Bites in Bed: Fleas or Bed Bugs?

If you wake up to find that you have been bitten, how do you know whether you have fallen prey to a flea or a bed bug?  Even people who don’t have pets may find themselves with flea bites – you can move into a house which has dormant fleas, so don’t rule out fleas just because you have no animals.  You need to find out whether what bites you in bed are fleas or bed bugs.

Fleas and bed bugs can make bedtime a nightmare

This post is about:

  • How to tell the difference between flea bites and bed bug bites.
  • How to get rid of fleas
  • How to get rid of bed bugs.

Are Your Bites From Fleas or Bed Bugs?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between flea bites and bed bug bites.  However, there are a few clues as to what is chewing on you.

Flea bites:

  • tend to be a small bump surrounded by a ring.
  • they itch.
  • they tend to be below the knee, although if there are fleas in the bed they will bite all over, in a random fashion.
  • occur continually.

Bed bug bites:

  • tend to be more like a raised red welt, similar to a mosquito bite, but often longer.
  • often turn into blisters
  • they itch
  • appear in a linear pattern, often in a group of three.
  • bites occur periodically since the bed bugs feed only every few weeks.

Bed bug bites

Get Rid of Fleas in Your Bed

If your bites are due to fleas, move quickly to eradicate them.  These posts will help you treat your pet and your home:

In addition, you should treat your bed.  You might not want to use a flea spray on your bed.  If you don’t, here’s a natural flea treatment to try:
  • Remove all bedding and launder on a high temperature and finish in the dryer on a high heat.
  • Sprinkle borax on the mattress.  Leave it for a few hours then vacuum it off.  Repeat on the other side of the mattress.
  • Continue the borax treatment weekly for a month.

Get rid of bed bugs

As with fleas, it is easier to prevent bed bugs than to deal with an infestation.  Assuming that you do need to get rid of a bed bug infestation (which may spread to sofas and carpets) here’s what to do:
  • Remove and launder your bedding on the highest temperature setting that it will stand:  above 90 degrees C is best.  Blast it on high heat in the dryer too.
  • Bed bugs can’t withstand heat, so steam clean your carpets and upholstery.
  • If it is a hot summer day, put the mattress outside; this should kill them.
  • You can buy sprays that kill bed bugs.
  • After you have treated the mattress, invest in bed bug proof mattress and pillow covers.
  • If all fails, get a new mattress.

An adult bed bug, Cimex lectularius

To prevent bed bugs

  • Launder bed linen weekly.
  • Vacuum under and around your bed at least weekly.
  • Vacuum your mattress weekly.
  • Shampoo your bedroom carpet every six months at least.
  • Keep clutter to a minimum in your bedroom.
  • Fleas and bed bug bites are similar, but not identical
  • Regular and thorough cleaning will help control and eliminate both pests
  • Don’t ignore the problem, it will only escalate.


55 thoughts on “Bites in Bed: Fleas or Bed Bugs?

  1. Informative treatments to get rid of bed bugs apart from your tips I want to add one more that is sniffer dog. It is one of the effective and latest techniques to remove the bed bugs but it a little bit expensive too. So have a try!!!

  2. By now we all know someone who has been affected by Bed Bugs!! It doesn’t matter how clean you are or how rich, it can happen to ‘anybody. Soooooo, educate yourself.

    • Hi Valerie – bed bugs are definitely spreading, and spreading fast, so yes, it’s important that people know about them and how to avoid them. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  3. Have you ever thought about publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other websites?
    I have a blog based on the same information you discuss and would love to
    have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers would
    value your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free
    to send me an email.

    • Hi – that’s a kind offer and I may take you up on it at some point. I just seem to be super busy at the moment. Will keep it in mind though.

      Thanks again!

