How long can infestations last?

Fleas are some of the most annoying pests to deal with. They’re small enough to get around easily and agile enough to be called acrobatic.

Fleas generally prefer four-legged hosts to humans. However, if your family pet has fleas, it’s likely that your yard, house, and furniture will be targeted next.

Itching is a telltale sign of a flea infestation. You may even spot the little jumpers. On average, fleas are 2.5 millimeters long, making them visible to the naked eye. Their strong legs allow them to jump as far as 13 inches in distance.

The life cycle of the flea depends on environmental conditions. Fleas flourish in warm climates. The ideal temperature range is 80 to 90°F (26 to 32 °C) with 70 percent humidity.

In these conditions, fleas have a life cycle of 18 to 21 days. If the weather isn’t ideal and there isn’t a host to feed on, flea larvae may remain dormant for months while waiting for better conditions to develop. On average, adult fleas live from several weeks to several months.

If your pet is a walking carrier of mature fleas, your home can become the nursery. It’s estimated that only 5 percent of a flea infestation can be attributed to the adult fleas unwillingly hosted by your pet.

The remaining 95 percent is thought be the eggs, larvae, and cocoons spread throughout your house. This means that you have to tackle the problem from all angles in order to truly eradicate the infestation.

To do this, you must treat your pet and its living environment at the same time. Depending on your pet’s boundaries, this may include your whole house or yard.

Here’s how to start eliminating fleas from your home:

  1. Use a powerful vacuum on any floors, upholstery, and mattresses. Cracks and other tight spaces are usually good hiding places for fleas and their cohort of eggs, larvae, and cocoons. If you can, use a vacuum with a bag you can dispose of without coming into contact with its contents.
  2. Employ a steam cleaner for carpets and upholstery, including pet beds. The combination of high heat and soap is the enemy of fleas in all stages of life. Pay special attention to any hot spots where your pet usually lies down.
  3. Wash all bedding, including your pet’s, in hot water. Dry it at the highest heat setting. If the infestation is severe, consider getting rid of old bedding and starting anew.
  4. Use chemical treatments. Aerosol sprays are recommended over the foggers, as you can direct the spray under beds or other places that the foggers may be unable to reach. Choose an insecticide that contains both an adulticide, such as permethrin, that kills adult fleas, and an insect growth regulator, such as methoprene or pyriproxyfen, that kills the eggs, larvae, and pupae. People and pets shouldn’t come into contact with the spray until it has dried. Be sure to wear gloves when you apply the spray, and only spray when everyone is out of the house.

The best way to eliminate fleas from your yard is to think about where they’d most like to hide. Take a good look at your yard and make a list of the places that are shady, humid, and warm. Sun-exposed areas can get too hot, so you probably won’t find many fleas there.

Spot problem areas by observing where your pet likes to lie down. These typically become preferred hanging spots for fleas.

Once you have your target zones, here’s what you can do to eliminate the fleas:

  1. Mow your lawn regularly and rake the exposed surfaces thoroughly. Fleas like to hide in tall grass. Make sure to bag the contents rather than add them to your compost pile.
  2. Remove all debris, such as dead leaves and twigs, from flower beds and from under any bushes. Expose as much of the shady areas to sunlight as you can.
  3. Spread cedar chips on the areas where your pet likes to lie down, under the bushes, and on flower beds.
  4. Ask your gardening center about nematodes, which are small worms that can eat parasite eggs, and sulphur granules. You can spread both around problem areas to help remove fleas.

If you suspect that your pet has fleas, take the following steps:

  1. Wash your pet’s bedding in hot water every couple of days. Dry it on the highest heat setting after each washing. You can take the pet bed to a dry cleaner, but make sure the potential cleaning chemicals are pet friendly.
  2. Wash your pet using flea shampoo. Ask your vet or natural food store about the best options for your pet. Many effective pet shampoos contain pyrethrin, an extract derived from chrysanthemum flowers.
  3. Purchase a flea comb. Have a bowl of soapy water handy to dunk the critters once you comb them out of your pet’s hair. Fleas typically reside around the neck and tail areas.
  4. Talk to your vet about oral or topical flea remedies. Flea collars can be highly toxic so avoid them if possible.
  5. If you prefer natural remedies, make a strong solution by adding two cups of rosemary leaves to hot water. Allow the mixture to cool down and use it to spray, rinse, or soak your pet.

Beyond being a nuisance, fleas can also spread diseases and parasites. Although rare, some of the most dangerous diseases are flea-borne typhus and bubonic plague.

If a flea infection goes undetected, your pet may develop a heartworm or tapeworm. Tapeworm may occasionally infest people as well.

Detecting a flea infestation can be upsetting, but take heart. They can be quickly eradicated if you take the appropriate measures. Vacuum every few days. Clean up your lawns regularly, and dispose of any debris as soon as possible.

Make sure you launder all linens and other cloth items regularly and at high heat.

The most important thing to remember is that you must treat your home, yard, and pet at the same time. This can help prevent re-infestation.