Signs of Flea Infestation: How to Check for Fleas

Fleas are tiny, wingless parasites that live on the bodies of warm-blooded hosts. They have been responsible for causing numerous diseases and epidemics throughout history. These blood-ingesting parasites continue to cause annoyance and pain to both humans and their pets, even today.

Learning to identify the presence of fleas on your pet or in your home is the first step to control and remove them. You should be able to detect a flea infestation at the earlier stage or they will make life miserable for both you and your pet.

How to Tell If You Have Fleas?

While there are certain signs of fleas, they aren’t always very clear. This often makes it difficult to identify a flea infestation at an earlier stage, especially for the people dealing with it for the first time.

Since fleas grow and multiply pretty quickly, failure to identify a flea infestation at an earlier stage can make it really difficult to remove fleas from your home.

Here are a few things that according to veterinarians, hint towards a flea infestation. So, watch out for them to find out if these tiny parasites have made their way into your house.

close-up of a flea

Identifying Fleas on Your Pet

Identifying fleas on your pet requires observing its behavior and inspecting its body for:

· Excessive Scratching or Licking

Fleas tend to hide in the fur or on the bodies of cats and dogs, where they can be harder to detect visually. One of the foremost signs of fleas is an increase in the amount of scratching your pet is doing.

If your dog or cat is often seen scratching or licking its head, neck, armpits, or the groin area, there are high chances that it has become the host of these nagging parasites.

A severe flea infestation can also cause your pet to bite itself, out of irritation and pain.

· A Change in Behavior or Restlessness

If your docile pet has suddenly become irritable and is exhibiting agitated and restless behavior or isn’t taking the recommended amount of sleep for no apparent reason, there are chances that it is suffering from a flea infestation.

· Specks or Powdery Deposits on the Body

Inspect your pet’s body and see if there are any reddish-brown or black specks. These are flea feces, also called flea dirt, which the parasites excrete after they have digested the blood of the host.

Flea dirt on your pet’s body, its bedding, or anywhere in your house is a clear sign of flea infestation.

A simple way to confirm if the powdery deposits are actually flea dirt is to pick up its little amount on a white paper towel. Add a little water in it with a spray bottle. If it gets a dark reddish-brown color, it’s the flea dirt.

· Pale Gums

Pale gums are one of the symptoms that your pet is suffering from anemia, which can be the result of a severe flea infestation. As mentioned earlier, fleas survive by ingesting the blood of their host. When the amount of blood lost is significantly greater than the new red blood cells produced by the animal, your pet is suffering from anemia.

· Hair Loss

Your pet can experience hair loss due to many reasons; flea infestation is one of them. So, if your pet is losing hair, take it to a veterinarian for the correct diagnosis. The vet will examine the severity and the pattern of hair loss and may consider a few other factors to determine the underlying cause.

· Red Patches or Marks on Skin

Some dogs and cats are hypersensitive to flea bites and saliva. Flea infestation in such pets can cause allergic reactions and develop lesions and rashes all over their bodies. If your pet has this sensitivity and has caught fleas, there must be red marks or patches on its body.

The hair loss is sometimes not caused by the allergic reaction, but due to excessive scratching and biting due to severe flea infestation.

Whatever the reason is, if your pet is losing hair, a flea infestation is most often the underlying cause.

· Low Energy

Fatigue is one of the most important signs of fleas. A severe and prolonged flea infestation can make your pet feel constantly exhausted due to anemia. If your pet is lethargic all the time, check it for fleas or take it to a veterinarian.

Check Your Pets for Fleas

If your pet is exhibiting any of these signs of fleas, it is time to check them to confirm the flea infestation.

When it comes to confirming the presence of fleas, one of the most common questions asked by new pet owners is – can you see fleas?

The answer is yes!

Since they are tiny, they can be a little difficult to spot, especially when you don’t know what you are looking for, but they can be seen.

How to check for fleas

The simplest way to confirm the presence of fleas on your pet is to inspect its body by parting hair on areas where fleas usually hide. These include the back of their neck, hind legs, and tail.

You are looking for reddish, black or brown colored, tiny, 6-legged pests. If there is a flea infestation, you are most likely to spot a couple of crawling parasites.

Another way to confirm flea infestation is by using a lice comb. Simply, comb your pet’s hair with a good lice comb and if there is an infestation, the fleas will get caught in the lice comb.

Important: Do not ignore fleas or underestimate the problem, even if you only spot a couple of them. Fleas can multiple very quickly; a female flea can lay up to 50 eggs in a day. You should take measures to remove fleas as soon as you know that your pet or house is infested.

Signs of Fleas in Humans

Although fleas are wingless creatures, they have very strong and long legs and are able to jump long distances. This can make pet owners susceptible to catching these parasites.

Theoretically, it should be easier to detect a human catching fleas as they don’t have thick furs like their four-legged friends. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in reality. While you feel a painful nip or sting when a flea bites you, the tiny monsters are so quick to move or jump around that it’s very difficult to catch them red handed.

However, they do leave some signs.

When it comes to humans, the most obvious sign of fleas are multiple red bumps or welts on your skin. These dot-like, red bumps usually swell and can cause discomfort and extreme itchiness. The red spots are formed because the flea saliva causes the production of a chemical called histamine.

Fleas generally bite on your feet and lower legs.

Generally, flea bites can be easily treated. However, they can trigger a severe reaction in people who are allergic to fleas.

When fleas bite a person who is allergic to them, the person’s immune system releases a large quantity of histamine. The over-production of the chemical can lead to anaphylaxis, a chronic allergic reaction that can be life-threatening if not treated immediately. The occurrence of anaphylaxis is very rare though.

While fleas do bite on your skin, they do not live on the human body because their natural habitat is dark and humid places. But, they can hide in your hair – disgusting, right?

This makes it important to check for fleas in your hair by using a lice comb. Using a lice shampoo, a few times, is recommended as a preventive measure when there are fleas in your home.

cat with fleas

Fleas in Homes

Contrary to the common perception, only 5 % of the fleas live on your pet when there is a flea infestation. Wondering where the remaining 95 % lives? They live in the surroundings i.e. your house.

Detecting fleas in homes can be very difficult because they can easily hide under the carpets and bedding. Live fleas and their dirt are the only signs of fleas in homes. But, if your pet has fleas, this means a lot more of these tiny parasites may be living in your home, both inside and outside in the lawn or yard.

Check your and your pet’s bedding and you are likely to find some flea dirt, if not the live ones. Another way to confirm the fleas’ presence in your house is to fill a few shallow bowls with water and keep them in different areas of your house. It is said that water attracts fleas, so a few of the parasites will come to the water bowls and get drowned in them and you will get the proof of their presence in your home.

However, even if you cannot spot any signs of fleas in your home, you should deep clean your house. Vacuuming is one of the simplest ways to remove adult fleas, larvae, and eggs from the rugs and carpets. Also, remove all your beddings and wash them properly. Use flea treatment products for yard and other areas of the house.

How to Get Rid of Fleas

The best way to get rid of fleas completely is to adopt a comprehensive or multi-faceted approach. This means you should simultaneously treat your pet and your house (both inside and outside) for fleas, their larvae, and eggs to ensure their complete removal. Even if a couple of flea eggs are left, the flea infestation will reoccur.

There are many flea treatment products available in the market, for both pets and house. Do some research on the internet and opt for the ones that have gained good reviews from other pet owners. Alternatively, you can take a veterinarian’s help to know the best ways of flea removal.

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