Your Guide to a Flea Infestation
Fleas may sound like pests of the distant past, but most pet owners know that they are still a constant threat both for your furry family members and your home. Once fleas nest inside a home, it can be incredibly difficult to eradicate their nests and larvae. Even top store-bought products can be confusing to completely get rid of an infestation.
By understanding what fleas eat, how they interact with you and your pets, and environments that help them thrive, you can gain insight into how to get rid of fleas for good. In some scenarios—especially after fleas have built a significant home in your living space—it may be necessary to seek out a professional exterminator to get rid of your flea problems.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at fleas from all angles, helping you identify your flea problem and how to get rid of it for good.
The Dangers of Fleas
How much do fleas present a risk to you and your pet’s health? Much like any parasitic pest, it’s important to discourage any insect that feeds on an animal’s blood, even if they no longer carry life-threatening diseases.
Flea bites on both you and your pet can become infected if they are overly scratched or come in contact with harmful bacteria. Fleas can bite multiple times a day—some several hundred times a day—so even a small infestation could lead to unfortunate pain and discomfort in a short period of time.
Some people and animals can also have an allergic reaction to the flea’s saliva, leading to further rashes, welts, or outbreaks. An abundance of fleas and their feces can even trigger asthma attacks in some humans.
Cats, dogs, and even humans can act as the host for tapeworms if they accidentally ingest a flea with the disease. This is more common in pets, however, luckily can be easily treated.
In smaller animals such as cats, a flea infestation can even lead to anemia if they receive too many bites. Though it is easy to treat the issue when caught at the right time, it can be life-threatening.
Throughout history, fleas have also been known to carry major diseases to animals and humans, particularly typhus and the bubonic plague. These diseases are widely eradicated throughout the US, but increased travel can also heighten the risks of catching an illness from fleas abroad.
Fleas have the ability to reproduce quite quickly, and due to their changing life stages, not all flea killers take care of every flea phase. This makes it much easier for infestations to grow quickly, threatening the safety and value of your home.
Eradicating a major flea infestation can cost hundreds of dollars if left unchecked, so it’s important to protect yourself against this growing problem before it’s out of control.
What Do Fleas Look Like?
It can be easy to mix fleas up with other common pests brought inside by animals, such as ticks or even bed bugs. But fleas have several common physical features that, even to the human eye, are easy to differentiate.
Common Fleas Species
The cat flea, or Ctenocephalides felis, is the most common flea species in the US. Overall, there are over 2,500 known flea species around the world. Despite the cat flea’s name, it is known to bite dogs and humans as well.
Size and Coloring
If you are able to look at a flea up close, which can be difficult because of their ability to leap away quite quickly, you’ll see that they only range between one-twelfth to one-eighth of an inch long. They have dark brown and reddish bodies but may appear black from afar. They are known for their six extended legs and have round, oval bodies.
Fleas can be differentiated from ticks by their coloring and placement of their legs. Flea legs hang down below them while ticks take on more of an oval shape with legs in either direction. Bed bugs are also similar to ticks and fleas in some ways, but have distinct segmented bodies.
Young fleas, known as larvae, will resemble small white worms that can be hard to spot with the naked eye. They rarely move far from their nests so you are less likely to see them leaping as you would the adults.
Fleas do not have wings, though it may appear that they are quick at flying away when given the chance. In reality, fleas can leap up to 200 times their own body length.
Where to Find Fleas
Fleas are stealth at hiding in floorboards, cracks, and any other small spaces that can provide warm and moist protection from the outside world. They will also build nests in pet beds, carpets, and clothing. Fleas will often leave feces—known as flea dirt—around their homes, so it’s possible to detect fleas around your floors and surfaces by wiping up the area with a white rag or socks.
Life Cycle of Fleas
One of the reasons fleas are so difficult to handle is due to their complex life cycles. Not all flea repellents and poisons take care of eggs, young larvae, and adult fleas all at once.
How Long Do Fleas Live?
The longevity of a flea only lasts as long as it has a host to sustain it. Though it can go several weeks without feeding, they typically will not live much past this without one. If fleas have an ongoing food source and safe conditions, they can live up to a year.
Flea eggs are actually laid when a female flea is attached to a host and feeding. The eggs naturally fall wherever the host is, often to the ground, and will hatch in several days if undisturbed.
The Growth Process
Growing into a full adult flea takes time, and can be a complex process. Eggs hatch into larvae and eventually build cocoons to transfer into the pupal phase. When fleas are still larvae, they do not have appendages but spend a good deal of time eating waste and discarded skins. The larvae stage will run less time depending on the warmth and humidity in their environment.
