Scratching or itchy skin - does it mean fleas?

If your pet is scratching or nibbling at their fur does this mean they have fleas? No, not necessarily. Irritated skin can be a result of many problems such as skin diseases, allergies, ear problems and other illnesses. However, it is a good idea to rule out fleas as they are extremely irritating and when left to breed and multiply, they can cause other related issues such as flea allergic dermatitis or skin infections. Not to mention the fact that your entire household and backyard may become a breeding ground for fleas! So how do you tell if your pet has fleas?

A closer look at your pet's fur

The best way to tell if your cat or dog has fleas is to look at his/her coat.

What are you looking for?

You are looking for two things. Flea dirt that looks like small black specks of grit, similar to finely ground pepper. This is actually digested dried blood. Secondly, the fleas themselves. Fleas are much easier to find on pets with white or fair coloured coats. They are approximately the size of a pin head and are often seen jumping or moving through the coat. 

The best place to look

The easiest places to look are areas where they have the least amount of hair or in locations where fleas like to live.

Look for areas on your pet with the least amount of hair, in particular the abdomen (stomach). The main area that fleas like to gather is over the lower back, in front of the tail. To find fleas or their dried digested blood, simply part the hair over the lower back (as shown in the pictures here). Do this in several areas through your pet's coat.

What to do next?

If you find fleas, we recommend reading our full article on fleas - select this link. If you don't find fleas and your pet continues to itch or scratch, please call our healthcare team for more information. We will either give you specific instructions or ask to see your pet. It's best to do this sooner rather than later as an obsessed scratcher can do a lot of damage to their skin in a short period of time.

Pet type(s): 
Life stage(s): 
Young
Adult
Senior
Pet library topic(s): 
Basic health and care