Why is flea dirt at the base of the tail while fleas live on the shoulders of a cat?

In my long experience of dealing with fleas (!) I know that they normally live on the shoulders and neck of a domestic cat. And yet, their flea dirt is always situated at the base of the tail, a considerable distance away from where they live. It’s a great conundrum. I am scratching my head (displacement activity, not because of fleas!) as to why flea dirt is not in the same place as the fleas. It is as if they have a toilet down the corridor and then they go back to the living room which is the neck.

There can only be two plausible reasons. The first is that fleas sometimes live near the base of the tail or perhaps in the groin area and then they migrate upwards towards the neck for some reason; perhaps because there are more blood vessels near the surface there. The second possible reason is that they go to the toilet in the neck region and the flea dirt is pushed back towards the base of the tail when the cat groom themselves.

Flea comb and fleas
Flea comb and fleas. Photo: Pets and Parasites .
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats



In case you weren’t sure, flea dirt is the digested blood of the cat that they are feeding on. It looks like small grains of dirt. I am sure that you have seen it. If you place flea dirt on a wet, white surface it turns red indicating that it is made up of blood. Sometimes you will see both flea dirt and flea eggs. This is described as “salt-and-pepper-like grains” in the coat. The salt is the flea eggs and the pepper is the flea faeces.

Dirt and no fleas

If your cat has fleas, using a proper flea comb you will always be able to comb out fleas around the neck and shoulders. You will also be able to comb out flea dirt at the base of the tail and in that general region. If you don’t see fleas when you comb but you see flea dirt then you know that fleas have jumped onto your cat and then jumped off. That means fleas are in the environment where your cat lives.

5,000 feet above sea level

There may be flea dirt in your carpet if you’ve got fleas in the home because they jump off the cat onto the carpet and poop! It’s a bit disgusting and fleas are actually pretty disgusting creatures as they are the most common parasite on a cat’s skin. If you want to get rid of them entirely (guaranteed) you should live 5,000 feet above sea level. Cat fleas don’t live at that elevation. Full-time indoor cats can have fleas year-round. Once they take hold in the home especially multi-cat homes, it is a devil of a job to get rid of them entirely. And remember that people can bring fleas into the home on their person. That means you can totally clear them out of your home, have full-time indoor cats who never go outside and they can still have fleas.

Regular flea combing

If you maintain a regular flea combing routine i.e. daily or twice daily, you won’t get more than one or two fleas on your cat with a bit of flea dirt at the base of the tail. You won’t need to do anything but flea comb your cat to keep them away. But if the matter gets out of hand then you’ll have to bathe your cat and do other things to get rid of them. As they always say it’s a holistic process meaning that you can’t just remove fleas on your cat. You have to tackle the problem around the home as well.

Flea bite allergy

Perhaps the biggest problem with cat fleas is that some cats are allergic to the flea bite (feline miliary dermatitis). This can lead to terrible self-mutilation as the cat scratches themselves. Before you arrive at that dire situation you have to get rid of the fleas. It should be a 100% commitment and a full-time mission until the job is done.


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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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