How To Get Rid Of Fleas
18–20 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
Tiny, tough to locate at first glance, and always hungry for an animal or human host: This explains why fleas deserve your attention if they’ve gained entry to your home.
Once inside, they look for a consistent meal by attaching to your pet or even to you. These insects also bear resemblance to ticks and bed bugs, which means you need to know which pest you’re dealing with.
Fleas Versus Ticks Versus Bedbugs
Fleas and bedbugs are both classified as insects, yet ticks are part of the arachnid family.
While bedbugs are not known to carry disease, fleas and ticks can spread a range of serious and even life-threatening illnesses.
Fleas are the smallest, at about 1/10 inch; bedbugs measure about 1/5 inch long, and adult ticks measure about 2/5 inch.
Historically, fleas have played a large role in extending the spread of lethal diseases. This dates to the plague known as the “Black Death” that killed a quarter of the population of Europe in the 14th century. Scientists have now discovered more than 2,000 species of fleas worldwide. Within the U.S., there are five main types that pose a concern for pet owners and homeowners. Let’s discuss each…
The name is a bit deceiving. Even though these pests are often attached to cats, they may also target dogs, other animals, and humans. The body of a cat flea (like other fleas) is so thin it can move between its host’s hairs. Household carpet provides cat fleas with another comfortable hiding place and a site to lay eggs. This species is also known to transmit parasites to animals and humans.
How To Identify:
Extremely narrow bodies with hair and dark brown coloration
Six long legs to allow the flea to jump from host to host
Prevalent in warmer climates, like the southern U.S.
A proven carrier of murine typhus, which also affects humans
May be treatable with DIY methods
Our body hair acts as cover for this species, which is known to bite at the legs and feet of humans (the lowest and easiest target) or to live in the underarms or on the head. Bites will take the form of raised red spots surrounded by reddish halos. Good hygiene and self-care practices can eliminate the presence of human fleas.
How To Identify:
Adult human fleas are 1.5 to 4 mm in length
Reddish to brown in color
Found in warm, moist places – hence their preference for human skin
May be treatable with DIY methods
In rare cases, a bite can produce a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening. If you are bitten by a flea, take the following steps:
- Wash the bitten area
- Use an antiseptic solution and don’t scratch at the bite
- If the bite produces puss, check with your doctor
Within this species, there are two kinds: Oriental (found near coastal areas and rivers) and Northern (found in homes and buildings). Because they feed on the blood of rodents, rat fleas can pose a real danger by spreading bubonic plague and murine typhus. Fortunately, this flea does not usually infest homes. The best way to deny this pest entry is to prevent rodents from accessing your home.
How To Identify:
2.5 mm in length
Light to dark brown color
Can jump up to 200 times its body length
Often found in large cities with rat populations in warm climates
Attracted to heat, making them leap toward the source in anticipation of feeding
Treatable through DIY methods
More of a threat to poultry farms, the chicken flea can infect nearly 75 different birds and mammals. Like the rat flea, this species can also spread the germs associated with plague. Maintenance and upkeep of poultry shelters can help farmers keep this pest at bay.
How To Identify:
2 to 2.5 mm long
Common to the U.S. and Europe
Found mainly in chicken coops and bird cages
DIY methods are useful for prevention and treatment
This is the flea that’s not actually a flea; it’s a tiny crustacean. Regardless of how it’s classified, though, the sand flea is most active in the evening or night and makes a bad impression on people due to its stinging bite – most often on the legs and feet. The result can be an itchy, red, raised welt. In rare cases, the female may burrow under human skin and lay eggs. If the site develops a black center, you should contact your doctor.
How To Identify:
Roughly the size of a rice grain
Mainly found along coastal areas and in marshes, especially in the South
Not known to infest homes
DIY methods should prove useful
Gather the Tools You’ll Need
pet hair comb
a good flashlight
Step 1. Examine Your Pet
If your pet scratches at its fur often or appears restless, this could be a sign. Comb through your pet’s hair slowly and look for any live fleas captured. Drop them in a bowl of soapy water to kill them. You may also find flea dirt (feces), which will turn red when put in the soapy water. Next, look through your pet’s bedding area. If you notice spots similar to coffee grounds, place the bedding in water. If the spots turn red as well, you’ve found even more flea dirt.
