What do fleas look like and how do I spot them?

flea bites on dogs

Fleas are more than just a nuisance for your dog. Fleas can cause chronic skin disease and even transmit infectious or parasitic diseases. Some of these can be transmitted to humans too.

 Spotting fleas or flea bites on your dog isn’t always easy – fleas are small and fast, and some dogs can show signs of severe itchiness and irritation when only a few fleas are present. It’s also important to consider that the adult fleas you see on your dog are only part of the problem. You may be surprised to learn that adult fleas (the ones you see) make up only about 5% of the total population. The remaining 95% (eggs, larvae and pupae) are found in carpets and bedding - in fact anywhere in your house!

Adult female fleas can start laying eggs within 24 hours of infesting your dog and can produce up to 50 eggs per day. Eggs can scatter, falling off your dog wherever it goes, spreading the flea infestation throughout your home. Flea larvae then hatch from the eggs, hiding in dark places, deep in carpet, bedding or in cracks in the flooring where they feed on flea dirt and develop into pupae. The flea life cycle is completed when adult fleas emerge from pupae, ready to jump onto a passing host.

 

What Do Fleas Look Like?

It’s important to know what fleas look like to the human eye in order to identify them quickly and accurately.

Fleas are small, flat-bodied and dark brown. A fully grown flea is around 3 mm long.

It is often easier to spot the flea droppings, or “flea dirt”, that fleas leave behind when feeding.

what do fleas look like

Adult fleas on the belly of a dog. © Merial Limited, Duluth, GA.

What Do Flea Bites Look Like?

Check your dog’s skin carefully for signs of scratching or redness. These signs can suggest a flea infestation, although there are many other causes of skin disease in dogs so it’s always best to consult with your vet. The skin on the belly, groin, or base of the tail is frequently affected by flea bites, which can look like a red and bumpy rash on dogs.

 

What Do Flea Eggs On A Dog Look Like?

When adult female fleas lay eggs, they actually fall off the animal into the environment. They are very small, light coloured and oval. Flea eggs are hard to see, but you may spot them on your dog’s bedding.

Flea larvae look like tiny worms, with a white-ish body and pale coloured hairs. They are around 2-5 mm long and live in the environment (e.g. deep in carpet, bedding or in cracks in the flooring).

flea on a dog

Adult female flea and a recently laid egg. © Merial Limited, Duluth, GA

What Does Flea Dirt Look Like?

Flea dirt is another name for flea faeces which they produce after taking a blood meal. Flea dirt on your dog is a sign that your dog has fleas or has recently had them. To identify flea dirt, collect some of the dirt and place it on a moist white tissue. If it is flea dirt, it will stain the tissue red. This is a great way to tell the difference between flea dirt and the ordinary dirt that dogs might collect in their fur.

flea dirt

Flea dirt on the coat of a dog. © Merial Limited, Duluth, GA

Dog Flea Symptoms

Symptoms your dog may experience if they have (or have had) fleas can include:

  • Itching and scratching
  • Hair loss
  • Scabs or red patches, especially on the belly, groin, or base of the tail

 

Skin rash from fleas

Some dogs get a skin rash from fleas because they are allergic to the saliva that is injected when the flea bites. This is known as flea allergy dermatitis. A flea rash on your dog’s belly, groin or base of tail is a typical sign of a flea allergy.

It’s important to keep your dog protected from fleas by administering an effective flea control product like NexGard® or NexGard SPECTRA®. If you notice a rash it is best to consult with you vet as there are many causes of skin disease in dogs.

 

How To Check For Fleas On Dogs

If you own a dog, it’s important to learn how to spot fleas. You can try parting your dog’s hair and looking for the small insects moving through the coat. While it’s important to look for adult fleas when you check your dog, you should also check for signs of fleas, like flea dirt. If you’re checking your dog and you notice scabs, areas with hair loss or a rash, it may be a sign of fleas. Always consult with your vet if your dog develops skin problems.

Find out more about fleas and flea treatments for dogs.

 

FAQs

1. How do I make my home flea-free?

It’s important to use a product that is highly effective at killing fleas on your dog. NexGard and NexGard SPECTRA kill fleas rapidly before they lay eggs, thereby preventing further infestation of the environment. If a moderate to heavy environmental infestation exists, fleas can continue to emerge into the surroundings for weeks to months because of the continuing development of flea eggs, larvae and pupae already present at the time of treatment, a phenomenon known as 're-emergence'. It may therefore take more than one monthly treatment to achieve control of moderate to heavy flea infestations. In areas where fleas are common year-round, monthly treatment with either NexGard or NexGard Spectra should continue throughout the year without interruption. To minimise the likelihood of flea re-infestation, it is important to treat all animals within a household with a registered flea control product.

 

2. Can I get fleas from my dog?

While fleas on dogs prefer their canine hosts and are not likely to remain on your skin, if you have a heavy household infestation it is very likely that you and your family will get bitten. However, while fleas can bite humans, you are not what they are really looking for. Fleas are not likely to live on you in the way they live on your dog. They may however transmit diseases to humans, such as flea-borne spotted fever – yet another reason to make sure you maintain good flea control for your dog.

 

3. How do I get rid of fleas on my dog?

NexGard and NexGard SPECTRA kill fleas within 6-8 hours of product administration. The rapid speed of action means adult fleas are killed before they can lay eggs, helping to prevent ongoing infestation of the environment.  Regular monthly treatment is recommended to keep your pet and home flea free.

 

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Disclaimer

All content in this document is the property of Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health Australia Pty. Ltd. and is protected by copyright. You may only use this document for informational, non-commercial, and personal use purposes. You may not modify this document, publish or commercially broadcast it in part or in full (including on a network computer) without our prior written consent. This notice must be retained in all circumstances. Copyright ©2021 Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health Australia Pty. Ltd. ®NEXGARD SPECTRA, NEXGARD, HEARTGARD30 and PARAGARD are registered trademarks of the Boehringer Ingelheim Group. All rights reserved. PET-0102-2019. PET-0123-2021.