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6 Warning Signs Your Pet Has Fleas

Spotting these signs early can stop a small problem from becoming much worse.

Vet Examining Dog's Hair With CombANDREYPOPOV/GETTY IMAGES

What to Do If Your Pet Has Fleas

Fleas are a common problem for pets, but can be effectively managed with treatment and prevention.

If you suspect you’re dealing with an infestation, first examine your pet’s coat for signs of fleas or flea dirt. If you’ve confirmed the presence of fleas, treat it with a veterinarian-approved product.

Various types are available, including topical treatments, oral medications and collars. Your veterinarian can help you choose the best one based on your pet’s age, health and lifestyle.

At the same time, it’s also important to treat your home and yard to eliminate any fleas that may be present. This includes vacuuming carpets, washing pet and human bedding in hot water and using flea sprays or foggers in your home. You should also mow your lawn regularly and remove any debris or clutter where fleas may hide.

To prevent future infestations, use a monthly flea preventative and keep your pet away from wooded areas or grassy fields. With proper treatment and prevention, you can effectively manage flea infestations and keep your pet healthy and comfortable.

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Welsh Springer having a scratch outdoors in a field in summer sunshinePhotos by R A Kearton/Getty Images

Excessive Scratching, Licking and Chewing

These are the most common signs of a flea infestation. Flea bites can cause intense itching and discomfort, leading your pet to scratch, bite and lick their skin to alleviate the irritation. They’re most likely to scratch behind the ears or around the neck, tail and stomach.

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Alopecia on the tail of a black dogJacqueline Nix/Getty Images

Hair Loss

Flea bites can cause hair loss, particularly in areas where the fleas are most active. If you notice your pet has bald patches or thinning fur, it could be a sign of an infestation. Hair loss can also be a sign of other, more serious health problems, so have your pet professionally examined.

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Veterinarian holding a jack russell terrier dog with dermatitis.inside-studio/Getty Images

Irritated Skin

Your pet might have irritated skin from the flea bites themselves, or from excessive scratching to alleviate the itch. It might appear red, inflamed or irritated, and you may notice small bumps or sores. The trouble areas will likely be in the same spots as hair loss or thinning.

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Dead flea on animal furdimarik/Getty Images

“Flea Dirt”

You may notice small black or brown spots in your pet’s bedding or fur. These are flea droppings, aka “flea dirt,” resembling tiny specks of sand. These specks may also turn red when wet due to the blood inside them.

A quick way to check for flea dirt: Have your pet stand on a white towel and brush them. If you see these specks, it’s likely fleas.

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different colors of dog furTatka_Go/Getty Images

Changes in Coat Color

In some cases, flea bites can change the color of your pet’s coat. A dog with a light-colored coat may develop small, reddish-brown spots where fleas have been feeding. Flea dirt can also accumulate on the coat, causing discoloration.

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gloved vet hands checking dog gumsdimarik/Getty Images

Pale Gums

Fleas can also cause anemia, resulting in weakness, lethargy and even death. Pale gums can be one obvious sign of anemia.

To check your pet’s gums, gently lift their lip and examine the color. If the gums appear pale or white, have your pet examined by a veterinarian.

Alex Shoemaker
Alex is an avid DIYer but had little experience before purchasing his first home in 2019. A Family Handyman subscription was one of his first purchases after becoming a homeowner, and he's been hooked ever since. When he’s not working, he can be found fixing up his 1940s Florida home or relaxing on the beach with his family.