Step 2. The Sock Test
Wearing white cotton socks up to your calves, walk around the interior of your home, shuffling your feet to create warmth. That movement will attract fleas to your socks due to the heat. Check for dark-colored specks against the white cotton – a sure sign of adult fleas.
Step 3. Check the Carpet
Deep, rich fibers are among a flea’s favorite hiding places. Run a hand through the fibers – and use a flashlight if necessary – to find evidence of flea dirt or eggs (tiny white ovals).
Step 4. Turn Up the Heat
Place a bowl with soapy warm water on the floor and aim the lamp’s light on the water. Fleas will leap toward the light but land in the water, killing them.
Step 5. Take a Walk Around Your Yard
Because fleas always seek moist, shady areas, start your search in the portions of your yard that get the most shadow. As with step 2 above, wear your white socks and slowly move through the potential problem spots. Dark dots on your sock fabric are a clear signal.
Step 6. Choose A Solution
If fleas have gained entry to your home, you need to have two goals in mind. First: Determine how you will eliminate them – and stop them from reproducing. Second: Make your home very unfriendly to fleas by treating areas where they would normally gather.
Weather & Fleas
While temperature plays a key role in flea behavior, so does geography. Parts of the U.S. that see warmer climates and higher humidity may experience a year-round flea season. Here’s what to expect:
South and Southwestern States
In these regions, flea activity is a constant. Temperatures of 65-80 degrees and humidity of 75-85 percent offer ideal conditions. However, the extreme heat of mid-to-late summer can kill off some fleas and their eggs. Mild winters in these states do little to change flea behavior.
As with the South, spring and summer cause pest activity to spike. Yet it’s winter that produces a dramatic change. When temperatures dip under 32 degrees for several days, adult fleas perish. As resilient as these insects are, their bodies are not meant to weather extreme cold. Thus the chill of winter, coupled with treatment measures, give homeowners the best opportunity to rid their property of fleas altogether.
According to figures noted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), about 44% of American households own an estimated total of 85.9 million cats and 78 million dogs. When you brought your pet home for the first time, chances are that you had food, fresh water, a bed, and a safe shelter in place. You may have already chosen a vet and scheduled your pet’s first shots or checkup. One thing you may not have prepared for is a flea infestation.
Even if you have never dealt with fleas before, or if your dog or cat was free of fleas before joining your family, chances are that you’ll need to address house fleas at some point. These pests can be brought in from other pets, visitors who have them on their clothes, and especially if your pet goes outdoors often.
Why Are Fleas So Prevalent?
Fleas feed on the blood of birds, humans, reptiles and domestic and wild animals. Bloodmeals see them through their four distinct life stages as an egg, larva, pupa and, finally, a biting adult. According to PetMD, a single female flea can consume 15 times her body weight in blood every day, and she can lay 2,000 eggs over the course of her lifetime. In addition, a flea can last for more than 100 days without consuming a meal of blood.
Of the more than 2,000 flea species and subspecies of fleas that are currently known, a single species of flea – the cat flea – makes up the bulk of cat and dog flea infestations found in the United States. Pets with fleas can encounter a number of health problems including tapeworms, anemia, and extreme cases of itching which are known as pruritus. Some dogs and cats develop an allergy to the saliva of fleas, which can lead to intense irritation and severe itchiness. Extreme cases can lead to open sores, infection and more conditions requiring veterinary care.
If a flea infestation becomes bad enough, it could begin to affect your daily life and can turn your home into a miserable living space. That makes it especially important to inspect and identify fleas before attempting to treat them so the infestation from worsening or coming back.
Important Note on the Risk of Disease From Flea Bites
A flea infestation can not only make you and your pets miserable because of all the biting and scratching, but they can also serve as a vector for a host of serious diseases like tapeworms and cat scratch fever. Your cat may pass on murine typhus to you and your family by your cat if he or she is bitten by an infected flea. If that flea bites you, their bacteria-laden feces could infect you as well.
Plague can be passed along to you and your family by a flea bite. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fleas are the most common method of transmitting the plague to humans. Though plague is most often associated with fleas use rodents as a host, your pet dog or cat can also bring infected fleas into your home. If you or a member of your family is bitten by a flea, you could be exposed to septicemic plague or bubonic plague – both of which are extremely serious diseases.
