Acting quickly if you notice fleas in your home or on a pet can prevent a severe infestation. Tips for managing fleas include vacuuming and dusting, washing all bedding, using topical flea treatments on pets, and, using EPA-registered insect repellents, and more.
Fleas are some of the most annoying pests to deal with. They’re small, jumpy, and multiply quickly. Pets can pick up fleas from being outside in nature, around other animals, or when humans track in the insects on our shoes or clothes.
Excessive itching and scratching is a telltale sign your pet may have fleas. You may even spot the little acrobats. On average, fleas are 2-4 millimeters long, making them visible to the naked eye.
If your family pet has fleas, it’s likely that your yard and house will become a breeding ground.
A flea infestation can test your patience and require persistence. But you can eradicate the problem with a combination of cleaning methods, sprays, and pet-friendly topical medications among other options.
Do fleas bite people, too?
Yes! Fleas are after blood and can bite people or latch onto our clothes or shoes. However, they really do prefer animals. Pets are ideal hosts because thick fur provides plenty of shelter for fleas to latch onto skin and feed, or lay eggs.
If fleas do bite you during an infestation, it will likely be around your ankles, or in folds of skin. Flea bites can cause an allergic reaction in the form of hives.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the
Flea eggs are small but can be seen if you’re looking closely. They are smooth and white or light in color. A single adult female flea can produce up to 2,000 eggs in her lifetime. These eggs may be laid in your pet’s fur, deep in the carpet, or in tall grass.
In ideal conditions, fleas will evolve from egg to adult within 2 to 3 weeks. Adult fleas can live up to 100 days.
Fleas are ready to feed within a day of hatching, and begin to suck blood within 10 seconds of landing on a host.
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. This is a key reason dealing with infestations can be so difficult.
The length of time required to get rid of a flea infestation depends on your environment, and how long the fleas have been there.
Prompt cleaning and using topical flea medications for your pet may get rid of the majority of fleas within a day or two. However, it can take days to weeks for all the fleas present in an environment to die, even with the most conscientious approach.
Fleas lay a lot of eggs very quickly, and some fleas have developed resistance to medications and insecticides. If you have a large property or multiple pets with fleas, it may take longer to get rid of the problem. The key to handling fleas is persistence.
If your pet is a walking carrier of mature fleas, your home can become the nursery.
Since the flea has multiple life stages (egg, larvae, cocoon, adult), when adult fleas are present, it is assumed all of these stages are also present 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.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends the following cleaning approaches:
- 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.
- 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 spots where your pet usually lies down or spends a lot of time.
- Wash all bedding, including your pet’s, in hot water and detergent. Dry it at the highest heat setting. If the infestation is severe, consider getting rid of old bedding and starting anew.
If you do aim to use an insecticide or other chemical cleaning treatment, please proceed with caution. Many are toxic to humans, pets, and the environment.
Here are some tips:
- Aerosol sprays are recommended over 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 (kills adult fleas), such as permethrin, and an insect growth regulator (kills the eggs, larvae, and pupae), such as methoprene or pyriproxyfen.
- People and pets shouldn’t come into contact with an insecticide or chemical treatment until it has dried. Be sure to wear gloves when you apply the spray, and only do it when everyone is out of the room or house.
The best way to eliminate fleas from your yard is to think about where they’re most like to hide.
Fleas love places that are:
Direct sun-exposed areas can get too hot, so you probably won’t find many fleas there. Problem areas will likely be found by observing where your pet likes to lie down.
Once you have your target zones, here’s what you can do to eliminate the fleas:
- 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.
- Remove 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.
- Spread cedar chips on the areas where your pet likes to lie down, under the bushes, and on flower beds. Fleas hate the smell! Sulphur (powder or liquid) is also known to repel fleas and prevent hatching.
- Ask your local gardening center about nematodes, small worms that can eat insect larvae.
- Avoid overwatering. This can create the exact humid conditions for fleas to thrive in.
