Flea Dirt (Flea Poop)
Fleas are agile wingless insects that pierce the skin and feed off blood from their hosts, such as cats, dogs and even humans. They are from the order Siphonaptera, its name derived from the Greek words "siphon" (meaning tube) and "aptera" (meaning wingless), which is most fitting. If you discover that your pet is infested with fleas, you should treat the problem immediately, as fleas can pose a major health risk to your pet. One indicator that your pet may be infested with fleas is the appearance of flea dirt on the skin and in the coat of the animal.
What is Flea Dirt?
Fleas ingest blood from the host and then excrete it as fecal matter; therefore, it is sometimes referred to as "flea feces". More commonly, however, flea poop is called "flea dirt", as the excreted blood is dried out, black in colour and resembles black pepper or specks of dirt. Flea eggs and flea dirt fall off the animal's coat and land on the skin, where the flea dirt provides food for hatching eggs. To test whether your pet is littered with flea dirt and not just specks of soil, dissolve some of the black specks in water on a white towel. If they change colour from black to dark reddish brown, you are likely dealing with flea dirt.
What Does Flea Dirt Look Like?
Fleas are small in size (approximately 1/16 to 1/8-inch long) and dark in colour (usually reddish brown), while flea eggs are small white ovals. Because fleas are similar in colour to flea dirt, you may wonder if you observed dead fleas instead of flea dirt. The two are easily distinguishable: fleas resemble dark grains of rice, while flea dirt appears as much smaller black specks.
How To Get Rid of Flea Dirt on Cats
Eliminating flea dirt alone from the coat and skin of cats can be a relatively painless procedure for both you and your furry friend, but you must be sure to also treat the root problem: the fleas. If you fail to eliminate the fleas, they will continue to produce more flea feces! A metal flea comb is one of the easiest and safest ways to remove flea dirt from a cat's coat. Its fine teeth spaced close together will pick up both fleas and flea dirt. Dip the comb in water and comb through your cat's fur. As you collect flea dirt, wipe the comb on a paper towel that can be disposed of as soon as you are finished grooming.
Your cat might not be into this!
If you and your feline friend can handle water, washing your cat with a feline flea shampoo will dissolve and wash away flea dirt. Several different flea shampoos are commercially available, but it is important to read the warnings and chemical ingredients, as many shampoos are toxic to cats, kittens and puppies. Various natural remedies are suggested online, such as Tea Tree oil and Pennyroyal oil, but essential oils are toxic to cats. Great care should be taken if you are exploring natural shampoos, as they are often as toxic, if not more toxic, than commercially available alternatives. It is also important to note that most over-the-counter flea shampoos will wash away any fleas and flea eggs in addition to flea dirt, but generally do not contain necessary chemicals in sufficient amounts to kill live fleas on contact and to prevent re-infestation. Your veterinarian will prescribe treatments that kill live fleas immediately and/or cause fleas to lay defective eggs (in other words, that disrupt different stages in the flea life cycle). These treatments include Frontline, Revolution and Advocate. It is advised to visit a veterinarian for shampoo and treatment options if you are dealing with a pregnant feline.
Finally, vacuuming your cat (if she will tolerate it) is another effective method for removing flea dirt, as well as fleas and flea eggs, from the skin and coat. It is also useful for removing flea dirt from other surfaces in house where flea dirt is likely present.
How To Get Rid of Flea Dirt on Dogs
The options for removing flea dirt from dogs are basically the same as those for cats. However, it is important to note that you should use flea shampoo specific to the type of animal you are treating. Canine flea shampoos contain higher concentrations of insecticides and should be allowed to soak into the dog's coat for about fifteen minutes. Using these same shampoos on felines could result in an overdose of these insecticides. Also, dog flea shampoos usually contain permethrin, which is toxic to cats. Because dogs are usually easy to bathe, you could consider skipping shampooing and instead submerging the dog in water for a longer period of time and scrubbing the areas where flea dirt was detected. This should also help to drown any live fleas.
Flea Dirt but No Fleas
If you continue to find flea dirt after using the methods above and after treating your pet for fleas, it is very likely that the fleas were not eradicated. Any remaining fleas will continue to ingest blood from your pet and produce flea poop. In addition to treating the host (your pet), you should also make sure to wash your pet's blankets and any other surfaces the pet has come into contact with, such as curtains and rugs, in hot water to remove any residual fleas and flea eggs. Washing will also eliminate flea feces.
Flea dirt is a strong indicator that fleas are present, but if you fail to spot any fleas upon initial inspection with a flea comb, it does not mean that your pet does not have a flea problem. Fleas are wingless and their method of transportation is jumping. Their long hind legs enable them to jump as high as 7 inches and horizontally as far as 13 inches. Fleas may have jumped from your pet before you were able to spot them. Furthermore, they may have already laid eggs while they were feasting on your pet. Therefore, it is extremely important that if you spot any flea dirt, you should assume that you are also dealing with fleas and treat the problem immediately.