Regardless of which type of flea is affecting your pet, they must all be removed in order to avoid a re-infestation.
Fleas can be found in areas where dust and other organic matter accumulate, including storage spaces with clutter, under your house in crawl spaces, under your furniture, and throughout your yard.
If you have a flea infestation in your home, then nearly 60% of those insects will be in the larval stage. They will then spin a cocoon that provides them with the ideal environment in which to develop into a pupa. After one or two weeks as a pupa, the flea grows into an adult. The adult flea does not always immediately start feeding on a host. It may stay inside the cocoon for as long as five months until a small disturbance — such as an animal passing by and brushing against it or breathing on it — causes it to awaken and begin the search for food.
By taking a few steps for prevention, you can stop an infestation in its tracks and prevent the pupa from growing before you even know they’re there.
Keep Your Home Clean
Before they make their way to your pets’ skin, fleas like to congregate in dusty, hard-to-reach spaces in your house. Keeping this in mind while you clean means that you can make their favorite hiding spots inhabitable in order to get rid of them and prevent them from making a home inside your house. Follow these steps as part of your cleaning regimen:
- Dust regularly — don’t just wipe. Fleas love to live among dusty corners and areas where crumbs and other organic matter can accumulate. Wiping down your windowsills and baseboards is always a good idea, but you should also make a habit to dust and get rid of these small debris.
- Vacuum as much as possible. Going over your carpets and rugs regularly with a vacuum cleaner will help pull up any insects hiding there and make it less conducive to flea activity. Don’t forget corners and hard-to-reach places like under your furniture. Vacuuming can eliminate up to 60% of flea eggs and 30% of flea larvae from an environment. Vacuum under your cushions, beds, chairs and furniture, as well as along your walls, to remove fleas that are in tiny cracks and crevices. Be sure to discard the vacuum cleaner bag in a tied plastic bag outside of your home when you are finished.
- Wash your pet’s bedding on a regular basis. This can help prevent an infestation growing by getting rid of any fleas that they may shed while they’re sleeping. Pair this method with regularly combing your pets for fleas.
Cats and dogs run around and rest in the shady, moist and cool places fleas love. While open grass and sunny areas are not conducive to their survival, fleas thrive in trees and shrubs. Follow these steps to ensure your yard is properly maintained:
- Keep your grass short so that fleas aren’t likely to hide underneath an overgrown yard.
- Prune your trees, bushes and shrubs.
- Rake your yard regularly and make sure you don’t have any piles of debris sitting out.
- Don’t overwater your lawn – this provides the perfect moist environment for fleas.
Inspect Your Pets Routinely
The best way to find out if your cat or dog has fleas is to carefully work your way through your pet’s hair with a flea comb. Comb them from head to tail after every time your pets go outside and before they come back in. Have a dish of soapy water ready to dunk the comb in should you see any fleas attached to it. You can also use a pair of tweezers to remove any fleas on your pets’ skin that aren’t attached to the comb.
If you do notice fleas as you’re inspecting, follow the combing up with a flea bath and/or dip. Then comb through your pet’s fur once more to ensure that all eggs, pupa and larvae are removed as well as any stray adult fleas that might have made it past the treatment. To help prevent future infestations, talk to your veterinarian about the flea treatment that is most appropriate for your situation and your particular pet.
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Some insecticides are designed to be used on pets. Others, such as sprays and foggers, can be used in your home to start eliminating the flea population.
It is important to know that fleas can become immune to a particular insecticide over a period of time. You may need to change products on a regular basis to keep the flea population under control.
Natural ways to get rid of fleas can involve traps, powders that can be sprinkled around your yard, and predator nematodes that can be mixed with water and used to treat the soil.
Insecticides for Pets
Many of the best flea sprays are available online or in-store, and they offer a great solution to help get rid of the fleas on your pet. Containing a gentle insecticide that kills fleas on contact, they can also help repel additional fleas for a limited amount of time without harming your cat or dog. Note that if you use this method, it should be paired with a cleaning regimen so that you’re not only focusing on the fleas surrounding your pet. If you aren’t taking care of the fleas elsewhere throughout your house and yard, they’ll only come back again.
