If you are a new pet parent, or your pets are lucky enough to have never experienced a flea problem, you may not know how to tell if your dog or cat has fleas. A single adult female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day! As fleas continue to multiply, what started as just a small flea problem can result in a flea infestation throughout your home. The sooner you treat fleas on your dog or cat, the quicker you will eradicate the problem, so it is important to recognize the signs of fleas as early as possible.
Fleas are terribly itchy and uncomfortable, so one of the first signs that your pet has fleas is frequent scratching, biting at his coat, or in cats, excessive grooming. The excessive scratching, licking and grooming may result in hair loss or hot spots.
Another sign to look for is “flea dirt,” which is actually the flea’s waste product after digesting a meal of blood from your pet. Flea dirt looks like spots of black pepper, and you may see it on your pet, on your pet’s bedding and other places he frequents. To confirm the black specks are actually flea dirt, place some on a wet paper towel; flea dirt will change to a rusty-reddish color, because the flea dirt is made of digested blood. If you see flea dirt on or around your pet, you can be sure your pet has fleas.
You may also observe actual fleas on your pet. Fleas can jump and move very quickly, so they can be difficult to spot. Part your pet’s fur to inspect for fleas. Fleas are small, dark brown in color, and only about 1/8” long, with a hard, flat body.
Flea eggs are even smaller, but you still may be able to spot them on your pet, too. Flea eggs are approximately 1/64th inch in size, white, and oval in shape. Flea eggs resemble very small grains of salt. Flea larvae are about ¼” and look like tiny worms.
Only about 5% of the flea life cycle is spent as an adult flea on your pet; the remainder of the flea life-cycle (flea eggs, larvae and pupae) is spent in your home, in your carpeting and on your pet’s bedding. Fleas can easily be carried into your home on your shoes and clothing, so even indoor-only cats are not immune. If you suspect your pet has fleas, treat your dog or cat immediately with a flea preventative. To break the flea life cycle, you must also treat your home and yard, or the new fleas will continue to hatch and jump back onto your pet.
Early treatment is crucial in preventing a few fleas from becoming an infestation that is more difficult to completely eradicate.