Fleas are an intrusive and unwelcome houseguest for any homeowner. More than becoming a disgusting nuisance, however, they can damage the health and wellbeing of your beloved pets and take months to eradicate completely.
Fleas consume blood from their host, and they like to be near their food source. When you’re talking about a flea infestation at your home, that food source is likely your dog or cat. Fleas attach themselves to your pet while they are roaming or playing outside, or if they come into contact with other furry hosts, such as squirrels, rabbits, and mice. From there, the small, wingless bugs disseminate throughout your home every time your dog or cat moves, stretches, or settles on your furniture.
Fleas bite pets and, less frequently, people, causing the area around the bite to swell and itch. They also can cause allergic reactions and serve as vectors for a number of diseases. Flea-borne diseases are rare in the United States, but according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of illnesses caused by flea bites, along with mosquitos and ticks, tripled between 2004 and 2016. Some examples of flea-borne diseases include typhus fever, tularemia, and tungiansis.
Because fleas can get spread throughout your house, you must develop a comprehensive strategy for managing and mitigating this pest infestation. In conducting research for this article, a variety of primary and secondary sources, including pest control companies and certified entomologists, were consulted. Their expert opinions were used to inform these tips and suggestions for how to get rid of fleas in your home.
Table of Contents
- The Flea Lifecycle
- Getting Rid of Fleas: Methods and Tips
- Prevention Methods
- Products and Practices to Avoid
- How big are fleas?
- Why are fleas attracted to dogs and cats?
- Where do fleas come from?
- How long do fleas live?
- What attracts fleas?
- What do fleas eat?
- Where do fleas lay their eggs?
- How are fleas born?
- Do any insects eat fleas? If so, which ones?
- Are fleas dangerous?
- Are fleas attracted to light?
- When and where do fleas sleep?
- What color are fleas?
Related: All the different types of insects
The Flea Lifecycle
Before tackling a flea infestation, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re dealing with. According to an article by pest control company Terminix, “Fighting a flea infestation isn’t a one-and-done battle. It’s a war that could take days, maybe even weeks, thanks to the flea’s lifecycle, abilities and habits.”
Fleas don’t fly, but they can jump relatively long distances. There are four stages in the flea lifecycle: Eggs, larvae, pupae and adults. Adults are relatively easy to see and they move around, whereas fleas in the other three stages are less active and less visible.
The female adults lay eggs in various places, and they are not attached to the host. Instead, eggs are likely to hatch in bedding, carpet, upholstery, and on the ground. You are especially likely to find them in pet bedding and rugs. Eggs hatch within about two days of being laid and then move into the larvae stage.
There are also different species of fleas, such as ctenocephalides canis, or dog fleas, and ctenocephalides felis, or cat fleas. Your flea management plan may vary depending on the type of flea you’re dealing with, as well as their habitat and behavior.
Getting Rid of Fleas: Methods and Tips
It’s difficult to prevent a flea infestation, unless you implement a proactive strategy for both your home and your yard. For pet owners, the focus tends to be on how to deal with the infestation once it’s occurred, according to Orkin, a pest control services provider, and eradicating a population of fleas can take several months. Here is a look at a variety of products and practices you can use to get rid of fleas:
Treating the Pet
According to David Ottovich, owner of Ask the Bug Man and an associate certified entomologist since 1976, “The problem with fleas is pets, because fleas cannot reproduce without the fur of a pet. If the cycle is not broken from the pets, you never break the cycle.” To start getting rid of fleas, you have to treat your pet, thoroughly and consistently.
Use a fine-toothed flea comb to remove as many fleas as you can from the fur of your cat or dog. Fleas are especially apt to congregate around your pet’s neck and tail. Terminix suggests dropping the fleas you comb off into hot soapy water to kill them.
Your veterinarian will recommend a suitable flea control treatment for your pet based on your particular environment and climate and the type of fleas you are struggling with. Some products they might recommend include Petcor Flea Spray, Vet’s Best Flea and Tick Home Spray, and Adams Plus Flea and Tick Spray for Cats and Dogs.
Each product has three primary functions: causing a quick kill of adults, growth regulator, and repellant. Certain products, such as topical products from brands like Frontline and Advantage, used to be highly effective. Over the years, however, the fleas that survived procreated fleas with a resistance to those products, which means several of them don’t work as well as they used to, Ottovich said. When in doubt, trust your vet.
According to the American Kennel Club, these pet health professionals are “up-to-date on the latest flea treatments and preventatives and can help you find the best and safest treatment option for you and your dog.”
