The most common fleas in the U.S. are the cat flea and the human flea. But, despite their names, both species will bite and live off the blood of numerous animals, both domestic and wild.
Pets may get fleas from the outdoors or from being around other animals that have fleas.
Humans can even bring home fleas, themselves, if they have interacted flea-infested pets or other animals at a friends' homes, pet stores, etc. In addition, wild animals that shelter within a home's structure (e.g., under a porch or in a crawlspace) can cause a flea infestation to begin.
- Fleas are about 1/18th inch in length.
- Their bodies are wingless and hard.
- They are very dark brown in color.
- Back legs are longer than the front legs.
- Fleas cannot fly, but, rather, jump from one host animal to another.
They can be of harm to pets because:
- They will bite the animal in order to feed on its blood, resulting in both irritation and potential disease transmission.
- The animal's incessant scratching at the flea-bitten areas can cause infection or hair loss.
- The fleas can transmit tapeworm infestation in the pest, which can also be transmitted to humans.
- Fleas can also transmit plague from infected wild animals.
Although fleas have a preference for animals over humans, they will also bite and feed on humans, leaving small itchy, red marks as signs of their presence.
After feeding, the female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day. The eggs are generally laid on the animal, but because they are not attached in any way, they will fall off onto carpeting, furniture, or other areas the animal may walk or lie. The eggs will hatch deep within these areas into larvae "worms," and eventually grow, through stages, into an adult that hops back onto an animal host to start the circle over again.
DIY Flea Control
Homeowners can control flea infestations themselves, but it is important to read all label directions for all products and ensure that the correct product is used for the animal being treated. In addition, it is recommended that pet owners talk with their veterinarians prior to beginning a control program.
The University of Nevada Extension Service recommends a two-step program:
- Step 1. Eliminate existing adult fleas on pets. This is achieved through treating the pet with a product from the veterinarian or pet store. Although over-the-counter soaps, shampoos, and combs are available, it is recommended that pet owners consult with their veterinarians even when using these products.
- Step 2. Eliminate larvae in the home. Wash all bedding items with which the pet has come in contact, particularly its own bed that the sheets and blankets of any family members with whom the animal sleeps.
Vacuum carpets anywhere in the home that the pet has been, then treat the carpets with a pesticide product specifically labeled as an insect growth regulator (IGR) for fleas. It is also beneficial to use an outdoor-labeled product in the yard if the animal spends time outdoor.
While these IGRs will provide prevention by disabling eggs from hatching and larvae from further growth, it is wise to use a preventive third step to keep your pets from bringing pests into the home:
- Step 3. Use flea-control products. Such products may be in the form of a pill that is given to your pet once a month; a collar that is replaced every six months; or a topical medication that is dispensed on the pest skin between the shoulder blades. This is generally applied once a month.
Many of these products also include active ingredients to kill ticks as well as fleas. In warmer areas the products should be used year round. In northern climates where insects become relatively inactive in the winter, use of the products can sometimes be limited to the potential flea seasons.