If you have cats or dogs or have friends who do, you have probably encountered flea dirt. It is the tiny black specks you may have seen or felt when petting almost any furred animal. You may find it in or around your cat’s or dog’s sleeping area (including your bed if that’s where he or she spends the night), in the flea comb after grooming, or under your fingernails, if you just gave your cat or dog a good scratch behind the ears.
The good news, flea dirt will not hurt you or your pet and is not responsible for flea allergy. This is caused by the flea bites themselves and seems to actually be an allergic reaction to the pest’s saliva. The bad news, it is a sign that you have fleas either on your pet or in your home, or more likely, in both places.
So, What Is Flea Dirt?
Simply put, flea dirt is flea poop. It is a mixture of the flea’s waste product and dried blood, the flea’s only food source. Although disgusting to think about, the feces itself do not pose any health threat and can be washed away quite easily.
Flea dirt is small, about the size of a grain of sand, and like sand is hard and gritty. Some think it resembles roughly ground black pepper. It is odorless and not light enough to be carried in the air so it should not pose an allergen risk unless it is on your bed or pillow or your dog or cat sleeps near your face. Although hard to the touch, it will soften if moistened and may leave behind telltale reddish-brown smudges if your dog licks at it.
If you have any doubt as to whether what you are seeing is flea dirt or not, just get it wet. Use a damp towel to wipe some off of your pet or anywhere and wait. If in a few minutes the paper towel begins to turn brownish-red or pink then you are dealing with flea dirt.
How to Get Rid of Fleas & Dirt
Flea dirt by itself is not hard to get rid of. Keeping it away is a bit more challenging. More on that later.
- Removing from your dog – this is as easy as a thorough bath paying special attention to washing your dog’s face and head as this is where fleas tend to flee. Any mild dog shampoo will do the trick but you may want to use one that contains a flea repellent. The rinse water may take on a reddish or pink tinge, especially if there was a lot of flea dirt. Not to worry, this is normal and not a sign that your dog is injured or bleeding. If your dog has thick or long hair you may need to brush or comb their fur to remove any dirt that rinsing did not wash away. In between baths, a good flea comb will remove most flea dirt as well as any fleas.
- Removing from your home – Clothing, bedding, and slipcovers that have flea dirt can be thrown in the washing machine. This isn’t limited to your belongings, make sure to wash the dog bed too! If there is a lot of flea dirt on these items it is best to shake them off, outside of course, before putting them in the machine. No special soaps or insecticides are needed. For flea dirt that is on furniture, in rugs, or even in the cracks of hardwood or tile floors can simply be vacuumed up. Mopping is not recommended as wet flea dirt will leave red smudges behind.
All of these things are only a temporary fix if you do not remove the source of the problem, the flea infestation itself.
As with most pest problems, it is much easier to prevent an infestation of fleas, either on your pet or in your home, than it is to get rid of them once they are there. The best way to keep fleas out of your home is to keep them off of your dog.
There are many ways to get rid of fleas or prevent them from being on, your dog.
- Shampoos and Dips – these can be done at home or by a groomer. They do a great job of removing the fleas that are currently on your pet but don’t last very long after the bath. Some dips leave a residue behind, intend3d to kill or repel fleas and ticks. Unfortunately, sometimes this leaves your pet’s fur unpleasant to the touch.
- Collars – these are the easiest form of flea control, simply place the flea collar around your dog’s neck. In some animals, they can cause irritation and the effectiveness fades the further you get from the neck. This means in large animals the coverage may not extend over the whole body. They also sometimes leave a sticky residue.
- Leave on Topical Treatment – these are placed in a small spot on your dog’s skin, usually between the shoulder blades or at the trail head. The oily solution finds its way into the dog’s sebaceous glands providing full body protection. These are very effective and are tolerated well by most dogs and cats.
- Pills or Chewables – these are the newest type of flea treatment for dogs and they are very effective. Simply give your dog a pill or yummy chewable once a month and they are protected. Many also contain a medication to prevent heartworm infestation. To get these you will need to have your cat or dog examined by a vet and get a prescription.
The upside to any of these types of flea treatments is that they also kill or at least repel ticks. Ticks carry diseases that both you and your pet can catch and remove them leaves an open wound that may become infected.
Flea dirt itself is more of a nuisance than a hazard, but when you consider that you cannot have flea dirt unless you have fleas, it is wise to keep an eye out for it. The earlier you notice the flea dirt and remove it and the fleas that created it, the happier both you and your dog will be.
Does flea dirt mean an infestation?
While infestation may be a strong word, the reality is, if you see flea dirt then you have fleas. The more flea dirt you find, the more fleas you have and the longer they have been around.
How do you kill flea dirt?
What Is Flea Dirt? Flea dirt is flea feces. As it is not alive it cannot be killed. It can, however, be washed away, and killing any fleas will prevent it from coming back.
Why do I see flea dirt but no fleas?
The easy answer to this is that fleas can move, flea dirt cannot. When you pet your dog or move their bedding, the flea dirt stays where you can see and or feel it. The living fleas, however, can simply jump away, out of sight. Know this, however, if you find flea dirt on your pet or in its bedding then you have a flea problem, whether you see the fleas or not.
How do I get rid of flea dirt on my dog?
Removing flea dirt from your dog is as simple as giving them a bath. It will wash off them easily. If there is a lot of it you may see a reddish tinge to the bathwater. This is because flea dirt, or feces, is comprised largely of undigested blood. To keep flea dirt from coming back you need to treat your dog, and your home, with good flea medication, preferably one that breaks the reproductive cycle by killing the eggs and larvae as well as the adult fleas.