Whether you are applying the treatment or your veterinarian is, it must be done on a regular basis to be effective. You can start lightly and apply more if necessary. Once you break the cycle, you only have to apply the treatment once per month.
Vacuuming is how you will rid your house of fleas in various stages of the lifecycle, including the flea eggs, larvae and pupae. Before you vacuum, clear the area of small furniture and other household items so the floor is entirely accessible.
If fleas aren’t able to get under certain pieces of furniture, such as bookcases or dressers, you don’t need to worry about moving them. Make sure you vacuum the space thoroughly, using attachments to clean heat vents, floor cracks, baseboards, carpet edges and room corners, according to Terminix. You also should vacuum hardwood, linoleum and tile flooring, along with all you upholstery, furniture, cushions, and pillows.
Vacuuming stirs up the population and causes about 10 percent of the eggs in the carpet and other surfaces to prematurely hatch, Ottovich said. You have to vacuum every day for about 10 to 30 days if you want to eradicate the flea population.
Applying Over-the-Counter Products
According to Orkin, simply using an over-the-counter product to control fleas is generally not sufficient to resolve the root cause of the infestation. It must be done in tandem with other treatments and practices.
One reason is that flea larvae form cocoons during the pupae stage before hatching into adults, and the cocoons are resistant to insecticides. “Insecticides are almost always a necessary third step in moderate to severe flea infestations, even after steam cleaning and vacuuming,” according to Terminix. Some highly recommended products include:
This spray is advertised to kill not only adult fleas, but flea eggs and larvae, as well. You can use it on carpets, rugs, upholstery, pet bedding, and other surfaces and it should prevent flea infestation for several months.
This spray contains an effective mix of several active ingredients, such as piperonyl butoxide, n-octyl bicycloheptene bicarboximide, permethrin, and phenothrin. It is safe to use on both carpet and hard surfaces—although you should not use it directly on animals or pets. The spray is especially effective for killing adult fleas.
The active ingredients in this spray include pyriproxyfen, tetramethrin, and phenothrin. It is non-staining on a variety of rugs and carpets and doesn’t leave behind a strong odor or residue. You can use it in kennels, cars, and the interior of your home.
The active ingredient in this powder is nylar, which is an insect growth regulator and designed to control re-infestation for a considerable amount of time. The product also is designed to target fleas in every stage of their lifecycle. You sprinkle it on your carpet, let it set for one hour to a full day, depending on the severity of the problem, and then vacuum the carpet.
Ottovich said he cautions homeowners to be conservative when using pesticides. Most people have the misguided notion that if a little works, “a lot works better,” he said, when the fact is, “you can’t kill something deader than dead.”
Doubling up the strength of a solution won’t increase the impact of its residual benefits, so you are only creating more of a hazard with the chemicals. People also react differently to certain products and have various levels of sensitivity. It’s better to follow the mixing rate precisely, or even below the recommended amount, to ensure you and your family members don’t have a negative reaction to environment spray.
Using All-Natural and Eco-Friendly Remedies
Although they can’t stand alone when combatting a flea infestation, all-natural remedies and green practices are a useful part of an integrated pest management (IPM) strategy.
One all-natural way to help repel and prevent fleas is through plants. Penny royal, lavender, spearmint, and chrysanthemums are particularly useful, and you can place them in flower pots around your home or outside in your flower bed.
Rosemary also is a natural flea repellant. Create a powder from dried rosemary and sprinkle it on your furniture, pet bedding and carpets to help repel fleas. Neither of these natural remedies, however, will kill fleas in any stage of their lifecycle once they’ve already infested your home.
A few other natural, environmentally friendly suggestions from Ehrlich Pest Control include:
- Dish soap: Make a mixture of dish soap and warm water and set it in places throughout your house that receive a lot of flea activity. The high viscosity of the solution traps the adult fleas and they drown.
- Herbal flea spray: Add together 4 liters of vinegar, 2 liters of water, 500 milliliters of lemon, and 250 milliliters of witch hazel. After vacuuming your floor, window sills, bedding, and cushions, spray them with the solution.
- Lemon spray: Boil a pint of water with a thinly sliced lemon and then let it sit overnight. Pour the solution into a spray bottle and use it on infested areas in your house, including chairs, sofas, and pet bedding. Only lightly dampen the surfaces, do not soak them.
- Baking soda and salt: You can increase the effectiveness of your vacuuming by first sprinkling baking soda onto your furniture and carpets and then rubbing it into the fibers. Salt also can work as a dehydration agent that kills adult fleas and makes them easier to vacuum. Leave the salt to rest on your carpets for a day or two for maximum impact.
