Flea Dirt on Pets- REASONS to be Alarmed

What is Flea Dirt?

If you’re a pet owner, you might have noticed flea dirt on your pet’s coat, or you must have heard of it.  What is flea dirt?

When a flea bites your pet, they feed on blood. This is then digested and passed as excrement. That is what flea dirt is, it’s flea poop! 

Flea dirt is produced after a flea feeds on your animal, so where there’s flea dirt, there are fleas! Female fleas produce more flea dirt than males, and they reproduce rapidly, which can lead to a problem if left unchecked. Fleas are not just an issue that causes itchy pets.  Fleas can carry disease and can bite humans. 

Read on to find out more about flea dirt and fleas.

Dog scratching fleas

What Does Flea Dirt Look Like on Pets?

Flea dirt on dogs and cats is black or dark brown and can look like tiny flecks. Some people describe it as looking like black pepper. It will often be in clumps and may stick to the fur.

You may also notice flea dirt in the environment, such as on your pet’s bedding or your sheets if your pet sleeps in your bed.

It is less likely to see flea dirt on cats since they are such fastidious cleaners.

How to Get Rid of Flea Dirt on Cats and Dogs

Flea dirt is a sign of fleas. So the first thing to do is to treat your pet for fleas. Then, to prevent further production of flea dirt, your veterinarian can advise on the best product for your cat or dog.

Suppose your cat or dog has a heavy build-up of flea dirt. In that case, you could also consider removing it, but remember this isn’t always necessary as it will go away eventually as your animal grooms themselves.

To remove flea dirt, there are a few options. Firstly you could consider using a flea comb to brush the coat. This can remove flea dirt as well as any residual fleas. However, using a flea comb requires a patient animal who doesn’t mind sitting for a long time. 

It is not recommended to use a flea comb on pets with long, matted, or knotted fur as it can be painful. 

You can run the comb through the fur and clean it off using gentle strokes before starting a new stroke. Start from the neck and work down to the tail. Make sure you cover the entire body. The benefit of using a flea comb is that there are no chemicals or bathing required, which may suit some animals with sensitive skin or cats that typically detest water.

The second option is to bathe your pet. Again, you can use flea shampoo or regular shampoo but make sure to check with your veterinarian first as some topical flea products need to stay on the skin for a few days before bathing for them to work. Also, it may not be recommended to use flea shampoo and other flea products at the same time. 

Once you’ve got it all clear, you can set your pet up for a regular bath. Make sure that you thoroughly rub your fingers into their coat, as the flea dirt will be located close to their skin. Rinse well and enjoy a freshly cleaned pet.

Why is There Flea Dirt, But no Fleas?

Some owners might be confused, as they find flea dirt but no fleas. So, where are they? The reason you may not see fleas is that they are small and mobile. If you part your pet’s fur, the fleas will scurry into the darker covered areas of your pet’s coat. 

Flea dirt, on the other hand, doesn’t move. Also, one flea, especially a female flea, can produce large amounts of flea dirt. So, although your animal may only have a few fleas, they could have a lot of flea dirt, making it more likely to spot the flea dirt rather than the fleas.

How to Get Rid of Flea Dirt on Bed Sheets

To get rid of flea dirt on bedsheets, you can wash your bedsheets at 95 °F (35 °C) or above to kill fleas and their eggs. Also, make sure to wash your pet’s bedding and any other blankets or pillows they spend time on. 

Flea dirt may stain the bedding due to blood being a significant component. In this case, a stain remover or bleach product may be required to remove flea dirt stains from their bedding. 

Carpets can be vacuumed or require carpet shampooing if there are large amounts of flea dirt in the environment. Read our article and find out the 9 Best Carpet Cleaners For Pets.

Bed sheets into washing machine

What is Flea Allergy Dermatitis?

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is an immune response that is an allergic reaction that some animals have to fleas. When a flea bites an animal with flea allergy dermatitis, an immune response to the flea’s saliva. This overreaction of the immune response to a flea’s bite can cause severe itchiness and lesions on the skin. 

