and the mailman comes, he barks.”

Connie’s three-year-old granddaughter, Aniko, and two-year-old grandson, Lohki, enjoy playing with Pumpkin when they visit.

“He’s just a fun-loving dog,”’ says Aba, Connie’s daughter.


Now flea-free, Pumpkin is back to himself, enjoying Connie’s family and playing with his toys.

“When Pumpkin started feeling better, it made me so happy,” says Connie.

The Impact of Affordable Care

Pumpkin’s story exemplifies the impact of the ASPCA Community Medicine team’s work in South Los Angeles, an area where accessing affordable veterinary treatment can be very challenging.

“We work with many families who love their pets very much but can’t meet their pets' basic needs due to lack of resources,” explains Dr. Silverman. “We provide help in the form of basic treatments and information, like applying flea prevention on a monthly basis or changing their pet’s food to a higher quality.”

From January through mid-October 2020, the ASPCA South LA PPC has treated 514 dogs, 302 cats and 311 kittens from the ASPCA Pee-Wee Program.

“The most common treatments are for skin, ear/eye and gastrointestinal issues,” says Samantha Tress, Manager of Data and Program Analysis. “The clinic also provides vaccines—as it did for Pumpkin—to prevent disease.”

“It's such a great feeling to be able to help people and pets like Pumpkin,” says Dr. Silverman. “After all he’s been through, I’m sure this pup is relieved!”