Over 2,500 known species of fleas populate various areas around the world. Some of the most notable species include the cat flea and dog flea, posing health concerns for both pets and humans. Cat fleas are actually the most common parasites of both cats and dogs, as dog fleas are rare in North America.
|Color||Fleas vary from dull reddish-brown to dark reddish-brown in color and appear darker after consuming a blood meal.|
|Size||Small and hard to see with the naked eye, adult fleas range in size from 1/8-1/4" in length.|
|Appearance||Wingless and hard-bodied, fleas use their extremely narrow girth to navigate through the hair, fur, or feathers of host animals with ease. The pests have large hind legs that facilitate impressive lateral jumping abilities and mouthparts ideal for piercing and sucking.|
Like most parasites, fleas survive on a diet of blood and must consume a meal at each stage of development to reach maturity. Fleas feed on dogs, cats, rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice, and other wild animals, consuming up to 15 times their body weight in blood per day. Flea larvae eat what is called flea dirt, which consists of dried feces of adult fleas.
Fleas are ectoparasites, meaning it lives on the outside of its host, targeting both avian and mammalian hosts.
Fleas go through a complete metamorphosis. The life cycle of a flea consists of four stages: the egg, the larva, the pupa, and the adult.
All of the eggs (40-50 per day) are laid in the fur. However, the eggs soon fall off into carpeting, beneath the cushions of furniture, and wherever else the pet rests, sleeps, or spends time. Eggs will hatch within a couple of days in the following places: on the ground, in rugs, carpet, bedding, upholstery, and cracks in the floor. When treating premises, thorough attention to these areas is crucial.
After hatching, the eggs develop into tiny, worm-like larvae that are hard to see. They are deeply hidden beneath carpet fibers, furniture cushions, and other protected areas. They are very difficult to vacuum because they get entwined in the carpet fibers. The larvae feed mainly on the feces (dried blood) expelled by the adults which accumulates in areas where pets tend to rest or spend time. In about 12 days, the larvae are fully grown, spin a silken cocoon and then enter the pupal stage.
Before becoming adult fleas, larvae transform into pupae within a silk-like cocoon surrounded by bits of debris. Pupae remain inside the cocoon for one to four weeks. The cocoon is resistant to insecticides, so fleas may persist for an extended period, even after the pet and home are treated. The pupae or cocoon stage are also hard to spot.
Adults feed more than once a day on fresh animal blood. Females begin laying eggs within 48 hours of the first feed, thus beginning the life cycle again. They may live as long as a year and in some cases, even longer.
Signs of Infestation
Due to their minuscule size, adult fleas are difficult to spot without a microscope or knowledge of what to look for. Many signs can indicate flea activity:
Typically, humans are alerted to a flea infestation by the way their pets behave, repeatedly scratching and grooming themselves on their necks, shoulder blades, and at the base of their tails. The flea activity causes discomfort as the adult fleas feed on the pet’s blood. Bathing pets and combing through the fur to look for black pellets or adult fleas is the best way to confirm the presence of the pests.
People also may experience bites which leave behind a breakout of small, hard spots that are swollen, itchy and red along the ankles and legs indicates flea activity.
Adult flea feces, commonly referred to as flea dirt, also can indicate activity. Flea dirt looks similar to coarse ground black pepper and may be seen in pet beds, carpets, rugs and other areas where the animal host rests.
Fleas are easiest to see in their adult stage, especially if the homeowner and their pets return to the house after a long vacation or other absence during which the resident flea adults were not able to take a blood meal. Upon returning, the homeowners are often greeted by fleas jumping around and trying to land on them and their pets.
Flea eggs that were deposited by the female adult, fall off your pets as they move, allowing them to be disbursed throughout the environment where a pet spends time. Eggs are found in out-of-the-way places like:
- Behind, under or in furniture
- In a pet’s bedding
- Inside cracks and grooves in the floors
- In carpets
Both humans and pets have adverse reactions to the salivary secretions released by fleas when feeding, ranging from mild irritation and rashes to anemia in extreme cases. Flea saliva can cause skin dermatitis in humans, which usually appears on patches of skin as itchy bumps or a rash. Pets can also react to flea bites and will commonly develop a flea hypersensitivity or flea-bite dermatitis. As a result, animals may develop crusty lesions and may constantly scratch at their skin, often leading to fur loss.
Perhaps the most serious aspect of a flea infestation is the time and effort it takes to remove. Dealing with the problem requires treating infected animals, cleaning flea-infested areas, and taking preventative measures to keep the fleas from returning.
Prevention & Control
To reduce the risks of a flea infestation, follow the steps below:
- Regularly trim lawns.
- Regularly vacuum homes.
- Wash pet bedding weekly, ideally using the hot water cycle on your washing machine.
- Monitor or restrict pet activity so they are less likely to come across an infested area or animal.
- Trim tree branches and take other precautions to discourage the nesting of flea-ridden birds.
- Fix any cracks in building foundations or broken screens. Employing exclusion practices is important for many pest problems, but exclusion does not have a major, direct benefit for flea control. However, sealing cracks, gaps and holes to help keep rodents or other potential hosts from gaining access into the home is an important indirect way to keep fleas outside.
- Pets are at continual risk of picking up new fleas at the kennel, pet groomer, or while moving through yards and neighborhoods. The best way to avoid future household infestations is to maintain pets on a preventive treatment regimen of products. Consequently, any stray fleas pets happen to pick up are killed before laying eggs and infestations never become established.
To hasten elimination of fleas within the home, it may be desirable to treat the premises along with the pet. This is especially true with severe infestations when pets and people are suffering irritation from bites.
Before such treatment, the pet owner should:
- Remove all toys, clothing, and stored items from floors, under beds, and in closets. This step is essential so that all areas will be accessible for treatment.
- Wash pet bedding.
- Vacuum to remove many of the eggs, larvae and pupae developing within the home. Thoroughly vacuum areas where pets rest or sleep, along edges of rooms and beneath furniture, cushions, beds, and throw rugs. After vacuuming, seal the vacuum bag in a garbage bag and discard it in an outdoor trash container.
- Wash pets with a special pet shampoo that targets fleas in all stages of development.
If the problem persists or worsens after attempted control, pest control professionals can apply effective flea treatments indoors and outdoors. A Batzner Service Specialist will come to your property to identify the source of the fleas and determine the proper treatment method. To learn more about our home pest control services or to find out how we can help you combat fleas, please contact us today.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do flea bites look like? Given their small size, flea bites often appear as tiny red spots on the skin. Look for tiny dark spots, surrounded by a reddened area with much less swelling around the bite than with other insect bites. As with other insect bites, it is often difficult to identify fleas just by looking at bites. Consult a medical professional for advice and treatment if you develop an itchy rash or eczema. These are common symptoms of an allergic reaction to flea bites.
Where do bites occur? Common areas to receive flea bites are on feet or lower legs. Cat or dog fleas will jump from pets, carpets, bedding or furnishings to feed.
Can you feel the bites? A flea bite is usually felt immediately, with a single flea often biting two or three times in the same area.
Is the bite painful? The actual bite does not really hurt. It is the itchiness that results from the body’s reaction that causes the discomfort.
Who is at risk? - Infants are at a higher risk from being bitten by fleas, particularly when playing on the floor, especially carpeted areas or on rugs. Children also tend to be more sensitive than adults to being bitten.
What if I think my pet has fleas? Consult your vet if there are any signs of irritation such as reddening of the skin or if there are any thin patches in your pet’s coat.