Fleas – Information & Control


What does a flea look like?

Fleas are small, flat, wingless parasites with three pairs of legs and are found worldwide. Adult fleas are about 1/8 of an inch long (1 to 3 mm). They are dark reddish-brown in color and have biting mouthparts. Since they cannot fly, they move by jumping from one place to another. In fact, fleas can jump as high as 8” vertically, about 150 times their own height. We would be jumping over buildings if we could do that! They can be very hard to spot because they move so fast along the animal’s body. Flea-combs and wetting an animal’s hair can help you grasp them for a visual inspection. They feed off the blood of humans and animals such as dogs and cats. Fleas are known to transmit tapeworm larvae and, uncommonly, the disease Murine Typhus. They are most notorious for transmitting the “Bubonic Plague” from wild rodents to humans in certain parts of the world.

What do fleas eat?

Fleas feed on any warm-blooded body, including humans. However, they prefer to dine on hairy animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, rats, mice, opossums, raccoons, and skunks. Since fleas use a wide range of hosts, diseases can be transferred from one host to another.

Where do fleas live?

Once a flea hatches and becomes an adult, it uses its powerful legs to jump onto a host, where it likely remains at all times. While attached, the flea will feed, mate, and lay eggs. The eggs often fall off of the host into the yard, bedding, carpeting, or blankets.

How many types of fleas are there?

The three main species of flea that infest humans are:

Cat flea (Ctenocephalides Felis) – Despite the name, they are the most common type to infest cats, dogs, humans, and wild animals.

Dog flea (Ctenocephalides Canis) – They Prey on a similar set of hosts as the cat flea, but this species is not as widespread.

Human flea (Pulex Irritans) – These parasites enjoy taking blood meals from humans and pigs.

The Cat Flea

What is the flea life-cycle?

The life cycle of the flea consists of the egg, larval, pupal, and adult stages. The length of the life-cycle can range from a few weeks to several months and tends to depend mainly on environmental factors.

EGG – Female fleas usually lay around 20 eggs a day but can lay as many as 50 after a blood meal. Your pet will then inadvertently spread the eggs on the flea’s behalf, as they fall off your pet when they move around the home and in the surrounding environment. The eggs are not sticky and tend to fall to the ground immediately upon being laid.

LARVAE – The larval stage lasts between 4 and 18 days, after which the larvae spin silk cocoons to enter the pupal stage. When hatched, the larvae naturally search for shaded places and conceal themselves deep in materials and fabrics. They consume on feces excreted by adult fleas and different forms of organic matter, like food particles, dead skin, and dead insects.

PUPAE – Pupae refers to the cocoon stage, the final stage before it turns into an adult, which can take several days or weeks. If conditions are not right, the pupae will live for months or sometimes more than a year in the cocoon waiting for the correct conditions. A sticky outer layer on the cocoon keeps pupae hidden deep in fabrics and carpets and helps to keep it out of reach of vacuums protects the pupae from chemicals. Once developed, the adult flea won’t emerge until they sense a potential host nearby. They will pick up on vibrations, rising levels of carbon dioxide and body heat, indicating that your pet or host is nearby.

ADULT – When an adult flea emerges from the cocoon, they will seek a host to feed on, usually within a few hours. If they cannot find a pet or in some cases, a person, they won’t survive. While fleas are noted for their jumping abilities, they will remain stationary when a suitable host is located. Females begin laying eggs within 48 hours of the first feed, thus beginning the life cycle again. Cold environments cause eggs to perish before hatching. Humidity below 45 percent will kill larvae. Fleas in the pupal stage will become adults more rapidly in the presence of warmth and high humidity.

Are fleas dangerous?

Not only can fleas inflict pain from biting, but they are also carriers of the Bubonic Plague. Although few cases are recorded today, this disease managed to wipe out one-third of Europe in the 14th century. In addition, they can spread the Murine Typhus Bacterial disease, which is transmitted to humans by flea infected rats. In pets, fleas can act as a tapeworm host. It is also known that the saliva of fleas can cause extreme flea allergy dermatitis in some dogs and cats.

How do they feed?

The flea uses its saw-like mandibles to cut through skin, usually on accessible parts of the body such as the legs or feet. Flea saliva contains anticoagulants that encourage the blood to keep flowing. Female fleas are prompted to lay their eggs after feeding. The eggs are light-colored and oval-shaped. The larvae cocoon themselves within weeks of hatching. Vibration, such as footsteps, prompts adult fleas to emerge from their cocoons. This is why you may be bitten after entering a house that has been unoccupied for some time.

How can I prevent a flea infestation?

Around the House

♦ Keep a tidy home. The practice of good hygiene is essential to preventing an infestation.

♦ To remove any existing fleas and potentially avoid egg-laying, vacuum carpets, floors and furniture frequently, wash bed linen regularly.

♦ Make sure to throw the vacuum cleaner bag out after cleaning, because it may contain fleas and larvae.

♦ Since fleas can be spread through rodents, it is vital to eliminate any points of rodent harborage that may be around your house.

Pet Care

♦ Thoroughly check your pets’ coats for fleas regularly, especially after spending time outdoors. Be mindful of frequent and excessive scratching and licking by your pets.

♦ After walks or interaction with other animals or pets, bathe your pet.

Wash your pet’s bedding, collars, and soft toys regularly.

♦ Speak to your veterinarian about flea prevention treatment methods.

What are the symptoms of flea bites?

Extreme itchiness. Secondary infections caused by scratching are common.

♦ A red, swollen weal develops within half an hour of the bite. After a day or so, the lump may develop into a blister or small wound.

♦ Fleas leave tiny, red, raised dots on your pets’ skin. Also look for severe scratching and itching, biting and chewing at skin, hair loss, scabs, red irritated skin.

♦ In humans, the legs and feet are often targeted.

♦ Some people may become hypersensitive to bites and have an allergic reaction.

How do I get rid of fleas?

Fleas have the ability to reproduce quickly, which makes flea infestations very difficult to control. In fact, fleas can produce as many as 400 to 500 offspring in their lifetime. A veterinarian can recommend the best methods and products for treating fleas on your pet. However, if you discover fleas in your home, it’s important to contact a licensed pest professional like us at Desert Pest Control to assist you with flea control.