- Evict wildlife. Animals like opossum, mice, and squirrels can all carry fleas. It’s possible to repel these animals from your yard without trapping or killing them. The Humane Society recommends “gently harassing” animals to get them to move. This can include setting up barriers in the yard, putting up bright lights, playing loud music, and leaving rags soaked in cider vinegar.
If you know there is a flea infestation on your property, it may be wise to limit your pet’s time playing on the lawn until the problem is under control. For some pets, like cats, it may be advisable to keep them indoors only.
If you suspect that your pet has fleas, you should act fast to prevent them from spreading.
You may be able to see the insects hopping around on your pet’s fur, but sometimes a closer look is needed. A flea comb may reveal adult fleas or their eggs. Dabbing around with a wet cloth on your pet or its bedding can show flea dirt (flea waste that will appear as bloody specks).
A flea infestation usually requires a combination of tactics. Even if you use a topical flea medication or spray, you still need to continue cleaning. Fleas lay a lot of eggs, and the cycle can start over if you aren’t vigilant.
- Kill fleas with a topical prescription. The
US Food and Drug Administration advisesyou pay close attention to choosing the right formula, and use it exactly as directed. Topical doses are sorted by pet type, age, and weight. Flea medications like Frontline or Revolution spread quickly between fleas, killing adults and stopping new ones from hatching. Most fleas will be killed within several hours, but it can take days for a topical medication to have full effect.
- Kill fleas with an oral prescription. While topicals affect fleas directly, oral pills or chewables (like Bravecto and Capstar) get into fleas after they bite your pet.
- Kill fleas with a pet-safe spray. Flea sprays can kill fleas on contact. Many sprays for the home are not pet-friendly, and could be toxic to animals. Always follow instructions and make sure the area is dry or clear before allowing humans or pets back in the room.
- Wash your pet’s bedding in hot water every couple of days. Dry bedding on the highest heat setting after each washing. Make sure any cleaning chemicals or soaps used in the process are pet-friendly.
- Wash your pet using flea shampoo. Ask your vet or local pet store about the best shampoo options for your pet’s size, fur, and skin sensitivity. Many effective pet shampoos contain pyrethrin, an extract derived from chrysanthemum flowers. Shampoos may kill the fleas directly on your pet, but won’t knock out the infestation in the home environment.
- Use a flea comb. Flea combs are a special comb fine enough to catch fleas while also allowing your pet’s fur to pass through. Have a bowl of warm, soapy water handy to dunk the critters in once you comb them out. Fleas typically reside around the neck and tail areas. Even if you think the problem is handled, continue to comb your pet for a few days to ensure fleas aren’t reoccurring.
- Regular vet checkups. Vets can field questions about your pet’s risk factors for fleas and other parasites, and recommend preventive care, such as a monthly medication.
- Let your pet groom itself. Grooming keeps your pets fur and skin healthy! If you notice your pet isn’t grooming normally or its hygiene has worsened, consult your vet.
- 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.
Flea collars can be highly toxic and irritate your pet’s skin. Avoid them when possible!
While many vet-approved or prescribed sprays and topicals are considered safe, some pets may still be sensitive to their ingredients. Stop any treatment if you notice that it’s causing irritation to your pet’s skin, or another kind of allergic response. Inform your vet if your pet has any known sensitivities to medications or ingredients.
Beyond making your pet uncomfortable and multiplying at great speeds, fleas can also
These are rare, but include:
If a flea infection goes undetected, your pet may develop heartworm or a tapeworm. Tapeworms may occasionally infest people as well, although this is rare for heartworms.
Going up against a flea infestation can seem overwhelming, but there’s plenty of tools at your disposal.
You can kill fleas on contact and interrupt their reproductive cycles if you act fast. This includes vacuuming and doing laundry at high heat, keeping your yard neat, and treating your pet with a topical anti-flea ointment.
The most important thing to remember is that you must treat your home, yard, and pet at the same time. A combination approach works best to eradicate fleas and prevent future infestations.