What is Flea Dirt and How Can I Tell if My Dog Has Fleas?

Find Out if Those Black Specks are Flea Dirt or Actual Dirt in Your Dog's Fur!Have you ever wondered, “What are those black specks in my dog’s fur?” Well, unfortunately, those little black specks are flea dirt. In layman’s terms, it’s flea poop. And where there’s flea poop, there are also fleas!

Flea dirt is the easiest-to-spot symptom of fleas in your dog or cat (though in cats, the flea dirt may not be as obvious due to the thickness of the fur and due to the fact that cats are constantly grooming themselves!)

How to Determine if Your Dog Has Flea Dirt (and Fleas!)

There is a simple trick that can be used to determine whether the black specks in your dog’s fur are flea dirt. Generally speaking, those black specks and debris are unlikely to be something other than flea poo, though if your dog frequently rolls around in sand or dirt, it is theoretically possible that those specks are actually debris from the sand or dirt.

To determine if your dog has flea dirt, you’ll need to examine his coat under a bright light. Start by examining the fur on the dog’s back, right at the base of his tail. This is a common location for fleas and flea dirt. Point your finger and place the side of your finger at the base of your dog’s tail. Slide your hand toward the dog’s head, in the opposite direction of hair growth, thereby ruffling the fur. Look for black specks in your dog’s coat. Once you find a few particles, remove them and place the specks on a damp paper towel.

If you have a flea comb, flea dirt detection is even easier. Run the flea comb down your dog’s back and examine the comb prongs. Flea dirt will look like little black particles. Tap the comb’s contents onto a damp paper towel. (Of course, if you catch a flea with the flea comb, you’ve answered your question!)
Once your suspected flea dirt is on the damp paper towel, wait for about five minutes. Flea dirt will dissolve, leaving a reddish-brown mark on the paper towel. Flea dirt is really just dried blood, so the marks on the paper towel will look like dried blood.

If you have actual sand or dirt particles, nothing will happen. They’ll look the same after spending five minutes on the damp paper towel.

Other Signs That a Dog Has Fleas

There are a few other ways to determine whether your dog has fleas. In addition to searching for flea dirt, make note of your dog’s behavior. An occasional itch is commonplace, but if your dog is scratching repeatedly — more than two or three times per day — it’s likely that your dog has fleas.

Also, look at the condition of your dog’s skin. Examine the dog’s belly area, where the fur is thinnest. Your dog may have small red bumps (flea bites) and you may even see a flea walking on your dog’s skin. In a light colored dog, fleas will look black, but in a black dog, the fleas will look reddish-brown in color. They will also be shiny in appearance, so it can help to look for the sheen.

If your dog is allergic to fleas, you may observe nickel-sized areas of swelling and redness. Once the swelling and redness subsides, the skin will flake off the nickel-sized region. This can lead to small patches of thin fur, as some of the fur will fall out as the skin flakes off.

Looking for more pet care tips? Visit PetLvr’s archives!

(Photo Source: Aokiharu at Sxc.hu)

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

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