Flea Bites 101: Everything You Need to Know About Flea Bites

You hate fleas. I hate fleas. We all hate fleas. And it all comes down to one very simple thing: flea bites.

Once you've experienced the swollen red itchiness that is a flea bite, it becomes very clear why people will do just about anything to prevent, tackle and kill fleas.

After all, if fleas were pleasant little passers through then we wouldn’t have a problem with them co-inhabiting our space.

But they aren’t. They’re nasty little sods with a nasty little bite and I’m here to tell you everything you need to know about flea bites.

If you want to keep your flesh intact, un-nibbled and flea free, read on!

Do fleas bite people?

Fleas, generally, aren’t picky eaters. If it’s warm, (maybe) hairy and about a thousand times the size of them, then they probably want a bite out of it.

Unfortunately for you, I and most of your pets, that means we make an attractive option for fleas that might be living in the home.

So…Uh, yes. Fleas do bite people.

It’s likely that you’ll spot flea bites on your ankles, lower legs or feet more than any other part of your body. This is due to the fact that fleas infesting your home itself, rather than just your pets, will like to bed down in your carpets and rugs.

flea bites

When you pass over them, they’ll make an almighty jump to take a chunk out of you, usually reaching around your ankles.

If you spot any bites or signs of fleas around your arms or upper body, it’s much more likely that this is from hugging or handling your pets rather than your home being infested with any super Olympic level flea jumpers.

What do flea bites look like (and feel like)?

what do flea bites look like

Flea bites on humans and animals are fairly similar. Flea bites on humans will usually show up as a small red dot-like bumps, not unlike many other insect or pest bites. Don’t be surprised or concerned if the dots are quite swollen or uncomfortable, this is nothing unusual.

Normally, you’ll spot a flea bite as part of a cluster or grouping of individual bumps, rather than just a singular welt.

Again, don’t be too alarmed or tricked into thinking that you must have a truly evil infestation. These are common signs… as far as flea infestations go in terms of commonality anyway.

Flea bites on your pets will be similar, with a more rusty colored edge (this is, perhaps, because your pets have much less self-discipline and will scratch those wounds like they’re going out of fashion).

On that note…

Do flea bites itch?

Hell yes. Next?

Seriously, though. Flea bites are incredibly itchy wounds to deal with. For humans, with our supposedly superior will power (I type this with a mouthful of chocolate that I promised myself I wouldn’t eat ten seconds ago); this can be annoying but not too debilitating.

As long as you manage to avoid the incredible craving to scratch at your skin like wrapping paper on a Christmas gift, you should be alright, and the welt should decrease in size and annoyance.

For our pets though, they generally don’t know any better. When they itch, they like to scratch and unfortunately for them, they have sharp claws and teeth to do the scratching with. This is why it’s not uncommon to see bald patches around your pets’ flea bites, or a sudden spike in the amount of hair lying around the home.

It can be absolute torture for them, especially if they can’t reach the bite in question. Which is why, as responsible and loving pet owners, we should do everything we can to help poor Rover through his flea-infested misery. Here's how to treat flea bites on dogs!

Why do flea bites itch?

Okay, so they’re horribly itchy… But why?

Well, first of all, most insect, pest or animal bites do itch because the wound or welt tends to be inflamed and very irritating to the touch. And, as I’m sure your mother told you innumerable times as a kid, the more you scratch it the worse it’s going to get.

why do flea bites itch

It’s not just the physical sensation of the bite, though. Itching can stem from the fact that insects and fleas carry all kinds of dirt and germs around with them and when they bite, their saliva can mix in with the wound.

In fact this concern for bacterial infection and dirt getting into the wound is one of the main reasons that we shouldn’t scratch at bites… God alone knows what kind of filth is harbored under our own fingernails.

You can probably double that for your pets’ claws, too.

Why do fleas bite?

Fleas are vampiric – they’re hungry for our blood, and they can digest staggering amounts of it in comparison to their tiny stature.

