Flea bites. They itch, they swell, and they stick around for days. And even though you know scratching the bite will probably only make it worse, you can’t help but give in (you might lose your sanity if you don’t).
Most of us have had to deal with a flea bite at least once in our lives, but do you really know how to treat these bites or what to do if they get infected?
Our complete guide will tell you everything you need to know about flea bites – and even some things you really didn’t want to know.
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Table of Contents
- Do I Have Fleas?
- Can Humans Get Fleas?
- Do Flea Bites Itch?
- Do Flea Bites Hurt?
- What Do Flea Bites Look Like?
- Flea Bite Symptoms
- What Happens If You Have an Allergic Reaction to a Flea Bite?
- How to Get Rid of Flea Bites
- How to Treat Pets for Fleas
- How to Treat Your Home for Fleas
- Flea Bite Treatment
- How to Treat an Infected Flea Bite
- What’s a Flea Bitten Kidney?
Do I Have Fleas?
You have bites on your legs, ankles and maybe even your arms. But you’re still not sure if they’re from fleas or another insect.
If you haven’t actually seen any fleas in your home, it can be difficult to determine which type of insect bit you.
We know one thing for sure: if you have a flea infestation, you’ll know it. A few fleas may pass by unnoticed, but if the population gets out of control, you won’t be able to walk through your carpet or sit on your couch without getting bit.
With that said, here are a few tips to help you determine if you have fleas.
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1. Check Your Pets
If you have pets in your home, check their coats for fleas. They tend to hang around the head area and the hind quarters. If your dog will let you, check his belly for signs of fleas. They like to scurry through this part of the body on their way up to the neck or down to the tail. The belly also has less fur, which makes it easier to spot these tiny bloodsuckers.
Just a word of caution: Cats may not appreciate you checking their bellies – they tend to be very sensitive about this area being touched. Your best bet would be to check behind the ears or near the tail base – unless you don’t mind getting into a scratching fight with your feline friend (you probably won’t win that one).
If you don’t see any signs of fleas on the belly, check underneath the ears. Part your pet’s fur, and look for tiny black specs or red spots on the skin.
If your pet does have fleas, one or two will probably jump off and onto your skin at some point during the inspection. You’ll know for sure that you’re dealing with fleas if this happens.
Pets that have fleas will also have what’s called “flea dander,” or dirt. These are tiny black specs that can easily get underneath your fingernails when petting your dog or cat. And just so you know, these tiny black dots are actually flea poop, which consists of dried blood (told you we’d share some things you didn’t want to know).
Also, if you see Fido scratching more often than usual, he probably has fleas.
2. Perform the White Socks Test
Fleas will hop onto the nearest warm body they can find, which is usually a human if no pets are around. But they can sometimes be hard to see, even on your bare skin.
One way to check for fleas is to put on a pair of white socks, and walk through any carpeted areas of your home. If you have a pretty good infestation, you should clearly see at least a few fleas on your socks. With a severe infestation, you’ll probably see quite a few.
The good news is that the socks should protect your feet and ankles from being bit. The bad news? You have fleas.
Some people also claim that you’ll find flea eggs if you have an infestation, but that’s highly unlikely unless you have amazing vision and your pet has really dark fur. Flea eggs are really hard to spot with the naked eye.
What Do Flea Eggs Look Like?
Flea eggs are typically white or transparent in color. Some people say they look like dandruff flakes. They’re also incredibly small – smaller than 0.5mm in size. Unlike flea dirt, or dander, eggs don’t stick to the fur. More often than not, they roll onto the carpeting in your home, which also serves as the perfect environment for them to thrive.
Can Humans Get Fleas?
Technically, yes, we can. After all, we are warm-blooded mammals, and our blood is what fleas thrive on. But these pests tend to be a much bigger problem for our pets. Why? Because pets have thick coats of fur that provide the ideal hidings spot for fleas. Their thick coats also provide a moist, dark and warm environment. Humans are lacking the body hair that creates this environment, so fleas are less likely to stick around.
