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What do fleas look like on pets and in your home?

What do fleas look like - a cat scratching
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If your pet is scratching itself more than usual, you may want to know “what do fleas look like?” to determine whether they are carrying this parasite – and whether your house has been infested.

This guide will help you identify fleas in all their stages – eggs, larvae, and adults – as well as recognize what their bites look like on your pet. We'll also show you how to check for fleas in your home and how to treat them by discovering how to get rid of fleas and ways to prevent them in the first place.

What do fleas look like? Are they visible to the human eye?

Fleas are small, flat, oval-shaped insects with hard shells covered in hairs. They are dark or reddish-brown in color and measure around 2-4mm (or around one-tenth of an inch). It may be hard to see them, especially if your pet’s hair is a similar color. 

They are visible to the human eye, but a magnifying glass can be used if you need to take a closer look. These creatures have six legs: four short ones and two longer ones that they use to jump from place to place as they are wingless and cannot fly.

What do fleas and flea eggs look like on pets?

When checking your pet for fleas you should look out for adult fleas, flea dust, eggs, or larvae. Adult fleas are small brown insects that can be found crawling through your pet’s fur or attached to their skin. If you can’t see the insect itself, you may spot flea dust or flea feces, which looks like grains of blackish-red pepper. 

Flea eggs are tiny, oval, white specks (around 0.4mm), which could be mistaken for dandruff or salt grains and flea larvae resemble tiny white worms. Both of these are difficult to see with the eye so it is more likely that you’ll spot the insects or flea dust on your pet.

What do fleas look like - close-up of a flea

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What are the signs of fleas on your pet? How do you tell if it is a flea?

If you’re wondering whether your pet has fleas, there are a few things you can look out for. Has your pet been scratching themselves, have they lost any fur, or do they have any bites? Have they got pale gums? 

Fleas are blood-suckers so pale gums are a sign of anemia from the loss of blood. Fleas usually bite pets on their head, neck, back, or belly and these bites look like small raised red or pink bumps surrounded by a faint red ring. Your pet may also have redness from where their skin has had an allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva. If the bite is infected, they could also have white pustules.

Where do fleas come from?

Your pet is most likely to get fleas from being outside, although they can originate in the home too. They can either be found living in the environment on long grass or bushes or attached to an animal host, which they feed off before mating. Flea eggs hatch in shady conditions.

Once they are fully grown adults, fleas can jump from one animal to another. Your pet may pick up fleas from a bush or from another animal – this could be another cat or dog, or even a squirrel or raccoon. It’s important to understand how cats get fleas and what places your dog may pick up unwanted critters so you can try to prevent it from happening.

How do you know if your house has fleas?

If you want to know if your house has fleas, the first thing to do is check your pet. Are they showing signs of a flea infestation such as scratching? Do they have bites? If you can’t see any, run a paper towel over their fur and if red streaks of blood show up, it’s a sign of fleas. 

You can also check your home. Look closely at your carpets, curtains, and furniture for the tiny jumpers. If they aren't visible to the eye, put on a pair of knee-high white socks and walk around on your carpet for a while, then put your feet up on the furniture. The pesky critters will probably attach themselves to the fibers on your socks.

Can fleas crawl on or bite humans and pets?

Some fleas crawl under human skin, however, these aren't the same type of fleas that your cat has. Fleas do bite humans as they feed on blood, but they don’t tend to live on humans as hosts, as we do not have enough hair for them to attach themselves to. Instead, they prefer to attach themselves to animal fur.

Flea bites on a human will generally be scattered around our legs or feet. They are small red bumps with a faint red ring around them. On our pets, flea bites are raised red or pink spots, again, often surrounded by a faint red ring.

What do fleas look like - cat being combed for fleas

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to treat fleas on pets

Follow these simple tips to get rid of these tiny parasites:

  • Bathe your pet in lukewarm water with a vet-recommended flea shampoo. You may need to look into how to give a cat that hates water a flea bath.
  • If your pet is not a fan of baths or water, try using a flea spray. For a natural remedy, try a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar. 
  • Dry your pet with a towel and using a flea comb brush through their fur to remove the fleas. Rinse the comb in warm soapy water after each brush to kill the fleas. 
  • Flea collars, tablets and steroid creams can also be used to treat fleas, but make sure you check with your vet first. 
  • Check your pet regularly for fleas to prevent future infestations and to get rid of the problem early on.

How to get rid of fleas around the home

If you want to know how to get rid of fleas, there are a number of things you can try:

  • Regularly clean your pet’s bedding with hot water and soap to kill any fleas. 
  • Wash your pet with a vet-recommended flea shampoo to ward off these pesky critters. 
  • Use a powerful vacuum to make sure your carpet picks up any unwanted parasites. Empty the vacuum and take the bins outside. 
  • To be extra sure you kill off fleas, use a steam cleaner on your carpets, furniture, and upholstery. 
  • Use an IGR (insect growth regulator) flea spray, which prevents eggs from hatching into fleas. 
  • Mix one part baking soda and one part salt, sprinkle it over your carpets, and vacuum. This should dehydrate flea larvae and get rid of them. 
  • Leave bowls of soapy water out around the house underneath lights. Fleas will be attracted to the light and land in the soapy water, which will kill them. 

How to treat flea bites on pets

Make sure you research the best flea treatments for cats and the best flea treatment for dogs. There are a number of creams containing steroids that you can use to reduce itching and swelling, but make sure you check with your vet first. 

You can also buy shampoos, creams, and topical flea treatments to provide your pet with some relief. If you want to know how to soothe flea bites, helpful ingredients include aloe vera, oatmeal, and tea tree.

How to prevent fleas

There are a number of ways to prevent fleas in the first place, including knowing the best flea medication for your dog or cat.

  • Bathe, brush and check your pet regularly for fleas. 
  • Keep your house clean using a powerful vacuum or steam cleaner. 
  • Regularly wash your pet’s bedding. 
  • Limit the amount of time your pet spends outdoors. 
  • As well as preventative medicine, you could also try researching the best flea collar for your cat or dog.
Zara is Editor on bookazines and covers a range of topics from cookery to travel and animals. Her latest first edition, What Your Dog Wants You To Know, is the ultimate guide to understanding your dog’s body language. 
Former editor of World of Animals magazine, she has over 8 years of experience in publishing inspiring children and adults about the wonders of the animal kingdom as well as teaching them about their pets. She also has over 5 years experience working with vets, wildlife experts and animal behaviourists in her comms roles for various animal charities. 
A keen animal lover, Zara can often be found researching her next wildlife destination to travel to. Having just moved into a bigger house she is currently looking at which dog and cats breed would suit her new family so she can fill her house with pets.