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Dr. Deb
Dr. Deb, Cat Veterinarian
Category: Cat
Satisfied Customers: 583
Experience:  DVM VMRCVM '89, 20 yrs experience in progressive small animal medicine and surgery
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My elderly cat has little black specks on her hair and skin.

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My elderly cat has little black specks on her hair and skin. The hair around her neck seems to be thinning. She has been treated for ticks. This has been going on for several weeks. What might be the cause?
Customer: replied 8 years ago.

Age: >12; Female; Breed: mixed

Already Tried:
Frontline to remove any fleas. Lots of brushing.



Sorry you have had to wait so long for an answer. I hope I can answer some of your concerns. I am wondering how long ago you applied the frontline and do you have other animals in your house?


I would like you to do an experiment- take a fine tooth comb- a flea comb would be great, and comb your cat many times over the neck, back, and just in front of the tail.

Hold the comb over a white paper towel and clean the hair and debris out of the comb and onto the paper towel. If you have any other animals- do the same thing for them.Once you have collected this material on the paper towel you need to get it moist, a spray bottle with water is best but you can just sprinkle water over it. Now go away for 10minutes. When you go back and look at the damp paper towel- tell me what you see.


I look forward to your answers.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.

I put the Frontline on the cat about 3 weeks ago. I must say the Frontline is about 4 years old - may not be very effective. I followed your instructions, and Little black specks turned red on the wet towel after a few minutes. Our lab is regularly treated with Frontline and has no black specks. I rarely use Frontline on the cat. I see no signs of fleas now. I will await your answer.


Hi again,

I'm glad you did the science experiment. If the little black specs turned red or rust color that means they are flea dirt. Flea dirt is actually flea poop, and since their diet is blood, their poop is digested blood. It turns black as it goes through and then comes out of the flea, but if you wet it, it returns to the red color. Black specs that are black and stay black are not flea dirt and may be just regular dirt.

If you did not see any live fleas but there is flea dirt, that is evidence of fleas. If you put Frontline on 3 weeks ago, it may be wearing off. It does not take a lot of fleas to make black specs. If your pet is allergic, then even 1 flea can cause itching and hair loss. If a mosquito bites you, it will itch long after the bug is gone. The same is true for fleas.

The company that makes Frontline claims that it does not go bad with time. I suspect there is some loss of strength with time.

If your cat goes outside and you live in tick country I would get some fresh frontline and apply it. If your cat is indoor only, a product called Advantage may work fine. (NOT ADVANTIX which is toxic to cats) Advantage will kill the fleas but has no effect on ticks.

I know you have not seen fleas but flea dirt has no other source. You must treat for fleas. I think this will help. Your cat may need an anti-inflammatory injection or pills if the allergic reaction is severe.

You should be able to get fronline or advantage from your veterinarian. I hope your kitty is feeling better soon. Feel free to ask more questions if you have them.
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