Can Humans Get Fleas from Dogs?
Yes – and cats, too. In fact, our pets are usually the primary reason why we have fleas in the first place.
There are three types of fleas that commonly bite humans: cat fleas, dog fleas and human fleas. And more often than not, humans are bit by these critters because your pet (dog, cat or any other furry friend) is their target, or host.
Do Flea Bites Itch?
Yes – they can be extremely itchy, depending on the person.
Humans usually don’t know they’ve been bit by a flea until it’s too late. That’s because the saliva in these tiny pests contains an anesthetic that allows them to latch onto your skin undetected. Their ninja-like skills may help them attach to your legs, ankles (or wherever else), but that same anesthetic in their saliva is what makes your bites so itchy.
Do Flea Bites Hurt?
No – at least not initially. You won’t feel a twinge of pain when the flea bites you like you would with other insects or animals. Fleas are incredibly tiny, so their bites aren’t painful to humans. And that anesthetic we talked about earlier prevents you from feeling anything until the bite starts itching.
Flea bites can become painful if you scratch them incessantly or pick at them. To prevent this from happening, it’s best to resist the temptation to scratch. Remember, your fingernails contain a lot of bacteria, so scratching may only make the pain worse or prolong the inflammation.
What Do Flea Bites Look Like?
Flea bites look very similar to mosquito bites, although they tend to be slightly smaller in size. Most bites are raised and red in color – and they’re usually surrounded by a reddish-colored halo.
Because flea bites can be incredibly itchy, most people can’t resist the temptation to scratch. As a result, the bite area usually swells temporarily. Scratching can also lead to further irritation and redness.
To see real-life examples, we recommend searching for flea bite pictures online.
Flea Bite Symptoms
The most common symptoms of flea bites include:
- Extreme itching
More extreme symptoms may present themselves if you’re allergic to the bite. Yes, some humans are allergic to fleas, which can lead to some uncomfortable side effects.
What Happens If You Have an Allergic Reaction to a Flea Bite?
In most cases, a flea bite allergy, or flea bite dermatitis, is not life threatening, but it’s important to keep an eye on your symptoms and see your doctor right way if you’re concerned.
Allergies to a flea bite usually lead to:
A flea bite rash typically consists of several bumps that may even itch or bleed, and are usually located in joint folds (like the knee or elbow), the armpit or in skin folds (i.e. the groin or under the breast). These rashes will normally turn white when pressed.
It’s important to note that scratching the rash can cause it to spread to other parts of the body and prolong the symptoms.
If you have a sensitivity to flea bites – not a full-blown, severe allergy – you may notice that the bite swells larger than it normally would.
How to Get Rid of Flea Bites
Unfortunately, there is no way to get rid of flea bites once they’ve already occurred. You can take steps to minimize the swelling and itching, but the bites will heal on their own in a few days.
Prevention is really the only way to get rid of these bites. And that starts with taking care of the infestation in your home.
Until you get rid of the fleas in your house and on your pets (if you have any), you’ll be dealing with these pests and their itchy bites for months.
First, let’s talk about the most effective ways to treat your pets, then we’ll talk about treating your home.
If you have pets, flea prevention is crucial if you want to prevent flea bites. Obviously, you’re past this point (it happens to just about every pet owner), but in the future – after you’ve rid your home of these pests – you should talk to your vet about getting your pet(s) on some sort of flea control regimen.
You have a few options when it comes to prevention:
- Chewable tablets
- Flea collars
- Topical treatment (i.e. Frontline)
- Natural sprays and powders
We discussed these preventative treatments at length in a recent post, but your vet can offer you advice if you’re looking for a simple solution.
If you’re already dealing with an infestation, there are several treatment methods available.
1. Flea Dips
If Fido has fleas, one quick way to get rid of them is a flea dip. Rinses and dips are applied to your pet’s entire coat, and work to kill fleas on the spot. They have some residual effects, too.