  4. I’ve been getting bites or think are bites, on my butt, upper arms and thighs. I do not see any blood trails on my white mattress pad or white comfortor. I have been using a quilt that I place in the dryer every day and at night I shower and wrap myself in the quilt as to not expose myself to the bedding on my bed. My husband has no bites at all. Our dog sleeps with us but on top of the covers. She hasno fleas however she chews her feet a lot. I vacuum often and wash our bed once a week. I got a new mattress pad and new pillows recently. We have a water bed but wood headboard and wood pedastal. I have never seen a bedbug or flea but the things i take off my skin is not a scab and this I am sure of. I collect them in a container andfinally my doc said take them to the lab. nothing is moving or alive but it looks like black specks on skin, or shiny red round thing or some are linear white like a wormy. I sometimes get a tummy ache and my poop is softer then usual. I have a hard time sitting on my couch or in my car because it seems like i am being bitten by something i can’t see. i bring a blanket or towel nwo to sit on. I bought a cold mat that goes in the freezer for your pillow at bed bath and beyond and i use it to sit on. I am so tired of this that i do comtemplate suicide. If i could have someone else going thru this that we can talk maybe it would help. why is this happening to me.if i pick off the hard thing on top of my lesion it causes a hole. the dermatologist says keep it moist with lotions, but they burn. bad. i feel like i should die. its like a message that i dont belong here anymore. i cant sleep. i think about this stuff on my legs and butt all day. i sit on the dinigng room table chair wich is wood and hard. still i feel like i am getting bites. my house is beautiful and clean so wtf.. my doctor doesnt think that these are bites at all. So if they arent bites, what else can they be .? a disease!>? cancer. menopause. something wrong with my kidneys? how can i find out? please someone with this email me and lets share pictuers. i need someone to know i am not crazy and i just want my life back. help me.

    • Hi Jo

      I am so sorry that you are feeling so miserable. I am not a doctor, so can’t give you advice, but the first thing I thought of was prickly heat. You mentioned wrapping yourself in a duvet, that it’s a water bed (which I always think doesn’t allow the skin to breathe like a regular mattress) and the dog sleeping on the bed too, I do wonder if you are too hot and getting blocked sweat glands. You also mentioned menopause, which can make you hot. Here’s a website that talks about the different kinds of prickly heat and there is a link to photos – see if this helps.

    • hey jo…. i can tell you that i share you delema…. now going onto 4 yrs… dr. hosp. dermatolegist…treatment after treatment… i as well have felt as you do … about not wanting to live anymore due to this… my quality of life is gone and i feel no need to continue… but as of yeasterday …. i got some small ray of hope… iv got samples and im going to be getting them checked today…ill let you…….

    • I hope Jo will read this, it’s almost a year later, but I think what she has is Scabies. That’s what it sounds like to me. Definitely get checked out for that as that is something that can be treated quickly and fairly easily. My friend had that…they prescribed a cream and she had to put all over the body, every inch and keep overnight. Had to bleach and disinfect everything in the house too but that got rid of that problem! Scabies are a tiny mite that burrow under the skin and cause rash-type lesions like she’s describing. Hope this resolves. And if it’s not Scabies, it could be Celulitis, which is also rash-like and very itchy like someone thinking they’re getting bit over and over and can become swollen, red, raised and very painful. Good luck!!

    • I just read your post and had dejavous… my dog is hitting her feet I’ve seen no bugs but I keep getting bit..I must have the sweet meat because my husband has none….did you figure out what was going on..if it was bed bugs or fleas…please email me if you found a conclusion to your problem!

  5. Hello,

    Just a quick question hopefully you can help me… We adopted a cat and of course it was infested with fleas. My kids do have random bites on them, however this morning my oldest son woke up and his neck and upper thigh was completely covered in bites. Most of them are sparatic but he does have a few that are clustered together im not sure if its flea bites or bed bugs. im so confused the dr is thinking flea bites. but are flea bites clustered together?

    • Hi Elizabeth – yes, flea bites can be clustered together and have a rash-like appearance and since you have a new cat which has fleas, the chances are the bites are from fleas. Your doctor has actually seen them and this is what he/she thinks, so I tend to think this too (bearing in mind I’ve not seen the bites!). I’d go with flea bites and treat the cat and house on that basis. Advice on bites is here and here.

      Best wishes

  6. Jo, I don’t share your skin problem, but I do know that even though things may be difficult, NOTHING is worth ending your life! See another doc, talk w/a therapist & maybe even make an appt w/a wound care specialist. Do whatever you have to do to gain peace of mind! There is a solution. You may just have to do some research to find it. Things will get better. I do find it VERY odd that no one has addressed the concern of you thinking that you might want to end your life! Everyone has their own agenda. My agenda begins w/you wanting to continue to exist! StPlease take my advice. Stay strong!

