What is the difference between flea eggs and dandruff?

picture of cat dandruff

Quinn Dombrowski

Img 1 Dandruff flakes in a cat’s fur.

Summary

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.

A medicated dandruff shampoo for pets can treat and sooth the dry, irritated skin which gives rise to dander.

Details

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

Physical Characteristics

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.

Causes

Skin Infections

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.

Other Causes

Dandruff on pets can also result from sunburns, diabetes, allergies, old age, a poor diet, hyperthyroidism, and low ambient humidity.

Flea Eggs

Physical Characteristics

Flea eggs are oval-shaped with round ends. They’re 0.5 mm long and 0.3 mm thick Img 2. The eggs are much thicker than dandruff.

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.

animated gif of cat flea laying an egg in a dogs fur

Fleas — Michael Dryden, DVM, MS, PhD

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.

wet paper towel with red flea dirt smudges

Nottingham Vet School

Img 3 A wet paper towel with black specks recovered from a cat. The red smears are caused from reconstituted fecal blood (“flea dirt”).

References

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Discussion

  • Anonymous September 23, 2015, 2:06 pm

    Thanks,
    This image 3 was the most helpful.

  • Julia Ogles July 17, 2017, 12:40 pm

    I have been finding little white pellet looking things and I can not tell if they are flea eggs or not, they kind of look like them but then again they don’t . Please help! I have a almost 2 year old female coon cat named Bear. Thanks

    • Adam Retzer July 30, 2017, 2:09 pm

      If there are fleas on your cat, then finding flea dirt (feces) or adult fleas is the best way to identify them. The dried blood feces should be reddish-black specks in the fur. It will dissolve and smear red on a damp cloth.

      I’m not sure what the white pellets are without seeing them myself. However, they’re unlikely to be flea eggs if you aren’t finding any other signs. Can you take a picture and upload it to imgur.com, and then post a link here?

  • Cora August 11, 2017, 6:21 pm

    Hi,
    I have a sitzu yorkie cross dog. She was 7 mths. old when I got her. She has dandruff pretty bad but what really is driving me crazy is that she gets these little hard things that you may feel ANY where on her. It looks and feels like a piece of sharp rice and you just pick it off her, but then a few weeks later she gets a large bump and you really have to dig as it is full of puss first but there is a white lump and you must get it out or it just keeps coming back and gets bigger each time. This is very very painful for her so she wont come near me anymore if she thinks I’m going to do it. My vet says that these are from dry skin and that there is a small sack in there and the pus can kill my dog. Can you tell me if there is anything I could put on her to numb the skin or some thing I can do to prevent it. Thank You Cora

    • Adam Retzer September 29, 2017, 11:56 am

      Cora, unfortunately I can’t offer much help here. This is outside my field of knowledge.

  • Teffiny Olson August 24, 2017, 6:49 pm

    I need advice desperately. My female pitbull with white hair has flea bites all over her body. I have tried pills sprays bombing the house nothing seems to work. Now on top of all the red bumps she has dandruff. I want to help her so bad please help

  • Evelyn October 6, 2017, 11:07 am

    My cat has been acting very weird since I sprayed the house with lemon lysol! Is this harmful?

    • Adam Retzer October 16, 2017, 2:24 pm

      I am not sure, as this is unrelated to fleas. However, it looks like the active ingredient is Alkyl (50% C14, 40% C12, 10% C16) dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides (also called Benzalkonium chloride). Check out the wikipedia page for an overview of toxicity information.

  • Ginger October 31, 2017, 1:23 pm

    My dog had fleas diagonised by the vet and we gave him a pill to kill the fleas now when i comb him im getting what look like black specs nothing is moving when i clean the comb off on a paper towel now im noticing white stuff coming off on the comb as well as the blackish stuff what is this and is this normal ive never had 2 deal with fleas before thank you

    • Adam Retzer October 31, 2017, 1:44 pm

      The black stuff is the flea poop (flea dirt). The white stuff could be flea eggs, or it could be dog dander.

  • Jane November 10, 2017, 2:14 am

    This is a big help for us, we have a black 2 mo’s old american shorthair cat (Jinkx). He has this white flakes around his face, at first we thought that it was from her litter since we used a bit fine litters. But then one time while I was cleaning her I noticed that those white flakes were literally moving up, making us an assumption that she was infested with fleas. We bought a flea powder which made him itch a lot causing a small bruise on his face. And we planned to bath him with flea shampoo. Now our concern is that since he is a roaming cat must we disinfect everything in our house?
    Does it cat flea bite humans as well? Please advice.
    Thank you

    • Adam Retzer November 13, 2017, 12:32 pm

      Are you certain the cat has fleas? Have you found adult fleas or their feces on the cat? These are the signs needed to make a positive identification. Without the absolute certainty of fleas, taking control steps may not be prudent, as it may be some other issue causing the symptoms. If you are certain the cat has fleas, take a look at our page on How to get rid of fleas.

      Yes, cat fleas will bite humans as well. Humans aren’t the preferred host, but if cats and dogs aren’t around, emerging adults may bite humans in the area.

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