Dips are usually inexpensive and are best performed by a professional groomer who has the proper knowledge and equipment to perform this treatment properly. But if you’re adamant on doing this yourself, make sure to read the product’s description carefully and perform the dip in a well-ventilated area. You’ll also need to take steps to protect your pet’s ears and eyes.
Most dips use pyrethrins to kill fleas, which attack the flea’s nervous system and cause excessive firing of the nerves. The pyrethrins affect of the sodium flow out of the pest’s nerve cells to accomplish this.
Some natural dips may use citrus extracts, specifically linalool and d-Limonene, to kill fleas. These two compounds are extracted from the peels of citrus fruits. While this is an all-natural route (which is highly appealing), it’s important to note that citrus extracts can also be toxic to pets. For this reason, you need to follow the product’s instructions very carefully.
2. Flea Shampoos
Flea shampoos are very similar to flea dips, but may be easier to work with and may not necessarily require extra ventilation.
Shampoos work to kill any adult fleas on your pet, but typically have no residual effect. If you’re treating your home for fleas with, say, a flea bomb, shampoos may be a good choice to temporarily remove the fleas and prevent you from bringing them back into your home after it’s been treated.
Shampoos may also be a good option if you catch the flea infestation early on. If it hasn’t spread to your home, a quick bath with flea-killing shampoo can prevent these pests from overtaking your home.
In either case, you should still ensure you use a long-term solution afterward to prevent the fleas from coming back.
Most shampoos will require you to apply the product to your pet’s entire coat and allow the solution to sit for 10 minutes before rinsing.
3. Oral Products
Oral chews are available that will kill fleas quickly. The only drawback here is that the product is out of your pet’s system within 24 hours. Like shampoos and dips, oral products are a temporary measure that needs to be followed up with a preventative treatment.
4. Flea Combs
Flea combs are a great way to get rid of any fleas that are on your pet – and prevent you from getting bit. They’re also a safe method that won’t put your pet in danger.
As you groom your pet, the comb will catch and trap the fleas. In between strokes, the comb is dipped in a bowl of warm water and detergent, which kills them immediately.
Many people prefer combs over dips, shampoos and sprays that may have potentially toxic ingredients.
Sprays are another way to kill fleas in the adult stage and quickly rid your pet of these pests. You may also find sprays that include insect growth regulators, which will kill eggs as they hatch.
Like with flea dips, you want to make sure that you spray in a well-ventilated area.
These five methods are the most common ways to treat pets after they’ve already been infested with fleas.
There are numerous ways to treat your home for fleas, but because we’re trying to focus on preventing flea bites – which is best accomplished by getting rid of fleas – we’re going to briefly discuss the two most common ways to get rid of these pests.
Getting rid of fleas requires a multi-prong approach because both the host and environment need to be treated.
The two simplest ways to treat your home for fleas is by foggers (bug bombs) or diatomaceous earth.
1. Flea Foggers
Bug bombs are an effective way to get rid of fleas, and most will continue working for months, which helps kill off any fleas that are ready to hatch.
Ideally, you want to use products that also include growth regulators to keep the population in check.
When using bug bombs, it’s important to plan ahead because you’ll need to stay out of your home for 2-4 hours while the fogger does its work. Foggers release poisons that are toxic to humans and pests and can even start fires if you don’t take the proper precautions.
Always read the product’s description carefully to ensure you use it safely and properly.
When you’re away from your home, consider using one of the tips above to treat your pet.
2. Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is a natural substance derived from the fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of algae.
This powdery substance is non-toxic to humans and pets. In fact, you can apply it directly to your pet’s coat and skin. But it’s lethal to fleas and most other insects.
Diatomaceous earth cuts into the flea’s exoskeleton, causing it to dehydrate and die.
The powder should be sprinkled into carpeting, furniture and on pets. Allow it to sit for two weeks before vacuuming. In that time, the powder should have killed both adults and any eggs that remain.