  7. Hi,

    I have been getting bittenby something on my lower legs and feet feet mainly, my feet have lots of bites on and all are very itchy.

    We have two cats and have been regularly covering them in flea powder.

    I have noticed some very small black things crawling around the bed, only one or two so far though.

    How can I tell if these are fleas or bed bugs and what is the best thing for me to do first.



    • Hi Brian

      Bites on your feet and lower legs suggests flea bites. I would suggest treating your cats with a spot-on treatment from your vet – these are most effective, although some people prefer a tablet like Program. Keep up the treatment regularly. You also need to treat your house – only 5% of fleas live on your pet, the rest are in various stages of the flea life cycle around your home. Read how to get rid of fleas in your home. You won’t get rid of fleas by just treating your pets, or just treating your house; you must do both.

      The things in your bed may be fleas that you have “hitchhiked” there on you (although they generally jump, not crawl). I doubt they are living in the bed. I don’t think they will be bed bugs – bed bugs are reddish brown and flat. Give your bed a good hoover and treat the bedroom (along with the rest of the house) for fleas.

      NB: it can take months to get rid of fleas once they are established in your house.

      Good luck!

  8. Hi! The past 2 mornings I have awaken with several bites on my legs and arms. I sleep in Capris and tshirt and some of bites are undertake capris on my thighs. But they are mostly on my calves, feet,
    and arms. Of course I panic and think OMG I have bed bugs. When I rip apart the sheets to look at the bed, I see nothing. I have seen a flea on my in the past month. My dog is constantly scratching and we have 2 cats as well. They all sleep with us. Some of the bites look like a raised blister and the others look like a mosquito bite. What are your thoughts?

    • Hi Lisa

      I’m going to bet it’s flea bites, especially as the dog is scratching and your pets sleep with you. So, first treat all the pets (not just the dog who’s scratching) then go to work on your house (I say it a lot, but remember, only 5% of the fleas are on the pet; 95% are around your home). Read this post on how to get rid of fleas in your house: your hoover is about to become your best friend. Pay attention to everywhere the animals go. Don’t expect to get rid of fleas quickly, it could take weeks or months. You must treat the pets and the house.

      Good luck.

  9. I was bitten bad by unknown bugs. had been investigatingon my bed for signs of bed bugs.

    however,can’t find any. However, i found very mini black bug on bed. i tried to catch them,they fly or jump away.

    please see my links for the bites

    • Hi Liz – I’m going to be no help to you I’m afraid. I think that you should see a pharmacist or a doctor, and explain exactly what has happened. It’s impossible for me to give an opinion from your photos and what you told me. Someone needs to look at you first-hand. Sorry, because I can see you’ve gone to a lot of trouble, but I am not a doctor and I would hate to give you bad advice and for you to scratch and get an infection.

  10. I just came home from an up north (Michigan) vacation and a few of us have bites all around our feet/ankles and (some upper legs). Not sure if it is bed bugs or fleas… but want to know how long this will last? As soon as I came home I washed EVERYTHING! And disinfected all my stuff. Is there a change that these insects could have followed me home?? If so, what should I do?! And how should i treat these bites!?

    • Hi Chantell – I am guessing, but feet/ankles/legs sounds like flea bites. I think it’s unlikely that any fleas will have hitched a lift home with you; when they bite people that’s all they do – bite and jump off to find a cat/dog. If you have washed your clothes at a high temperature, you’ve probably taken care of any fleas or bed bugs.

      There’s advice on treating flea bites here.

      Hope your bites are better soon.

  11. Hi , I Just moved to my new place last month. all my furniture and bed stuffs where clean and first hand. only 10 days after I moved in, I saw a bed bug crawling on the floor. It was a big, brownish, apple seed sized, flat insect which I am sure was a bed bug. reported to the rental manager, and scheduled to spray in 4 days as the first treatment. 3 days after getting my first spray, I noticed some small itchy pimples on my hands which was not very itchy. just a bite like mosquito bites with red spot in centre still lasting (after 3 days, and not itchy).
    during the first spray treatment I slept on my sofa bed until 2 nights a go which I got bitten by many bugs/fleas. the bites were in cluster or single, not very itchy, not very bumped and some with red dot in and some not! I have to add that I never have had any pets ever.
    Last night I went back to my room and slept on my mattress which was dusted with bedbug killer powders. I washed and dryed my beddings and comforter before taking sleep. BUT I got bitten again in the same manner. I understand that bed bug bites people once a while and they dont move fast.
    I did all my best to do what exactly the pest control expert said. and still get bitten.
    that is very disappointing and frustrating :( Now I wondered if it is bed bug or flea?