Although fleas can go for as long as a year without having a square meal, they’re not going to pass up the chance to replenish their supply of yummy, warm blood… And your ankles are a wonderful chance. Sorry.

Are flea bites dangerous for humans or pets?

Despite all my fearmongering above, flea bites are one of the many insects out there whose bites you don’t really need to worry too much about. That isn’t to say that you should be too complacent: at the very least, make sure that it is actually a flea bite you’re dealing with and not some other critter.

Fleas, over the years, have been known to carry all kinds of bacterial and viral diseases (and can even transmit tapeworms on rare occasions). But, but, but; this is all unlikely - especially if your pets are healthy - and much, much less likely still as long as you keep the bites clean, unscratched (as much as you can) and ride it out.

If you do find you’re having an allergic or extreme reaction following the bite(s) then you shouldn’t feel any embarrassment about contacting your doctor.

Although it might seem like a small, trivial complaint, it’s important to take notice of what your body is trying to tell you.

But, generally, no; you’re safe. Just wear oven gloves for a while and keep your hands at your side! Don't have the willpower? Look below for simple home remedies for flea bites!

Flea bites vs bed bugs: What's the difference?

flea bites vs bed bugs

Flea Bites

flea bites vs bed bugs

Bed Bug Bites

Looks wise, flea bites usually look like randomly placed small clusters of dots, often with a dark red center from the single puncture of the flea's mouth where it sucked your blood.

Bed bug bites look pretty similar and usually show up as raised, flat red welts that can be in a sort of row or line of three or four bites.

But to be honest, trying to identify whether bites are flea bites, bed bug bites, or some other bug bite is almost an exercise in futility. Indeed, if you want to be honest about it, it’s really pretty difficult to tell the difference between the bites of most insects.

Which is why you'll want to look toward other ways of distinguishing between flea bites vs bed bug bites. Here are a few clues:

  • Where are the bites?

The most distinctive trait that seems to be more or less limited to fleas above all other pests is their proclivity for sinking their gnashers into ankles and feet. As we know, they tend to do this out of sheer opportunism, by jumping upwards to bite you as you pass through.

So look out for bites that are localized around your feet, ankles and lower legs.

The majority of bed bug bites, on the other hand, tend to occur on the chest or back, neck, hands, feet or face. It's thought that bed bugs can't bite through clothing so they tend to feed on exposed areas.

  • Is there an order to the bites?

This isn't a surefire way to distinguish, but bed bug bites often show up in a pattern of sorts, appearing in a cluster of red bumps, a row of several bites, or in a zig-zag line. 

That's because bed bugs can't jump or fly - they have to crawl everywhere so they tend to localize their bites in one area. 

Fleas, on the other hand, are excellent jumpers so they can target any place on your body that they can reach. As a result, flea bites can look more randomly placed than bed bug bites. 

  • When do the bites happen?

Fleas feed all the time - seriously, all the damn time, as long as you let them.

In contrast, bed bug bites generally happen when you're in deep sleep – around an hour or two before sunrise – so if you wake up with bites that you didn’t have the night before, they're probably bed bug bites. Find out more about the symptoms of bed bug bites!

How long do flea bites last?

In terms of how long a flea bite ‘lasts’, there’s really no simple or catch-all answer. Every body is different and so is its reaction to dodgy bites coming from unwanted pests.

In terms of the itching and irritation, some bites can reduce in symptoms within an hour or so and others (perhaps people who are allergic to the bites) can last days or weeks.

Plus, the more you scratch or otherwise irritate the bite, the longer it’ll remain active.

The same applies to cats and dogs; no two animals are the same. Some may be highly sensitive to the bite and the itching afterwards, whereas others might not notice them.

It is generally quite important to treat your animals as soon as you notice a bite or welt, though otherwise it could develop into something more problematic, especially when they can’t help but gnaw on the wound. This brings us to…

How to treat flea bites?

This must be repeated: in the immediate aftermath of a bite, the best and only necessary treatment is a complete lack of activity: DO NOT SCRATCH.

Easier said than done. So, let’s assume you have been scratching and now you need to take more drastic action. Here are some handy home remedies for flea bites on humans!