According to Ehrlich, there are several home remedies you can use, but they are not 100 percent effective: “The majority of home remedies for fleas only affect the adults of the species, leaving the larvae and eggs behind. This creates a window of opportunity for another flea infestation to arise.”
With fleas, there are a few actions you can take to try and prevent them from infesting your home in the first place. Most of them are indirect methods for dealing with the problem, but they can be beneficial as part of a comprehensive control strategy. Some recommended prevention methods include:
Eliminating Outdoor Flea Habitats
Seek out problem areas in your yard by walking around slowly wearing white socks that go up to your knees, according to Terminix. You easily see the dark bugs contrasted against the white, which helps you identify where they are most active.
Fleas avoid areas with direct sunlight or heavy foot traffic, so pay close attention to places with ample vegetation or anywhere your pets like to hang out. Removing brush and low-hanging branches can expose an area to more direct sunlight and make it less suitable for flea habitat, thus lowering the flea population.
Killing Outdoor Hosts
Your domesticated pets don’t simply “get fleas” without the presence of another blood host. If you suspect other rodents or animals could be spreading the fleas to your pets, you can set traps to help eliminate those original hosts.
Protecting Your Home
Inspect your house for any areas that could be granting access to rodents or other potential hosts. Seal gaps, holes, and cracks to deter them from becoming access points. You can also use a spray, such as Advantage Yard Premise Spray or Vet’s Best Flea and Tick Yard and Kennel Spray, to kill fleas in your yard and help prevent their appearance.
Products and Practices to Avoid
Just as there are numerous products and treatments that are highly-rated and recommended when it comes to getting rid of fleas, there are a few that are inferior, either because they’re ineffective or potentially harmful. Here are a few that experts say should be avoided or used with caution:
Oral treatments are not dangerous for your dogs and cats, but they are systemic and insufficient. As ingestible products, they only work once they’ve made their way to the animal’s bloodstream, which means the adult fleas often have already laid their eggs. You then have to deal with an entirely new generation of fleas.
Diatomaceous earth, a fine powder made from the microscopic remains of fossilized algae, or diatoms, has mixed reviews. Some companies believe it is a good natural remedy for getting rid of fleas because it is supposedly non-toxic to humans. According to Ehrlich Pest Control, you can sprinkle the powder over areas with suspected flea activity and then leave it for a couple days.
The sharp edges of the particles cut through the flea’s exoskeleton, which speeds up dehydration and causes the bug to die over the course of about a week. Ottovich said he is “not in favor” of the product at all. His concern is that if the particles are sharp enough to cut through an insect’s tough exterior, “What is it doing to the inside of your lungs?”
If you don’t use a food-grade DE option and wear a face mask, the powder—even that which is left behind in the air after you’ve vacuumed—can irate your eyes and throat.
The issue with flea bombs is that they are only effective for one to three hours, which means they only kill the fleas that are exposed during that short timeframe. Even if you’re flea bombing your home every day, Ottovich said, you can only expect to get rid of a small portion of the population.
How big are fleas?
Fleas are insects that are brown in color or dark brown and are narrow-bodied. An entirely morphed flea can grow up to a height of approximately 1.5 millimeters. Other fleas can grow up to about 3 millimeters. Yet, female fleas average height of 2.5 millimeters, making them more massive than the male fleas, which average height of 1 millimeter.
Why are fleas attracted to dogs and cats?
Fleas are attracted to our household pets simply because that is their source of food. Fleas thrive on the blood of mammals making dogs and cats susceptible to their attack. The few weeks after hatching, fleas are usually in search of blood for their survival. If your cat or pup spends a lot of time outdoors, then they are likely to pick up fleas.
The fur on your dog or cat also provides the right conditions for the fleas to nest and feed. You may wash your furry buddy regularly, but that may not be enough to keep the fleas away as the physique and habitus of your pet makes them a target.
Where do fleas come from?
The primary source of fleas is other infested animals or the surroundings. These parasites tend to spread between animals such as your cat or dog and other pets. Furthermore, they have hind legs that are modified explicitly for jumping. The sturdy hind legs propel the fleas upwards, quickly making it efficient for the tiny parasites to spread from one animal to another. Fleas also tend to hide in long grass and bushes as they wait for a suitable host. The legs also have claws that enable the fleas to clutch onto the host with ease.
How long do fleas live?
The life cycle of a flea occurs in four stages. The female lays eggs, which later hatch into larvae. The larva then morphs to pupa, which finally emerges to an adult form. This whole cycle may take place in about 2 to 3 weeks. Surprisingly, the highest number of fleas in any population is usually eggs and consists of very few adult fleas.