    • Hi Raycita – it could well be bed bugs – what you describe sounds like one. Even if your bedding and furniture was clean when you moved in, if there were bugs in the house, they would have got into your furniture. Bed bugs are very difficult to shift; spraying once could well be ineffective. See the post on bed bugs – steaming the mattress and hoovering meticulously can be effective. Speak to your rental manager again and explain that you think there are bed bugs (if you can get hold of one to show him, all the better) and ask that a professional exterminator who knows how to deal with bed bugs is called in.

      Good luck

  12. Hi- Thanks for this informative post. I’ve been getting bites lately- mainly on my feet and ankles, but I do have a couple on my upper thighs and stomach. I noticed that my dog was scratching and since he sleeps in the bed with us I assumed the cause of my bites is fleas. We checked him and did see very very small black bugs crawling (not jumping) on him so we went ahead and treated him for fleas. I’ve been vacuuming and cleaning the house like crazy because I’m trying to avoid chemical treatments. We have a two month old baby in the house. During the course of my cleaning, I’ve been coming across brown slow moving bugs that don’t seem to react to me disturbing them. I usually find them in corners on something thats fallen behind furniture and collected dust. For instance, a tissue that missed the garbage can and fell behind the dresser and collected dust or a bib that fell behind a dresser and picked up dog hair and dust. I haven’t seen one single bug jump. They also seem a little larger than the bugs we saw on my dog. I have a bed bug cover on our mattress, but I’m worried it might be bed bugs that are biting me. How can I tell the difference between a flea and a bedbug?

    • from reading the posts above mine, I wanted to add that the bugs I’m finding are not big, maybe a quarter of the size of a grain of rice. The ones on my dog looked like a fleck of pepper.

    • Hi MaryAnn – Bed bugs and fleas look very different. Fleas are small, very dark with long back legs – they scurry around an animals fur and will jump (though not always). You may also find flea dirt (small flecks of black/red) on your dog – if you collect this and put it on a damp tissue and it goes red (because it’s dried blood) it’s flea dirt.

      Bed bugs are larger, dark reddish brown (size of an apple seed). They won’t jump and are slower moving. Not sure if what you are finding in corners etc are bed bugs or not.

      You are doing the right thing in hoovering daily. If you are totally against using chemicals around the house try salt and baking soda. Personally, I think it’s next to impossible to get rid of fleas on a dog without a flea treatment (I know that many people would disagree). However, I do think it’s possible to use natural treatments to repel fleas once you get an infestation under control.

      Good luck!

  13. My apt was treated for bed bugs back in June and everything was ok no bites or anything..we adopted a kitten back in August the lady said she gave the kitten a flea treatment for safety purposes but she didn’t have fleas this month my kids started waking up with bites my son has them on his wrist and my daughter her fingers and foot as I have some on my legs arms and feet..I was under the impression of bed bugs but now I’m not to sure any advice?

    • Hi Kristie – could well be fleas if the kitten was treated back in August. You could try combing her with a flea comb to see if you find any or look in her fur – around the neck area is a favourite place for fleas. As you mention feet, legs, hands and arms, could well be fleas – especially if it is happening all the time, not just every so often. See the post on treating fleas on kittens.

      • I have checked my kitten and have seen nothing I also put the flea medicine the lady I adopted her from gave me.she didn’t say she had fleas prior to me adopting her she said she did it for safety purposes to prevent I guess but I will def look into the flea comb and keep a sharps eye out thank you

  14. When I stay at my boyfriends I always get these bits. Everyone in the house has been getting them recently too, so it can’t be just in his bed. I get 3 or 4 of them around the same spot. I am always itching. I have them on my feet on the side of my ribs, and on my arms and hands. I am scared what every it is, is going to fallow me to my dorms. What can I do to stop the itch or get rid of whats in his house. They have vacuumed with flea powder but i am worried it is not fleas but bed bugs. Can you help tell me whats biting us, please!

