What Is Flea Dirt, and How Do You Get Rid of It?

April Saylor

April Saylor

. Reviewed by Barri J. Morrison, DVM
Updated May 8, 2023
A dog gets checked for fleas.

Brezina/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

In This Article

What Is Flea Dirt?

As a pet parent, you're probably aware of the threat that fleas pose to your furry friend's health. After all, these itchy little parasites are more than just an irritating bug bite. Fleas feed off your pet’s blood and carry diseases that can be transmitted to both animals and humans. Once they’ve taken up residence in your home, they are difficult to get rid of.

Flea dirt on pets can be confused with other skin diseases such as allergies or even ear mites in cats. It’s important to investigate and then get rid of any flea and their dirt before any issues arise. Not only can fleas cause itchy skin and skin disease, but they can also transmit diseases and parasites, like tapeworms.

What Is Flea Dirt?

Identifying “flea dirt” on your pet is a telltale sign that your pet has fleas. But what is flea dirt?

It's not actually dirt—it's flea feces, a mix of blood meal and flea waste. Finding these little black specks on your pet’s skin means you must get your pet on flea medication immediately.

Flea dirt is always black, sometimes in small flecks and other times in larger clumps. If you find any black debris on your pet, there is a simple trick to see if it is flea dirt. Get a light colored, wet towel (a paper towel is OK) and after brushing the black debris out of your pet's, put both the debris and the hair onto the wet towel.

Use the flea comb or folding the towel in half to smooth the black debris. If the black debris turns red or pink, then it confirms it is flea dirt. The red or pink coloration is the result of the flea blood meal taken from the pet.

Keep reading to learn more about what flea dirt is, how to identify it, and most importantly, how you can prevent fleas and flea dirt from harming your pet.

Where To Look for Flea Dirt

Fleas and flea dirt can be found on various parts of your pet's body. However, fleas tend to prefer certain spots on your pet. You’ll usually find it in the places where these little bloodsuckers gather on your pet’s body to feed.

Common places you find flea dirt on pets is the tail base (where the tail meets the back), around the head and neck, hind end and on their belly. Run a flea comb through your pet’s coat in the opposite direction of the hair growth to reveal flea dirt or fleas on the skin. This usually means to brush from tail to head.

Fleas on dogs can usually be found by searching the backs of their hind legs, around their tail, and lower back for signs of flea dirt on their skin.

Cat fleas tend to congregate around the neck, though they can be anywhere on your pet's body. If you notice symptoms of cat fleas such as scratching and biting at their skin and fur, search around their neck using a flea comb for signs of flea dirt. You may also find scabs from your pet scratching secondary to the flea bites.

Why Is Flea Dirt a Problem?

Because flea dirt from adult fleas becomes food for the newly-hatched flea larvae, removing flea dirt makes it harder for the young fleas to find their next meal. If untreated, fleas can lead to skin irritation, anemia, and even transmit diseases that are dangerous for humans.

The longer you wait for treatment, the more chances the fleas will keep feeding off your pet.

Not only does this make your pet itchy and uncomfortable, but it also allows the parasites to spread diseases and multiply. It won’t be long until you’re dealing with a full-blown flea infestation, which becomes more difficult to eliminate, the longer they’re allowed to stay on your pet and in your home.

How To Get Rid of Flea Dirt

Getting rid of flea dirt on your dog or cat is just one of many steps needed to combat a flea problem. As with any parasites, prevention is the best way to keep your home flea-free. But if fleas do find a way onto your pet, here’s how to get rid of them.

A bath is generally the best way to remove the flea dirt immediately from your pet’s skin. A soothing oatmeal shampoo as a good option for pets dealing with itchy flea bites, since flea shampoos tend to be more drying to the skin than they are beneficial. You can also use a flea comb during the bath to help get rid of flea dirt if there’s a large amount.

Flea And Tick Medications

Oral flea and tick medications are the best way to prevent and treat fleas. Oral medication will start working in the first 30 minutes to a few hours after administering to your pet.