  • Moisturize

Starting simple; when you scratch and scratch at a bite, you’re drying the skin out by tearing at it. This not only irritates the wound more and more, but also extends the time it takes for the welt to heal over.

Something as simple as just applying a cream to it can be all it takes to create a little barrier between you and the irritation. A humble moisturizing cream can be a handy tool. Lather it on and take the heat off the bite.

The best gels and creams? Go for ones that contain soothing, anti-itch ingredients like calamine and oatmeal which are renowned for tackling blotchy and itchy skin.

  • Cold water and ice

Obviously, this is the usual go-to whenever something like a bite or burn occurs: stick it under the tap for a bit. This is fine for the immediate aftermath of a bite, but it’s not going to do much in the long run.

Ice cold, freezing water can be great for taking the swelling and inflammation away from the bite, or even just a cold ice pack over the problem area. The key is to repeatedly do it, though. One time for a few minutes isn’t going to cut it.

  • Anthistamines

If neither of these steps takes the edge off, then you might want to try antihistamines. This, too, should help with the inflammation and irritation, but check with your doctor if you’re on any other medication or antibiotics at the time before you reach for the Benadryl.

Another smart option is an analgesic cream, which will stop the itch pretty much immediately. ​

  • Teabags

Don’t laugh. I’m serious. A nice, cool, teabag slapped over the wounded area seems to work wonders on irritating little bites like those of fleas. Maybe it’s because tea is quite a relaxing drink and fleas got no chill. I don’t know. But it works.

What about for your pets? Their itchy flea bites can't go ignored, after all. 

There are many, many, many home remedies that different pet owners swear by. The effectiveness all depends on the bite and the animal – there’s no telling what the reaction or fallout from a hypothetical bite could be. 

That being said, here are some handy home remedies for flea bites on your pets!

  • Baking soda and water

A mixture of baking soda and water (into a sort of powdered paste like formula) can be fantastic for alleviating the itching and swelling of the bite itself, which is the worst part of the whole process for your pets.
It can be a bit of a nightmare to cut out of the fur, though.

Oh, you can also use this one on yourself so double the recipe!​

  • Anti-itch shampoos

Many pet owners think that anti-flea shampoos are only for a sort of deterrent or killing any fleas which might be harboring under the fur. In actuality, anti-flea shampoo brands are designed to also calm the flaming itchiness of bites themselves.

A nice, soothing bath should do the trick. Go for a flea shampoo if there are active fleas on your pets that you want to wipe out. Or just opt for an anti-itch shampoo to relieve irritation and that damn itchiness. 

  • Anti-itch gels and sprays

Most of the same ointments, essences, moisturizers and gels which work for human bites will also work for your pets, too. But an even better option is an anti-itch spray - these make it easy to apply the treatment on your dog's skin through however much fur they may have.

How to prevent flea bites?

Preventing flea bites really comes down to the bare issue of preventing fleas in the first place; but even so, if you do have an infestation or flea presence in your home, you can still take some measures to make sure they don’t sink their fangs into you.

The best flea repellents for humans are traditional bug repellents containing DEET, picaridin or if you prefer a natural route, essential oils. Fleas, like the vast majority of pests and insects, absolutely detest certain scents and oils - citrus, cedar, and minty scents in particular.

So the easiest way to minimize flea bites is to spray bug repellents on your clothes, footwear or even your bare skin.

This prevention technique can apply to lower grade insecticides, and other household deterrents such as lemon eucalyptus oils, cedar wood oil and tea tree oil. Anything that’ll make them think twice about taking that first nibble.

When it comes to your pets, the issue of flea repellent can be a little ​trickier - you can't always use what works for you on your pets and often, you also can't use dog flea products for cats. So here you go:

So, there you go. I’ve probably made your skin crawl and you’ll be too afraid to walk around barefoot in your home but at least you know what goes into the bite. Doesn’t that make you feel better?

No? Oh. Well. You’re bigger than them. So that’s something, right?

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