    • Hi Felicia – sorry to hear you are being bitten. Read the post on flea bites to help the itch. If it’s fleas, vacuuming once won’t help – it needs to be done daily for weeks on end. Bed bugs are a possibility – hunt around the beds and check, if you find them, use the information on the site to try to get rid of them.

      Best of luck

  15. Hi, I recently found a kitten and brought it home with me, of course it was infested with fleas. I have been giving him flea baths regularly but he is too small for any sort of flea medicines or anything like that. I have tried making him sleep elsewhere but he will not stop meowing if I dont let him lay with us. I see the fleas on him but nowhere else. However, I have woken up the past 4 days with bumps on my back and arms that itch like crazy. Today I pulled my mattress up looked all around in the cracks with a flashlight and saw nothing. I washed all my bed linens in hot hot water and put them on high heat in the dryer. I’m worried it is bed bugs because I have not seen a single flea besides on the kittens body. Please help these bumps are driving me crazy!!! They are just red little bumps some are here and there and some are clustered. I just need to know what to do next…

    • Hi Megan – read the post on getting rid of fleas on kittens – you may find that here is a treatment you can use. Bed bugs tend to bite in cycles, not all the time. See if this happens to you. Also, you may be getting bites during the day, but they don’t show up until later. As it has all coincided with getting the kitten, it seems more likely to be fleas.

  16. I have woken up the past few mornings with little red bites, mainly on my torso and back, one or two on my arms. I’m at university and live in halls so there are no pets, but did recently stay at a friends with a dog. I don’t think these are bed bugs as the bites are very small and not in clusters, they are very random. any ideas?

      • Hi Jodie – lots of people get random spots or bites for lots of reasons. It could have been your friend’s dog – if it was, there won’t be any more. If you get more bites, check for bed bugs.

  17. We had adopted a dog for about a week, one month ago. It didn’t work out and she was returne. We have one cat, who’s indoors only. Lately, she’s been itching more than normal. I looked at her fur and skin, and all I can see is dry skin. Over the past two weeks, my daughter and I have been bitten by something, and its itchy. Its never in groups, or lines. They are randomly scattered throughout the body. We seem to get new ones every day. We sleep on opposite sides of the house – she doesn’t sleep or lay on my bed, and I don’t go near her bed except to make it in the morning. My son and husband haven’t been affected at all. Its too cold for mosquitoes, and I’ve searched the floors and beds for any bugs. I haven’t seen anything. We haven’t tried anything new and out of the ordinary, so its not an allergic reaction. Any thoughts on what it could be? I feel like I want to treat the whole house for everything, but I don’t want to expose us and the cat to unnecessary chemicals. Thoughts would be appreciated.

  18. Hello , my question is , I notice my daughter was coming with red bites every weekend from my dad , so I discovers he has these types of bug in his house . And i been bitten around my ankles , legs , just woke up with a bite on my nose , it really bortheing me . It like red bugs , and I was wondering can this bugs can carry diseases ? What should I do ? I tell my dad he need to do something fast . I don’t like seeing
    My daughter with these !

  19. I have woken up the past few mornings with little red bites, mainly on my torso, neck, arms, and lower legs. No one else in my house experiences this plus we do not have any pets. I was wondering what do you think the bites are bed bugs or fleas. I have searched for bed bugs but have found no sign of them.

  20. Hi there! I found you blog very informative. My husband and I recently returned from Mexico with our dogs. I keep getting bites. At first I thought they were mesquite bites but it’s too cold for them right now. The bites don’t occur in clusters and tonight I have one on my inner thigh. Dogs are on flea medication. No I wonder if they are bed bugs but why doesn’t my husband get bitten? Any thoughts?

  21. Hi, my husband and I have random red bites on us. We have had two people come out that say we do not have bed bugs and that it is probably fleas. We did recently discover that our dogs to have fleas…. My thought though is that if it were fleas, wouldn’t our daughter have bites as well? It is just the two of us getting bites. Our newborn in our room does not have bites either. The bites are red and itch a little, mine often turn big and white and look like big painful zits…. This has been going on since November, we have not seen any bugs or evidence of bugs other than fleas. We bought flea medication this week and are treating our dogs. Our concern is that we are moving this week and do not want to make anything worse by mixing all of our furniture or taking anything to our new house… confused and a fed up not knowing what is going on!

