Img 1 Dandruff flakes in a cat’s fur.
White specks which accumulate in a pet’s fur are dandruff flakes, not fleas eggs. Flea eggs aren’t sticky. They don’t remain in a host’s fur for more than a few hours. Dandruff, on the other hand, consists of thin, light, irregular-shaped flakes of skin. These flakes easily get lodged into dog or cat hair.
Misidentifying pet dander for flea eggs is common, as they look similar. Both are white, translucent, and less than a millimeter in length. However, it’s possible to distinguish one from the other through close observation.
Dandruff consists of flakes of dead skin cells. The flakes are thin, lightweight, and peel off in irregular shapes Img 1. These physical characteristics make dander prone to getting caught in fur. Thus, over time, white specks will accumulate in a dog’s or cat’s hair.
Bacterial and fungal (yeast or ringworm) infections are common causes of dandruff. The condition is called seborrheic dermatitis, and the primary symptom is inflamed, greasy, scaly skin. A medicated pet shampoo can treat the infection and sooth irritated skin, giving relief to dogs and cats.
Fleas & Parasites
Fleas sometimes cause flaky skin on dogs and cats. Finding dandruff on a pet may be symptomatic of an infestation, especially for animals with flea allergies. Other parasites can cause seborrhea (dandruff) as well, including lice and mites.
Dandruff on pets can also result from sunburns, diabetes, allergies, old age, a poor diet, hyperthyroidism, and low ambient humidity.
The eggshell is smooth and non-sticky. They easily fall from hosts, even in the absence of grooming. Most of the eggs drop off of the animal within two hours of being laid. Some of eggs will be non-viable. These eggs are flat and deflated, and they may get stuck on pets for a longer period. Still, flea eggs rarely accumulate in pet hair.
Img 2 Cat flea laying an egg in a dog’s haircoat. The black specks in the fur is “flea dirt”.
Diagnosing Fleas on Pets
The surest way to diagnose a flea infestation is to find adult fleas or their feces on pets. The feces (flea dirt) is dried host blood and appears as reddish-black specks in a pet’s fur Img 2. Placing the specks onto a wet paper towel will reconstitute the dried blood. If the specks smear red with gentle rubbing, then it’s a clear sign that the animal has fleas Img 3. Similarly, placing the black specks into a water droplet will turn the water blood-red.
Img 3 A wet paper towel with black specks recovered from a cat. The red smears are caused from reconstituted fecal blood (“flea dirt”).