Fleas are a huge nuisance; they have been so for centuries. The problem with fleas is that they are nearly impossible to eradicate. They are capable of jumping high (no, they do not fly) and hitchhiking their way into our homes. As a result, their populations increase like wildfires and very soon you have a full blown infestation. Let us take a look at what fleas look like, how they move and multiply, and what you can do about them. This information is important if you want to understand and eliminate fleas.
What do fleas look like?
There are over 2000 species of fleas but the common one, C.f.felis, is the one that most humans encounter. Fleas, as stated above, have existed for centuries and with every passing generation, they have grown stronger and more and more resistant to the chemicals available for killing them.
Cat and dog fleas (C.f. felis) measure about 1-2 millimeter in length. Their strong hind legs help them jump from one host to another. A flea’s body is extremely tough and divided into head and thorax. It is nearly indestructible and uncrushable. This means that you could essentially step on a flea without killing it. Adult fleas are grey, black, brown or yellowish brown in color. Full grown larvae are 6 mm long and yellowish white in color.
Fleas may be found on cats and dogs throughout the year but in the northern hemisphere, they are more common in warmer months of late spring and early autumn since the environment is more suitable for larval growth during this time.
Do any other insects look like fleas?
Many insects look like fleas. The sand flea, also called chigger, jigger flea or chigoe flea is found in tropical countries. Like the cat and dog flea, it has a wingless body and usually burrows and lives in the sand. Chigoe fleas attack bare footed persons and burrow deep into the soft skin of the feet. This can lead to severe inflammation and ulceration as well as secondary infections if ignored.
Gnats and fruit flies are also often confused with fleas however; these are winged insects and can fly. Other insects that look like fleas are the tobacco flea beetles but they usually do not take on cats, dogs or humans as hosts. Flea beetles jump like fleas due to their large hind legs. The flea hopper is also much like the flea beetle due to its long legs. The flea beetle and flea hopper are very good jumpers as well.
Fleas are wingless and cannot fly
Many people wonder whether fleas can fly. The fact is fleas are wingless creatures that move very fast. Fleas certainly cannot fly since they do not have wings. However, they are capable of jumping very high. It is estimated that fleas can jump over 6 inches high and nearly 12 inches in length. Fleas can live in the grass in your yard until they find a suitable host. If you place a flea in water, it will simply jump out. If you want to trap it, use dish soap.
Fleas can appear in your home even if you do not have animals. Sometimes, fleas can come into your house from your garden. A rabbit, squirrel, possum or raccoon could bring fleas into your home simply by nesting under your patio or porch deck. A fresh laundry basket could also contain fleas and when you shake the clothes out, you have fleas all over your carpet. There are also flea species that only infest humans and getting rid of such fleas can be a huge problem.
They are more than a nuisance
Fleas bite. They bite humans in absence of cats and dogs. Their bites are irritating and can cause pain, itchy welts, swelling and redness. They bite in order to take blood from their hosts. The bitten skin can become painful, swollen and red and can also cause hair loss in furry animals. Infected fleas can pass diseases like typhus, tapeworm and more onto small animals like puppies, kittens etc. In weaker animals, untreated flea infestations can lead to anemia. Sensitive humans and animals can also develop flea allergy dermatitis.
The bad news
Fleas rarely live on their hosts. This means that for every flea you see on your pet, you can be assured that there are at least 5 to 10 times more in your house. This is why a flea infestation develops so rapidly. A single female flea can lay hundreds of eggs in her lifetime. You can safely assume that for every 5 fleas found on your pet; there will be 95 others in the form of eggs, larvae and adult fleas lurking around in its environment. Your entire home, bedding, children’s plush toys, and furniture can all be infested with fleas. Fleas jump from room to room in search of cracks, crevices and hiding places to lay eggs and rest.
Winter does not equal no fleas
Winter weather will kill fleas outside in your garden but the flea eggs inside your home can remain dormant until warm weather approaches. Also, your home is likely to be centrally heated indoors. That is why fleas indoors can continue laying eggs and harming you and your pets. The eggs and pupae can remain safe and secure inside cracks and crevices. Fleas will multiply and the problem will escalate as the weather becomes warm and humid.
Getting rid of fleas
After you discover that your home is infested with fleas, follow these steps:
Bathe all pets
If one pet has fleas, they could all get them. Fleas jump from host to host and in order to get rid of them, you have to treat all your pets. So give all of your pets a flea bath to quickly get the fleas off them.
Use flea control products
Using vet approved flea control products like sprays, shampoos, powders, drops or collars. Never use dog or cat products on other household pets, like ferrets or hamsters, as these products could potentially kill these small animals. Only use what your vet has recommended for your pet and always read the label carefully.
Check your pets with a flea comb
As you probably know by now, I love flea combs. They are great for removing fleas and larvae from your furry pets. Flea combs can also remove flea corpses and debris from fur and hair.
Vacuum the entire house. You must vacuum behind and under the furniture as well. Treat the carpet and rugs with great care as flea eggs and larvae remain trapped in the fibers. Immediately discard the vacuum bags by sealing them first. Repeat vacuuming every 2-3 days.
Wash all fabrics
Wash all bedding, linen and upholstery in hot water and detergent. This will help kill the flea eggs. Toss all infested items in a dryer and use the highest heat setting they can withstand. Heat is also the reason why steam cleaning is so effective. It will get rid of larvae, eggs as well as adult fleas.
Treat outside as well
Finally, don’t forget to treat the yard as well. You will need to cut the grass to a short height to deter fleas. Also eliminate clutter in the yard and under the deck as these things allow harborage of wild animals like raccoons, possums, ferrets etc.
These steps will help you get rid of fleas in and around your house. Make sure you use an integrated flea management approach instead of depending on one flea control method only.
Fleas do not fly but they can jump high and hitchhike their way into our homes. They can also crawl in your pet’s fur, bite it and make it miserable. I hope this brief guide helps you take care of any problem you may have and prevent future flea infestations.
Got fleas? Find out which products work in 2019, with my updated flea control product comparison chart.