  22. hello there. i have been getting little red itchy marks on my legs and recently one or two bites on my neck. we don’t have any pets. i found these little tiny black bugs that is crawling on me but it doesn’t jump. i have not seen it jump yet but it seems to smear when you squish it with your fingers. i have family members living with me but they don’t seem to be getting bites or seen it anywhere. i don’t really go outside. i stay indoors mostly. i have been filling like it’s biting everywhere. i have wash all my clothes and bed covers plus pillow sheets in very hot water and high heat dry but somehow i don’t know if it’s working. i don’t know what to do anymore. please help and thank you.

  23. I purchased a Yorkie puppy and she was full of fleas. Luckily I spray my house with a Flea prevention spray that protects your house up to 7 months. My other two dogs are protected with Trifexis. But my question is how often do I need to wash my bedding on my bed since I have her sleep with me. The day I got her and discovered she was covered in fleas I washed her in Dawn dish soap and let her sit in kennel with heater blowing on for 10 minutes. After 10 min and combing her out and finding more of them moving, I repeated the process again. I took her to vet the next day, he didn’t say he seen anymore when examining her. He put her on Trifexis, which I gave her later that night with her meal as he told me to do.
    So now my question is, do I have to wash my bedding daily since she is sleeping with me. Or is my once a week going to be fine. I know it can take 2 days-2 weeks for a flea to hatch. I have Sprayed my mattress and pillows again just to be safe. Even though it was four months early I vaccumed the carpets and sprayed them again. Also how worried should I be about our clothes since she is a little “Diva” and wants to be Held all the time, she was spoiled by the breeder since she was the tiniest in the litter. I have also resprayed our furniture.
    Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

  24. I recently, about 5 weeks ago, poured over some flea powder in my bedroom and vaccumed my 15 year old carpet that same day. About 2 days later I had a dime sized boil on my temple and various other rashes and sores mainly on my scalp. As of the past 2 weeks, I am getting bites or rashes on my shoulders, arms and stomach which are painful to touch. These rashes or boils tend to heal as scabs, some small and clustered, and some slightly larger. I have a indoor cat who I have noticed last weekend has a tick in his cream coloured hair. My relative is always scratching, but she does not get any allergic reaction.
    How can I tell for sure that it is fleas, ticks or bed and dust mites?

  25. Hey, well, I went over to stay at a friends house, just to find out that she has bed bugs. I called my mom, she told me to just leave EVERYTHING there, check my clothes, and she came and picked me up. I actually also threw away the clothes I wore, and a pair of shoes. Anyways. I know that we have fleas. My cats and my dog has them. But, I’ve been actually really scared because I’m getting bit, and maybe it’s just because I’m so afraid of getting bed bugs, but they’re coming in 2′s and 3′s. The bites are swelling up, and then going down. They do itch, but not for long. Only for about an hour or so. Then the swelling goes down, and so does the itchyness. I have checked my bed, and I have checked the couches, everything. I don’t see anything. Last night, we have tightly shrink wrapped my bed, and the box springs, because what I am hoping is fleas, is so much worse in my bedroom, and in my bed. I have been sleeping on the couch the past few nights, because of this. Last night, I got bit. Bad. And I checked the couch, didn’t see anything. But, I’m still very scared, and worried. I’m not sure of what to do. Only me and my mother are getting bit. Not my dad, or my boyfriend. We really don’t have the money to pay an exterminator, so I don’t know of what else to do.. :\ Please help me, and talk to me. ):

    • Hi Nicole – if you know that your pets have fleas, that’s what you need to be dealing with first. You don’t need to pay an exterminator – it will be hard work though. You need to treat your pets and your house and you need to do this consistently for weeks, maybe months – it took me several months to get rid of an infestation. You will need to hoover every day (including your furniture), you will need to get some sort of treatment for your cat and dog. Have a look at these posts on the blog: How to get rid of fleas in your house and how to get rid of fleas on your dog. There are also posts on using cheap everyday products like salt and baking soda to help get rid of fleas.

      Hope this helps.

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