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What are the little "black pepper" spots on my pet?

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Flea dirt on hair combed out of a cat.

Flea dirt on hair combed out of a cat © Dr Zak at en.wikipedia

© Dr Zak at en.wikipedia
Question: What are the little "black pepper" spots on my pet?
This Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) is from a viewer named Margaret.

"My question is: my dog has these little black things in her fur that look like little spots of black pepper. I took one off him today and it is real hard and cracks when I put it between my fingers. He has many of them on his little body. He went to the groomers last month and she didn't say anything about fleas. Is that what I am dealing with and what should I do?"

Answer: Flea "dirt" is the common name for what looks like bits of black pepper or dirt on your pet's skin and in the hair coat. It is actually the flea feces, composed mainly of the blood meal ingested by the flea from your pet. The blood is dried out, giving it a black, crackly appearance and texture.

To test this, wet a cotton ball or paper towel and add some of the "black pepper" material. If it dissolves into a reddish-brown material, it is very likely flea dirt, and indication of a flea problem for your pet.

Fleas, especially females that are at reproductive age, consume large quantities of blood, relative to their size and weight.

The flea life cycle is multi-stage and complicated. Giving your pet a flea bath or putting on a flea collar will not solve the problem. Fleas on the pet and in the environment must be addressed in order to control fleas on your pet.

For more information about fleas, their life cycle, and how to get rid of them on your pet, please see the All About Fleas information center.

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