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Fleas are one of the most common parasites in the world and are extremely common in North America. They are tiny, tough, and extremely mobile, making them difficult to deal with. Their bodies are not only well armored, but they are also able to expand, contract, and thereby absorb almost any impact, no matter how strong. In that regard, they are really remarkable.
Fleas are most likely to feed on dogs and cats since they are closer to the ground and offer them fur to hide beneath. They are better able to lay their eggs on cats and dogs since these animals don't bathe as often as humans do. But they have no qualms about taking a bite of you and yours.
Besides leaving behind itchy bite marks, fleas carry and spread a variety of diseases. These diseases not only infect your pet but can spread to you as well.
In this blog post, we’ll define what fleas are, introduce you to North America’s most common flea varieties, and discuss what you can do to get rid of and prevent flea infestations.
- What Are Fleas?
- What Do Fleas Look Like On Pets?
- What Do Flea Bites Look Like?
- How To Check For Fleas
- How To Get Rid Of Fleas
What Are Fleas?
Fleas are defined as small insects that survive on the blood of their human and animal hosts. Flea bites not only cause discomfort and irritation, but they can also transmit diseases such as the plague, flea-borne typhus, and cat scratch disease.1
So, what do fleas look like? There are many different types of fleas in North America, each with their own distinctive traits. Some of the most common fleas include the following:2
Cat Flea (Ctenocephalides felis)
If your dog or cat has fleas, they’re most likely of the cat flea variety. Cat fleas are tiny, wingless insects with six legs. While the eggs resemble white grains of rice, adult cat fleas are brown in color. Although they’re wingless, these insects are incredibly fast and may be hard to spot on your pet’s skin. Cat fleas can spread plague bacteria but are less likely to do so than rat or squirrel fleas.
Dog Flea (Ctenocephalides canis)
Dog fleas spread a tapeworm called dipylidium caninum, which can be found in dogs, cats, and humans. Similar to the cat flea, the dog flea has three pairs of legs with a small, brown, wingless body. Contrary to its name, the dog flea is less commonly found on dogs when compared to the cat flea.
Ground Squirrel Flea (Oropsylla montana)
The ground squirrel flea has a slightly elongated brownish body with several pairs of legs well-suited to jump from one host to the next. These fleas are associated with spreading plague bacteria and most commonly host on California ground squirrels and rock squirrels.
Oriental Rat Flea (Xenopsylla cheopis)
The rat flea has a similar look to the other fleas discussed — multiple legs, brown body, tiny, burrowing body. As its name suggests, the rat flea typically feeds on rodents and most commonly spreads plague bacteria.
What Do Fleas Look Like On Pets?
Finding fleas on your pet isn’t easy — but it doesn’t mean they’re flea-free. Flea eggs are tiny, white objects that resemble grains of rice or sesame seeds, usually less than 0.5mm in length. Adult fleas on the other hand, are slightly larger, black or brown burrowing insects. As discussed above, there are a variety of flea species, each with its own disease spreading specialty and all with multiple legs, ideal for jumping.
Identifying fleas on your pet can be especially difficult if your dog or cat has a long or double coat. The easiest way to look for fleas on pets is to watch out for the symptoms of a flea infestation. Let’s take a closer look at what fleas look like on dogs and cats:
What Fleas Look Like On Cats
Some of the most common symptoms of a flea infestation on a cat include:
- Itching and biting at skin
- Overgrooming (i.e. excessive licking)
- Hair loss
- Head shaking
- Black specks in your cat’s fur or bedding
What Fleas Look Like On Dogs
Dogs react similarly to cats when it comes to getting fleas. Some signs to watch for include:
- Scratching and biting at skin
- Overgrooming (i.e. excessive licking)
- Hair loss
- Change in attitude
- Head shaking
- Black specks in your dog’s fur or bedding
What Do Flea Bites Look Like?
Flea bites will vary in appearance depending on the density of the flea population, the ferocity of an attack, the type of skin bitten, any pathogens carried by the fleas, and the sensitivity of the individual to the substances in flea saliva. They can also carry any number of different forms of bacteria, boosting the potential for flea bites to get nasty.
An individual flea bite generally will look like a red dot, splotch, or bump. There may be one, a few, or an entire patch of flea bites in a given area. They tend to feed closely together.
The more bacteria the flea bite contains, the more spread out a bite is likely to become. The more allergic the victim is to the non-clotting agents in its saliva, the redder and the more raised the bites will be. Reddened rings or halos may form around the bite over the course of hours and days after the bite happens.
In most cases, the bites will be small and mild. But after a large attack, the resulting rash can be very irritating, sensitive, and even painful.
How To Check For Fleas
The best way to check for fleas is by using a flea comb. Flea combs are specially designed to collect and remove adult fleas from pet fur. Plus, using a flea comb is simple.
- Start by slowly combing through your pet’s hair with the flea comb.
- After each stroke, check the comb’s teeth for fleas and flea dirt (flea feces).
- Discard any live fleas into a bucket of soapy water.
Additionally, your vet can help you diagnose, treat, and prevent fleas. If you notice your dog or cat is exhibiting symptoms of a flea infestation, talk to your vet as soon as possible. Fleas spread quickly and can expose your furry friends and human family members to dangerous bacteria.
How To Get Rid Of Fleas
The CDC has set forth guidelines to help get rid of fleas in four steps:3
Step 1: Sanitize
Clean any areas fleas may have infested, including:
- Rugs and carpet
- Pet bedding
Step 2: Start Pet Treatment
Following guidance from your vet, start flea treatment for each pet in your home. This process typically begins with a soap and water bath, taking extra care to clean behind the head and ears, and is followed by flea control treatment prescribed by your pet’s veterinarian.
Step 3: Begin Treating Home
Start treating your home for fleas with the help of a pest control specialist. Continue to keep your home clean with bedding frequently washed to prevent larger infestation.
Step 4: Repeat As Needed
Unfortunately, flea treatment is rarely a one-and-done deal. Your pets and/or your home may need to be treated additional times in order to fully eradicate the flea infestation.
To avoid future flea infestations, talk to your vet about flea control methods for cats and dogs. With Dutch, you can get flea and tick treatment prescribed right from the comfort of your own home. Plus, get flea and tick medications delivered directly to your doorstep when you fill with one of our pharmacy partners.
“Fleas Home.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Aug. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/fleas/index.html.
“Common Fleas of the United States.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Aug. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/fleas/fleas_of_the_us.html.
“Getting Rid of Fleas.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 Aug. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/fleas/getting_rid.html.