The lesions will commonly be found on the face, neck, lower back, and thighs in dogs and cats. Cats will often present due to over-grooming and baldness in their fur. Dogs will often present from excessive scratching. FAD can be managed with careful flea control to limit bites and supportive care for the itchiness and lesions it creates.

Most dogs and cats do not have FAD but will still scratch if they are infested with fleas. For all pets, it is important to regularly treat for fleas to prevent irritation. If you think your pet might have FAD, make an appointment to take them to the vet and be checked out.

Where Should You Look for Flea Dirt?

Flea dirt will be found in the coat of animals, and you may notice it more obviously on your pet’s stomach or where there are areas of white or pale-colored fur. Flea dirt is usually close to the skin on the coat, so parting the fur can make it easier to see.

Closeup of mite and fleas infected on dog fur skin

Why is Flea Dirt a Problem?

Flea dirt means there are fleas on your pet or in your home, and having fleas that are left uncontrolled can quickly lead to an infestation. This is not only a problem for your pet but also yourself, as fleas will bite humans. 

Fleas can transmit infections such as cat scratch fever, feline infectious anemia, and tapeworms which can have serious consequences. 

Flea dirt is also messy and can stain clothes and fabric in the house because it is made up of mostly blood.

If you notice flea dirt, it is best to treat it with some urgency and nip the problem in the bud before you have a severe problem to control.

What Will Happen if You Ignore Flea Dirt?

Flea dirt = fleas. Ignoring flea dirt means letting fleas continue to breed in your home and feed on your animal. Your pets will become itchy and irritated and may damage their skin or fur from itching and licking. The home environment will become infested with fleas, and fleas will begin biting people as well, causing irritating bites.

Left unchecked, a home can become infested, and the problem can be challenging to control, sometimes requiring exterminators to rid the house of fleas.

Does Flea Dirt Mean There’s an Infestation?

Flea dirt is the waste product of fleas, so when you see flea dirt, you know that there is an infestation. Left unchecked, one female flea can lay 50 eggs a day, up to 2000 in a lifetime, which can quickly lead to a severe problem.

Is Flea Dirt Harmful to Humans?

Flea dirt is unlikely to be harmful, but it is a waste product from an insect, so it should be treated with care. Ensure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling flea dirt and cover open wounds that could contact flea dirt. Flea dirt contains blood that could carry infection. Although it is unlikely to be able to transmit disease, it isn’t worth the risk.

It is good practice to always wash your hands after touching animals.

Not only can flea dirt be a problem, but fleas themselves can bite you and cause itchy bumps on their skin, which can be irritating. Humans are not the natural host for fleas, so you won’t become infested, but if your animal is, you risk being bitten too.

How to Perform an at-Home Flea Dirt Test

If you notice some black flakes in your pet’s fur, you might be unsure if it is regular dirt or flea dirt; luckily, there is a quick at-home test you can perform to find out.

Firstly, use a fine-toothed comb to brush through the fur and collect some of the dirt. Secondly, grab a paper towel and lightly wet it so that it is damp. Then, distribute some of the dirt from the comb onto the damp paper towel. Watch the dirt as it dissolves into the paper towel. 

Flea dirt contains blood, so when it is wet, it will turn the paper towel a reddish-brown color, the color of blood. Regular dirt will not dissolve as easily and won’t turn the paper towel a reddish-brown color. Another option if you don’t have a comb is to press the damp paper towel onto the dirt to pick some up and examine it in the same way as above.

Once you know that the dirt is flea dirt, you can plan to treat your pet accordingly.

Conclusion

Flea dirt is the waste product that fleas produce when they feed on our pets. Although flea dirt can seem gross, it’s essential to know what to look for and what to do about it to prevent a problem from occurring.

Performing a simple at-home flea dirt test can help you determine the problem, then treating for fleas and removing the flea dirt should fix the problem.

Fleas can cause itching and irritation, but pets can develop flea allergy dermatitis in some extreme cases.

Fleas can be treated with topical solutions on the back of the neck, oral pills, collars, and flea baths. However, each animal is different, and a product that works for one animal may not suit another.

If you struggle to manage fleas and flea dirt in your animal, reach out to your veterinary clinic for advice on the best products to get your pet sorted.