Topical flea and tick preventions can also be very effective, but the liquid application is more difficult to apply and keep on your pet. Topical medicines also take a little longer to start killing fleas, between 12 to 48 hours.

Simparica®, NexGard®, Bravecto®, or Credelio® are great options for oral flea and tick prevention.

Keep in mind that you’ll need a prescription from a vet in order to purchase flea and tick medicine for dogs or cats.

Call your veterinarian to determine the best treatment method, depending on the level of infestation. They’ll be able to prescribe a preventative that best fits the needs of your pet.

Never apply a dog product on a cat. Seizures and even death can occur if a dog flea and tick treatment is applied to a cat.

Flea And Tick Topical Shampoos, Sprays, and Wipes

Along with a flea and tick preventative medicine, flea and tick shampoos, sprays, and wipes may also help if you’re dealing with an active flea issue.

 “Oral flea preventions are my go-to for flea infestations,” Dr. Howe says, “but there are other products that a pet parent may need to use in their home to treat fleas.” This can happen when your pet has a heavy infestation of fleas and ticks, or if they’re having an allergic reaction to the bites (known as flea allergy dermatitis).

Flea and tick shampoo can help to physically remove the fleas and ticks from the pet's coat while also providing relief from itching and irritation. But, as Dr. Howe points out, the ingredients in flea shampoo can dry out your pet’s skin, so you should consult with your vet before using a product that may make them more uncomfortable.

Flea and Tick Sprays

Flea sprays designed for the home and yard won’t help with any existing flea dirt on your dog or cat, since flea dirt will need to be washed away in a bath—but they can help eliminate fleas in the environments that your pet frequents. Dr. Howe says that area and furniture sprays from Advantage® may help with fleas in and around the spaces your pet frequents.

Vacuum Frequently and Wash Pet Bedding

Just as you carefully treat and remove fleas from your pet, you’ll also need to treat the rest of your home. Eliminating any flea dirt, fleas, or flea eggs from your house requires several days of cleaning.

Vacuum all floors, carpets, rugs, baseboards, and cushioned furniture at least every other day to remove flea eggs before they hatch. Empty the vacuum each time you finish and dispose of its waste in a sealed bag and place it directly in the outside trash bin. Wash any pet bedding on the hot washing machine setting, or in hot soapy water. Because fleas also bite humans, it’s a good idea to wash and dry your bedding in hot water too.

Routine Flea Checks

After you’ve treated your pet for fleas, check their skin each day with a flea comb to ensure any medication and treatments are working. You may start finding dead fleas in their fur in the first 24 hours after administering an oral flea treatment, but continued daily flea checks are a must to ensure the medicine continues to work.

Oral flea and tick medications work faster than topical methods, and fleas will start to die off within two to four hours after administering an oral flea treatment. While you should expect to see some dead fleas relatively quickly following treatment, it may take a few days for the itching to decrease.

Even if you see dead fleas during your daily flea checks, keep an eye out for any new evidence of live fleas, like flea dirt or eggs.

Pets dealing with a severe infestation may require multiple rounds of treatment over several months to eliminate the problem. This is because the life cycle of the flea (from egg to adult) is about three months—so they can hatch and begin feeding again, thus beginning the cycle all over. This is why a monthly preventative is so important.

Prevention of Flea Dirt on Dogs and Cats

Avoiding flea dirt means preventing fleas from feeding on your pet. A monthly flea and tick preventative medicine will stop fleas in the first place and kill any live fleas that may already be feeding on your pet.

Not only do flea and tick preventatives protect your pet and home from a flea infestation, they also offer protection against the serious health risks associated with fleas and ticks, including tapeworms, anemia, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Work with your veterinarian to determine the best type of flea and tick prevention based on your pet's breed, age, lifestyle, and any medical conditions.

Getting your pet on a monthly preventative helps ensure protection year-round, not just in warmer weather when fleas and ticks are most active.

April Saylor


April Saylor

Freelance Writer

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