Flea Bite Treatment
Unless the bites are severe or you develop a severe allergic reaction, there’s generally no need to see a doctor to treat flea bites.
But there are some things you can do to minimize the itching, bring down the swelling and reduce the irritation.
What to Put on Flea Bites
You don’t have to suffer in silence, scratching away at those pesky bites until they heal. There are both natural and conventional products that can help soothe the itch while encouraging the healing process.
1. Hydrocortisone or Calamine Lotion
Hydrocortisone or calamine lotion will work to stop the itching and help your bite heal faster. Calamine lotion contains ferric oxide, which soothes mild itching. Hydrocortisone cream contains a mild steroid and may be more effective for moderate to severe bites.
Either of these lotions are available over the counter and safe to use.
2. Lavender Oil
Both an antiseptic and an anti-inflammatory, lavender oil works to ease swelling and irritation while keeping itching to a minimum. The antiseptic properties also help prevent the bite from becoming infected.
To use this flea bite remedy, mix a few drops of lavender oil with a carrier oil, such as almond, jojoba or coconut, and apply to the bite.
Use extreme caution with this remedy if you’re treating a flea bite on a baby. Essential oils are extremely potent, and babies are exceptionally sensitive.
3. Aloe Vera
Aloe has soothing properties, which is why it’s commonly used to treat sunburns. But these soothing properties also make this plant ideal for treating flea bites.
Aloe is also amazing for your skin – it has a whopping 34 amino acids and 130 active compounds that are beneficial for your skin.
With its soothing, cooling properties, peppermint is a great treatment for flea bites. It helps keep the itching at bay while promoting healing.
You can use either peppermint essential oil, or crush the leaves up and apply them directly to the skin.
5. Hot and Cold Therapies
Another simple way to treat a flea bite is to use hot and cold therapies. Both help soothe itching and encourage the body to heal.
Apply either a cold or warm compress to the bug bite, and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. If you’re using heat, make sure that the temperature isn’t too high. Avoid applying directly to the skin whether you’re using hot or cold therapy – place a towel in between to protect your skin.
Hot and cold therapies can treat bites on most areas of the body, but we do not recommend trying this method with a flea bite on the face. The face is far too sensitive for this remedy.
How to Treat an Infected Flea Bite
With all that itching and scratching, it’s not uncommon for secondary infections to occur. An infected flea bite can be extremely itchy and in some cases, painful. If you have a flea bite blister that’s painful to the touch or is extremely irritated, you may have an infection.
If you suspect that your flea bite has become infected, see your doctor as soon as possible. Your physician will prescribe a treatment to help clear the infection, most likely antibiotics.
How to Get Rid of Flea Bite Scars
Infected and severe flea bites can sometimes lead to unsightly scarring. In most cases, these marks are temporary, but there are things you can do to help minimize their appearance and heal faster.
1. Exfoliate Daily
Exfoliating the bites on a daily basis will help reduce the scar’s appearance. The goal is to remove the upper layer of skin, which will encourage new skin growth.
Exfoliating can be done naturally with substances like sugar or coffee, or you can purchase a commercial exfoliating product.
2. Moisturize and Apply Ointments
Keeping the bite moisturized will help encourage skin healing. Over the counter ointments, such as alpha hydroxyl acid and vitamin C will help remove the top layer of the skin to encourage new growth, much like how exfoliating works.
3. Use Silicone Scar Treatments
In cases of severe scarring, a silicone treatment may be best. These treatments, which come in sheet form, will need to be applied for a minimum of 12 hours per day, but have been clinically proven to substantially reduce the appearance of scars.
These three methods can help you minimize or completely eliminate the appearance of any scars left behind after your flea bites heal.
What’s a Flea Bitten Kidney?
You may have heard this term before, but it has absolutely nothing to do with fleas. The term is a medical one used to describe bleeding from the nephron. When this occurs, the kidney looks as if it’s been bitten by fleas.