How To Tell If A Dog Has Fleas or Just Dry Skin? (Step by Step Guide)

If you have a pet dog, then you know that skin issues can be problematic and uncomfortable.

When you see your dog scratching the same area all day, it can be frustrating because you want to know “Does my dog have fleas or allergies or both?”. Both these conditions are important to treat in order to not leave your pet uncomfortable for too long. 

How to tell if a dog has fleas or just dry skin comes down to differentiating between the specific symptoms, the severity of the symptoms, and knowing how to check for these issues. Once you know the steps you need to take, solving the issue for your dog will be no problem. 

The signs to watch for in order to determine if your dog had fleas or dry skin can seem confusing and overwhelming at first.

However, when broken down into simple steps, you’ll have no issues with checking your dog.

Here is what you need to know to tell if a dog has fleas or just dry skin. 

How to Tell If A Dog Has Fleas? 

The first thing to look for when trying to determine a dog’s condition is specific signs and symptoms that determine if what is troubling the dog is fleas specifically. 

Signs that your dog has fleas

Signs and symptoms that a dog has fleas include: 

  • Intense itching or scratching of a particular area 
  • Persistent licking or biting of a particular area 
  • Hair loss in various regions, including the tail, rear legs, and lower back regions 
  • Red patches of skin 
  • Small bumps throughout the body, mainly the groin, stomach, legs, and tail areas
  • Presence of Flea Dirt (flea droppings), which are small black flakes that appear on the dog’s fur. 

Where to check for fleas 

The major areas where fleas tend to stick to are a dog’s ears, tail area, groin, stomach, neck area, and head.

Overall, it is recommended to check the parts of a dog’s body that are warmer and grow more hair

how do I check my dog for fleas

How to check for fleas 

“How do I check my dog for fleas?” is a very common question amongst dog owners.

After you figure out the major spots on dogs that tend to attract fleas the most, you need to check the dog in a way that helps you spot where the fleas have congregated. 

There are some precautionary steps to take, which you can continue even after the dog no longer has fleas.

This includes regularly checking their brush and their fur during their grooming sessions. 

Other methods that you can use to check a dog for fleas include the following.

Checking visually

Adult fleas appear as brown dots that are visible to the human eye. 

These are mainly visible on the dog’s skin in areas with less hair like on the tummy.

Flea comb

Pet stores sell special combs specifically for this purpose. 

When using a comb make sure that it comes in contact with the dog’s skin. This is best for determining the presence of fleas.

White Towel Test

This method involves having the dog stand over a white towel while you run through their fur in order to check for flea dirt falling off of the dog.

The black flea dirt shows up well against the white color in the towel.  

How To Get Rid of Fleas On Dogs

If, after following all the methods for checking if your dog has fleas, you determine that there are fleas present, there are different ways to treat this condition. 

We talk about 2 obvious ways to fix the flea issue in this article so that your dog may be comfortable again. We cover MORE ways to remove (and prevent) fleas on your dog and in your home in another article on our blog here.

If the flea issue persists after the methods below, it may require a more intense form of treatment.

Talk with a veterinarian in order for the dog to receive adequate treatment. 

1. Bathe the dog

Give the dog a warm bath with some mild soap or shampoo

Discuss our shampoo recommendations (below) with your vet. I find it’s easier to go to my vet with a list of options like our list below.

Adams Plus is the number 1 best seller on

CategoryBrandProductCheck latest price on
Best overallAdams PlusFlea and tick shampoo with precorCheck price
Best runner upHartzUltraGuard rid flea and tick shampoo for dogs with oatmealCheck price
Best for sensitive skinSentryFlea and tick shampoo with oatmealCheck price
Best for itch reliefVet’s BestFlea itch relief shampooCheck price
Best organic shampooRichard’s OrganicsFlea and tick shampoo (kills fleas, ticks and repels mosquitos)Check price

Make sure to clean through the dog’s fur thoroughly and touch the skin in order to properly wash off the fleas. 

how to get rid of fleas on dogs

2. Kill the fleas as you find them

Adult fleas are large enough to see and pull off with a flea comb.

Once you grab a hold of the flea, throw it into hot water in order to kill it.

I typically throw it inside the toilet and flush it.

3. Prevent them from coming back again

Speak to your vet about preventative flea medication that kills flea eggs, larvae as well as adult fleas.

If you want an all-in-one medication to prevent fleas, ticks, and/or heartworm, read our comprehensive article here.

How To Tell If A Dog Has Dry Skin?

If you’ve done everything stated above and have determined that your dog does not have fleas, then the next step is to check if what they have is dry skin

Checking for the signs of dry skin on a dog is similar to checking for fleas. 

Signs that your dog has dry skin 

Signs and symptoms that your dog has dry skin can include: 

  • Itchy skin 
  • White flakes in their fur that resemble dandruff 
  • Odor 
  • Scabbing on their skin 
  • Noticeable oiliness 
  • Hair loss 
  • Loss of shine in the dog’s coat.