The survival of fleas depends on whether the fleas have a constant supply of blood from the host. Without a host, fleas will live for only a few days. Otherwise, if they find a suitable host, adult fleas will reproduce, feed, and live for up to one year.
What attracts fleas?
You may find that your pet is scratching due to flea bites even after washing and treating them. Fleas are attracted to hosts for blood, warmth, and exhaled air for the carbon dioxide. Fleas can detect movement, making it easy for them to jump on their host.
Fleas may be coming from your environment as long grasses and bushes make suitable grounds. Flea eggs may drop from your pet’s fur onto your carpet, which provides warmth and darkness for them to hatch.
What do fleas eat?
Fleas feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals. This category also includes humans on their menu, but they have a preference for hairy mammals. The fur provides favorable grounds for them to feed as they reproduce. Hatched larvae will feed on the available organic material.
This organic material includes fecal matter, dead insects, or vegetable matter. The larvae feed on feces from adult ticks, which contain blood that may increase their chances of growing to maturity. Fleas must feed on blood for them to reproduce, or they are neither matured male or female fleas.
Where do fleas lay their eggs?
Certain conditions make it conducive for fleas to reproduce and lay eggs. A female flea can lay up to a staggering seven thousand eggs in its lifetime. Most of the time, the fleas will lay their eggs on the host. The eggs may fall on the ground, sometimes making your carpet or your pet’s resting area a hatching ground. Long grass and bushes also make it suitable for fleas to lay eggs as they wait for a host.
How are fleas born?
To understand how fleas are born, you should first comprehend the life cycle of a flea. An adult flea goes through four phases. For fleas to have the capability to reproduce, they must first feed on blood. After mating, the female flea lays the eggs on the ground or a host.
The eggs will then hatch into larvae after a maximum period of three weeks. The hatched larvae may feed on the eggs that didn’t hatch, which tremendously increases their chances of growing to an adult. The larvae are blind and thus prefer darkness making your yard, carpet, and pet’s bedding a favorable spot.
It will take two weeks for the larvae to morph to the next stage. The larvae then emerge as a pupa. It then takes up to five days for the pupa to emerge as an adult flea. The adult flea may appear as a result of vibrations from movements and increased heat, which are indications of the presence of a host.
Do any insects eat fleas? If so, which ones?
Yes. Fleas also have their place in the food chain which makes them prey. Insects such as ants, spiders, ladybugs, and beetles also tend to feed on fleas. These insects not only feed on adult fleas but also on the eggs, larvae, and pupa. Apart from insects, other small animals like lizards and frogs also make fleas a part of their delicacy.
Are fleas dangerous?
Yes. Fleas are dangerous. Fleas earned the reputation for being the primary transmitters of certain diseases such as bubonic plague and typhus. Nowadays, fleas don’t pose much of a threat to humans except that their bites can cause skin irritation that will leave you feeling itchy.
Fleas act as transmitters of various viral and bacterial diseases that can affect humans and other animals. Fleas also pose a threat to your pet since they can trigger an allergic reaction through their bites. Cats or dogs that are heavily infested with fleas tend to scratch themselves often and will look uncomfortable. In extreme cases of heavy infestation, the host may suffer from anemia due to loss of blood.
Are fleas attracted to light?
Flea larvae are blind and thus avoid sunlight as it is fatal. The adult fleas, however, tend to burrow deep into your carpet or into your pet’s fur to avoid direct sunlight. Fleas are attracted to movements, warmth, and carbon dioxide that notify them of host presence. They love lingering in the dark to provide suitable conditions for the eggs to hatch.
When and where do fleas sleep?
The environment provides many locations for fleas to nest. Inside the house, the fleas may infest the resting or sleeping areas of your pet. Your carpet, couch, or bed can also make a suitable hot spot for the fleas to infest and provide suitable breeding ground.
Technically, fleas don’t sleep, but they have a pattern of alternating rest and activity. Fleas may tend to lay eggs throughout the day as they feed. Your pet’s fur or resting place makes the right spot where the fleas can continue their life cycle and have a constant supply of blood as they infest other hosts.
What color are fleas?
The color of a flea may vary depending on the type of flea and the stage of growth. Emerged flea larvae are white and may appear to be translucent. Dog fleas and cat fleas may appear to be brown, dark brown, black, or black with a shade of brown.
The latter colors are their general appearance, and the color may change to red-brown once they have fed on blood. Human fleas appear like a typical dog flea that has fed on a host due to their red-brown color. Rat fleas are like human fleas as they share a reddish-brown general appearance.