Besides scratching and skin irritation, the presence of flea dirt is an indicator that fleas are nearby. In fact, flea dirt is probably the most reliable indicator that fleas are present unless of course you visually identify a flea with your own eyes.
Any pet owner that has come into contact with fleas know how big of a headache they can be to get rid of. Not only can fleas become a big problem when they infest dogs and cats, but they can also cause problems when they infest homes and yards as well. When fleas are present on the exterior of the property, they then have easy access to dogs and cats and can proceed to infest the home. Once a home is infested the major problems begin. Please see the following link for tips on how to prevent and eradicate flea infestations in your home.
Flea Dirt is Flea Feces
Fleas feed off of the blood of their host, and the flea dirt is the excrement expelled by the flea’s digestive tract that is made up of dried blood. Flea poop usually comes from female fleas. If the host isn’t treated and the fleas are allowed to continuously feed, it is estimated that female fleas could ingest so much blood that these feedings equate to almost 15 times their body weight over their lifetime.
Most fleas are either brownish red or dark brown in color. In regards to lifecycle, fleas hatch from eggs and become larvae. Larvae then feed off of debris until they are mature and become pupae. Pupae can lie dormant for up to a few months, waiting on a more stable environment for them to hatch into adults. After hatching the flea will then attach itself to a pet to begin its lifecycle. After two days of feeding, a female flea will start to lay eggs. In favorable conditions a flea can complete its whole lifecycle in as little as two weeks. However, in unfavorable conditions it may take as much as a year for a flea to complete its lifecycle. During this lifecycle the flea partakes in blood meals from its host, and excretes the blood in the form of flea dirt. Flea dirt is an important part of a flea’s lifecycle because without it larvae would be able to mature. Flea larvae feed off of the flea dirt in order to mature into pupae and become adult fleas.
What does flea dirt look like?
The dried blood in the flea dirt gives it a very dark appearance when viewing it on the skin or hair of a pet. Flea poop can have the appearance of tiny dots, and are a sure sign that fleas have inhabited pets as well as their living space. When touched, flea dirt can feel grainy and have a texture that is similar to sand. When it comes to size, flea feces is usually half a millimeter in length. When removed, flea dirt can often leave spots on the skin that have been described as resembling black pepper, black flakes or specks, as well as looking like dog or cat dandruff that is black in color.
The color similarities between fleas and flea dirt, can lead one to question whether what they are seeing is fleas or flea dirt. One way of telling the difference between the two is by noting that fleas look like darkly colored grains of rice, while the flea dirt looks more like a dark black speck or spot. Besides trying to differentiate the differences between fleas and flea dirt, pet owners may also wonder about how to tell the differences between flea dirt and regular dirt. One way of determining whether the residue on your pets coat is regular dirt or flea dirt, is by taking a sample and analyzing it. The simplest way to do this is by smearing the flea dirt on a damp piece of white paper towel. If the residue on the paper towel turns a reddish color after being smear, then the residue is indeed flea dirt and not regular dirt. If the specks do not turn a reddish color, then the suspected flea dirt is probably regular dirt from your backyard.
Flea Dirt on Pets
A general rule for both dogs and cats is that fleas and flea dirt can be observed better in areas where hair is think and lighter in color, as well as areas that have a large concentration of fleas. One way of checking for flea dirt on a dog is to have the dog lay on a white sheet while you brush him or her. While brushing you may notice the fleas jumping off of the dog and onto the sheet. Even if you do not notice any fleas after brushing, if flea dirt was on the dog before brushing it will now be on the sheet.
To identify flea dirt on a cat, start by pulling by thin layers of the cat’s fur and search for small black specks that resemble pepper. A large amount of these black specks in one spot can be a sign of a heavy infestation, and where the adult fleas are currently residing on the cat.
Getting rid of flea dirt on both dogs and cats involves using an animal specific flea shampoo (feline or canine). Shampoos for dogs have a higher level of insecticides present and should not be used on cats. The dog shampoos also contain other ingredients that are toxic to cats. Combing shampoo through and scrubbing your pet while bathing, should eliminate the presence of flea dirt and drown any fleas that may be on the pet.
Why is there flea dirt but no fleas?
Even after the pet owner has taken the appropriate steps to kill all of the fleas, the presence of flea dirt may still remain and may require additional steps to get rid of. If the flea dirt is still present on the pet’s skin, it can cause additional irritation to the pet and increased redness because of excessive scratching. If a topical treatment has been used, the presence of fleas may be hard to notice but fleas may still be on the pet’s skin. It is important to wait at least 48 hours before bathing the pet to remove flea dirt. This will allow the topical treatment to finishing killing the fleas and their eggs.
If a topical treatment hasn’t been used and you notice flea dirt with no signs of actual fleas, this could be due to an infestation just beginning to take form. It could also be due to ones pet having long, thick or dark hair making fleas difficult to spot. For this reason it is important to thoroughly and closely inspect your pet for fleas, which can be done by hand by pulling back layers of hair and observing or with the use of a flea comb. Flea dirt can also appear on bedding and any other surfaces that your pet has been around, which is why it is also important to thoroughly clean these areas as well. If flea poop reappears, then the existence of fleas is most certainly prevalent and should be dealt with accordingly.
All of this talk about flea dirt leads us to a very important conclusion, which is that it is important to be very vigilant when it comes to checking your pet for fleas and flea dirt. Flea excrement is most certainly a sign of a recent flea infestation. Giving your pet monthly treatments for fleas can abolish their existence and keep flea dirt at bay.