It is important to note that the symptoms of dry skin do vary from dog to dog.

However, they do tend to show at least one of the symptoms previously mentioned. 

does my dog have fleas or allergies?

How to check for dry skin on a dog? 

Checking for dry skin on your dog is simple. 

Just run your fingers through their fur and check for white flakes falling out.

This is similar to when a person has dandruff on their scalp. 

It is also important to check the area with less hair in order to see the condition of their skin.

My Dog Has Dry Skin, What Can I Do?

The causes of dry skin on a dog can vary, and, as expected, each cause requires a different treatment. 

These causes can vary in severity, and some may require a trip to the veterinarian’s office

However, most cases require a simple change in the lifestyle and care of the dog. 

Cause Treatment 
Food allergies can lead dogs to develop dry skin (dermatitis) as an allergic reaction.  Veterinarians would simply put the dog on a food elimination diet in order to find the cause. Most allergens in dogs include eggs, chicken, beef, soy, and dairy.
Environmental triggers e.g. cold weather, dry air, pollen, dust, etc.This can be treated by keeping the environment around the dog free of the allergen. 
A humidifier can be used for dry air, and a heater can be used for cold weather. 
Keep the home of the dog clean and free from dust or pollen. 
If this persists, there are seasonal allergy shots available for dogs.  
Parasites e.g. mites, scabies, liceThis is a more severe cause of dry skin, and this requires a trip to the veterinarian in order to diagnose and treat. 
Veterinarians can refer the dog to a specialist in animal dermatology. 
Personal care – excessive bathing, poor diet, irritant soapsLessen the number of times you are bathing the dog in order to not overdry their skin. 
Veterinarians can recommend soaps they approve that will not further harm the dog’s skin. 
You can improve the dog’s diet by feeding them veterinarian-approved dog food and ensuring all nutritional needs are met. 
Breed-specific/genetic condition There are certain breeds that are most prone to dry skin. These breeds include Siberian Huskies, Chinese Crested dog, and Alaskan Malamutes. Check with the veterinarian to see if your dog is prone to dry skin.

Related Questions

What is “flea dirt” on dogs?

Flea dirt refers to faeces or droppings of the flea deposited as they travel around your dog’s skin.

How to treat flea bites on dogs?

Flea bites are as itchy as all hell on your poor dog! To treat and soothe the flea bites, your vet may recommend gentle shampoos, soothing topical medications, or even a steroid injection if the inflammation is severe from the flea bites.

You can read more about soothing itchy flea bits in this PetMD article.

What’s the difference between fleas and allergies?

Fleas are one form of parasite your dog can contract.

Some dogs are allergic to fleas and will develop a skin allergy or dermatitis as a result.

Dogs are also allergic to other things like food, their environment (pollen, dust), the way they’ve been cared for (irritating soaps), and other parasites like mites or scabies.

Can dogs get dry skin after a flea treatment?

Yes, the skin of certain dogs may get dry after using a flea treatment shampoo.

Using the advice from your vet, it’s best to determine the best flea treatment shampoo for your dog.

How to treat flea bites on humans?

Humans can get bitten by fleas as well.

These bites look like small red spots on the skin like pimples.

When bitten, you need to resist the urge to scratch those bites as that increases the rate of infection.

Wash the affected area with an antiseptic soap and apply an anti-itch topical cream like calamine lotion, hydrocortisone or Benadryl Stop Itching gel.

How to get rid of fleas on humans?

Firstly, let’s assume you’ve addressed how to get rid of fleas on your dog, which was talked about in this article and in more detail in this other article

It’s time to turn the house upside down to get rid of those damn fleas.

Start with vacuuming everywhere with an effective vacuum cleaner.

Here are our recommendations on the best vacuum cleaners for fleas and dogs.

TypeBrandModelCheck the latest price on
UprightSharkNavigator Zero-M UprightCheck price and reviews
StickDysonV8 Animal CordlessCheck price and reviews
CanisterOventeBagless CanisterCheck price and reviews

Wash all your bed linen, rugs, mats, and soft furnishings, preferably in hot water. That includes dog and human beds!

How To Really Tell If A Dog Has Fleas Or Just Dry Skin? 

In order to really determine if a dog has fleas or just dry skin, you need to pay attention to the symptoms they are exhibiting and what is going on around the dog in their environment in order to cause these issues. 

If you see visible brown spots and red bites on their skin, it is possible the dog has fleas. If you see white flakes that resemble dandruff, then the dog most likely has dry skin. 

Overall, it is best to speak with a veterinarian in order to determine the issues afflicting your dog and the best course of treatment to take.

This can ensure that the dog is receiving proper care and will be back to normal in no time. 


Michelle loves enjoying the outdoors with her dogs. She grew in a big house near the beach with German Shepherds. Nowadays, Michelle has down-sized her dogs to poodles, proving small dogs can enjoy the outdoors too! Her dogs enjoy playing fetch, swimming, and long walks. Michelle and her dogs enjoy escaping the city limits to hike, camp, and swim.

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