Sprays and Foggers
Concentrated Flea Spray
Separate from the milder flea sprays that are safe to use on your pets, there are also higher-concentrated versions that are ideal for spraying around your house and yard. In you have an infestation that has spread beyond your pets to carpets and furniture, these sprays are perfect for killing off these fleas and prevent them from continuing to settle down inside your home. You can also use them outside and around the perimeter of your home so that they aren’t likely to follow you or your pets indoors.
Flea Bombs and Foggers
Flea bombs and foggers treat severe infestations which professional pest control experts are usually called in to employ. However, these days you can buy the best flea bombs and the best flea foggers on the market and use them for yourself inside your home. Using these products is a lengthy process that requires a lot of time and preparation, so don’t attempt to use them on your own if you don’t think you can.
Before using a fogger or bomb, you need to follow the following steps:
- Sweep and vacuum your entire house
- Cover furniture, electronics, tables and bookshelves with sheets
- Store any any appliances, utensils and food that usually sit on your countertops where they won’t be affected by the chemicals.
- Open inner doors, as well as any drawers, on your cabinets and furniture.
- Close all your windows and make sure they’re properly sealed.
- Make sure all of your clothes are laundered and stored where chemicals can’t reach them.
- Choose an ideal time to set off the bomb, when no pets or humans will be inside the home. You’ll need to read the product packaging to know exactly how long you must stay out of the house.
Medicine for Pets
Flea traps are a great added benefit to use around your house. Be aware that they’re usually only trap a fraction of the population. Used in tandem with other thorough treatments, they can catch stray fleas which your other efforts miss.
We’ve put together a list of some of the best flea traps on the market. Most of these attract fleas using light and heat, and they’re equipped with a sticky surface to trap and kill them.
Flea baths are crucial when encountering any level of flea infestation. They keep your pets as clean as possible and mitigate their discomfort. There are both cat flea shampoos and dog flea shampoos specially formulated for each need that are also available with different medicines. Note that these shampoos won’t help repel fleas — only kill off those that are on your pet at the time that you’re washing them. Plan to pair the treatment with other methods of eradication and prevention.
Flea drops are available over-the-counter or through a prescription from your veterinarian. Generally a cream medication in small tubes, this medication can treat and help prevent fleas. Always read the directions first to know where and how often you must apply it. The best spot will be on your pet’s back between his or her shoulder blades. Don’t hesitate to contact a vet with any questions, even if you’ve bought your flea drops over the counter.
Find out what the best flea medicine is for dogs as well as some of the best treatments for cats.
Flea collars deserve their own explanation because they aren’t necessarily always medicine for your pet. Some collars, designed strictly for repelling fleas, emit a gas that fleas don’t like. Others come with medication that seeps into the skin on your pet’s neck. Different collars can have different medicines that will either kill fleas on contact or kill them once they bite your dog or cat. Collars are a good option because they can be cheaper than drop medications, and last longer than the usual spot treatment.
Find out which options are available to you and what the best dog flea collars and cat flea collars are for your particular needs.
Flea powder is an alternative insecticide that you can use instead of spray insecticide. The numerous flea powders on the market are especially favorable for those seeking carpet treatments, since you can leave the powder for some time and then vacuum it up without leaving any messy residue. A lot of the powders also have less of an odor than spray insecticides. If you’d rather make your own, try this simple DIY powder recipe to save money:
DIY Flea Powder Recipe
1 cup diatomaceous earth
1 cup neem powder
15 drops of patchouli or eucalyptus oil1 part borax
Mix these ingredients in a jar and keep it sealed so that it will stay fresh. Diatomaceous earth is a great product to use for a multitude of bug infestations, as it effectively kills them without pesticides. Both the neem powder and essential oils are also proven to repel fleas and other bugs with their smell. The powder is safe to use indoors and outdoors as well as directly on your pets.
When you consider that this could be a constant battle taking weeks, or even months, to resolve, investing in professional help today may be more cost-effective in the long run.
With the growing focus on do-it-yourself projects, it is no surprise that many pet owners try to tackle a flea problem on their own. But when you consider that this could be a constant battle taking weeks, or even months, to resolve, investing in professional help today may be more cost-effective in the long run. If you’ve already identified a large infestation or feel that the safety of your family and pets is at risk, calling an exterminator is called for.They’ll target the entire flea life cycle with things like an insect growth regulator in tandem with other flea prevention tactics.
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