How Fleas Get Into Your Home
Fleas undoubtedly come in from the outside, typically from pets like dogs and outdoor cats. Much like bed bugs, however, fleas can also travel on with new furniture, clothing, or luggage. When you travel, you are more likely to bring fleas into your space.
As we mentioned above, female fleas will lay eggs once attached to a host, so it is easy for them to multiply and spark an infestation once they find their way into your space.
In some cases, fleas can simply come in through cracks in your windows and doorways, especially if they know that there are easy hosts inside.
Homes with other pest problems, such as rodents, squirrels, or raccoons, can also get fleas from these creatures as well. When a pest professional treats your home for pests, they may also check your space for other intruders as well any issues with a flea infestation in your lawn.
Flea Treatment and Prevention
Due to the relevance of fleas in homes across the US—especially for those with cats and dogs—there is an abundance of products and information about natural remedies to both treat infestations and keep them from coming back.
Natural Flea Remedies
If you prefer to hand flea with natural, around-the-house products, and methods, this could be a way to handle small flea issues or keep them from developing in the first place.
Begin by always keeping an eye out for flea bites on your pets and family members. Flea bites are often small red welts and can cluster in one area since fleas can feed more than once. It’s easy to mix them up for bed bugs for this reason. Fleas, however, are often much easier to spot than bed bugs, a telltale sign.
The simplest way to catch fleas is to leave a cup or bowl of warm, soapy water in a room where you suspect fleas have gathered. The warm water will attract the fleas while the dish soap acts as a glue to keep them from jumping away. Be sure to use non-toxic dish soap if you have animals in your home.
Salt and Vacuuming
Vacuuming is always your first line of defense against a flea infestation, though make sure to discard your vacuumed dust and bugs outdoors. If you lay down a layer of salt on your floor and carpet before vacuuming, this also dries out any ticks depending on humid weather.
Plan your garden and indoor potted plants to deter fleas—and many other pests—from finding your home hospitable. The odor of the plants will often scare off fleas, especially from the perimeter of your home. These plants include:
Flea infestations are also more common when you travel to potential places in and outside the country where you can pick up fleas on your clothes or luggage. Before settling in after your trip, quarantine your luggage and perform a thorough check for any signs of pests. Place your clothing in the washer as quickly as possible.
A Note on Pet Prevention
Speak to your vet about the best pet prevention medicines to both kill and prevent fleas from latching on to your cat or dog. These topical medicines are often applied to the back of the neck of your animal and can protect against other pests like ticks as well.
Also speak with your vet about illnesses often caused by fleas, such as ringworm. Preventive medicines can keep your pets from developing issues if they consume a carrier.
Chemical-Based Flea Remedies
Flea pesticides can be the best remedies for major flea infestations, but be sure to read the labels carefully to make sure you keep you, your family, and your pet’s safety during treatment.
Sprays and Aerosols
Tick sprays and aerosol cans are the most common forms of flea killers. These concentrated poisons are often sprayed right into the areas where you suspect fleas are hiding and nesting. Be sure to check the label to ensure the chemical takes care of adult fleas, larvae, and eggs at once.
Another form of flea repellent and killer are residual poisons. These sprays and dusts stay on surfaces longer, ensuring that they catch fleas at all stages of development. These can also be particularly effective in rugs and carpeting.
Flea Traps and Baits
Other, simpler forms of flea killers lure fleas into a trap and keep them from leaving, often through a thick liquid or adhesive. The trap often creates a warm, moist area that the flea finds comfortable to live.
Professional Flea Control
When do you know it’s time to call a professional for flea prevention and treatment? If you want to guarantee that your small flea problem will not grow into a larger infestation, we recommend calling a pest specialist right away.
Terminix believes in tailoring our pest control plans to each individual home and the customer’s needs. They will manage your flea concerns in four steps:
- Inspection: Our trained and certified experts know where to look for fleas and signs of an infestation. They provide a free consultation and thorough inspection of inside your home as well as the surrounding property.
- Treatment: Terminix knows it’s difficult to fully rest inside a home that is under threat of a pest problem. They will treat your home quickly and effectively, targeting the trouble areas while fortifying areas to keep fleas from coming back in the future.
- Re-Inspection: After several months, the team will return to ensure that no further fleas have re-emerged in the treated areas.
- Ongoing Care: For as long as you maintain your plan, they will return as many times as necessary to care for flea issues so you never have to worry about a future infestation.
Flea infestations are quite common in the US, especially when you have pets that come and go throughout the day. If you spot one of these notorious leaping insects, do not wait to address the issue. Both DIY and professional care can eradicate a flea infestation, but only an expert can offer peace of mind that they are gone for good.