Updated: May 25
No one really knows how many fleas live on planet Earth, but the number is likely considerable, given that more than 2,500 species have already been identified. And if you’re like most of us, you’d like to get rid of every single flea. The US alone is home to 300 types of flea, but of the many types, the one you’re most likely to encounter is the cat flea or Ctenocephalides felis. Want to get rid of fleas, fast? Read our blog, How to Get Rid of Fleas, But Keep Your Pet! Like its many cousins − dog fleas, human fleas, rat fleas, and others – the cat flea is a parasite that survives on blood from a host. Unfortunately, they are hard to spot since adult fleas are quite small, measuring no more than 1⁄8 inch (approximately 3 millimeters). Sporting brown, flattened bodies, they are adept at crawling through their host’s feathers or fur undetected. According to one source:
“They lack wings, but have strong claws preventing them from being dislodged,
mouthparts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood, and hind legs extremely
well adapted for jumping.”
It is also said that fleas can jump 50,000 times before stopping! I’m not sure whether that has actually been verified, but they are certainly very good jumpers.
In addition to being excellent acrobats, fleas are also extremely hard to eradicate once they’ve made their way into your home. Even if you can find them they are built to withstand pressure – stomping on them or squeezing them between your thumb and forefinger – is unlikely to do them much harm. Worst of all, perhaps, their grip is so strong you require extra effort to remove them from pet fur or feathers. Combine all this with their hopping abilities (they can jump up to 50 times their own body length) and it’s easy to see how they can quickly spread throughout your home.
How Fleas Find Their Way Into Your Home – and Multiply
Unfortunately, it is usually our pets (dogs and cats for the most part) who bring fleas into the house. This is especially true if your pets go outside. A dog brushing up against a plant is usually unaware that a flea has hitched a ride on their fur. The same is true for cats and even humans, who can also serve as ‘transportation’ for these pests. Fleas are largely opportunistic when it comes to selecting a host and can easily transfer themselves from pets to people.
Like many pests, fleas breed quickly and can infest a home in a surprisingly short time, depending on the environmental conditions.
The Life Cycle of the Flea
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until your pets are scratching uncontrollably or you wake up in the morning with bites to tackle a flea problem. In fact, you can quickly spot a flea infestation in the making if you understand their life cycle. A greater understanding of how fleas breed and reproduce will help you identify the warning signs of an infestation. According to the CDC, fleas go through at least five phases in their reproductive cycle:
After finding an animal or human host and taking a blood meal, adult fleas will mate and begin laying eggs in the fur and surroundings of the host. Eggs will hatch in one to ten days depending on environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity.
After hatching from an egg, fleas enter their larval stage. Larvae are free moving and feed on blood and flea feces (poop; also called “flea dirt”), in order to continue their development.
Within 5-20 days of feeding on flea dirt, the larvae will spin a cocoon, and enter the pupa stage. The cocoon protects pupa from environmental conditions and insecticides/repellents for several days or weeks until adult fleas are ready to emerge.
Adult fleas will not emerge from the cocoon until there is a clear presence of a host, such as movement or body heat, which will signal that there is a blood meal readily available.
Adult females begin to feed on a host within a few hours of emerging from the cocoon and soon after will mate and begin laying eggs.
But, Are Fleas a Health Threat?
The answer is: Yes! They certainly are.
While fleas are well-known as vectors for bacterial and viral diseases, they are rarely found to be carriers of the bubonic plague which, if you didn’t fall asleep in your history classes, was the principal cause of the so-called ‘Black Death’. This pandemic ravaged Asia, Europe, and Africa in the 14th century and killed millions. Historians are divided on the true figures that succumbed – perhaps 50 million − but in Europe, it might have been anywhere from 25% to 60% of the population!
Today, reports of plague are rare, and it’s not clear whether fleas were part of the infection path. Fortunately, says Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton in the UK, “We’re not going to see a global outbreak or pandemic of the plague. That’s not going to happen.” And, according to the CDC, the very few cases of plague that are reported rarely result in death.
That said, fleas not only carry bacterial diseases such as murine or endemic typhus, but they can also transmit Rickettsia typhi, Rickettsia felis, Bartonella henselae, and the myxomatosis virus. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. Fleas are not our friends.
Below: Flea eggs
Tell-Tale Signs Your Pet Has Fleas
The first sign of fleas is usually your pet, or pets, scratching themselves continuously. Of course, flea bites on you and your family are also a big giveaway, but dogs and cats (as well as other pets such as hamsters, parakeets, and others) constitute a collective ‘ground zero’ for fleas. However, before you rush out to Pet-Co for flea collars consult your veterinarian first. The truth is that the huge range of available flea treatments can be daunting, but a good vet will help you to select the product that best meets your pets’ needs.
Below: Flea bites
© 2007 Interactive Medical Media LLC. All rights reserved.
Keep in mind that the selected treatment should eradicate not only adult fleas but remove any larva or eggs that might be lodged on a pet’s skin or fur.
If you think you have fleas in your house, but your pets don’t seem to be affected, there are other signs you can look for, such as:
1. Tiny, dark specks on floors, rugs, carpets, and especially your pets’ bedding – the
latter being a favorite flea ‘hang-out’
2. Dried flea feces and blood, which shows up particularly well on light-colored fabrics,
such as sheets and pillowcases. Hint: this so-called ‘flea dirt’ looks a lot like grains of
How to Eliminate Fleas from Your Home
Clean the floor Fleas can, and will, go anywhere, including cracks in wooden flooring and tile, as well as carpets and rugs. Sweep and wash down the floors, and thoroughly vacuum all the rugs and carpets. And don’t forget the drapes and curtains. Fleas like those, too!
Clean the furniture Fleas can also hang out comfortably in beds, chairs, sofas, love seats, bedside tables, and other sorts of furniture. Here you need to use the appropriate cleaning products, preferably an insecticide/pesticide that also functions as a disinfectant and mold remover. We recommend Sterifab (what the pros use) since it’s non-residual, meaning you can go back into the room 10 minutes after spraying. Plus, it’s the only EPA-registered virucide, disinfectant, and insecticide in one.
Clean the yard As we said earlier, fleas are usually brought into the house from outside, oftentimes the yard, where they wait in the grass for some unsuspecting animal or human to pass by and provide ‘transportation’. So, best to keep the grass mowed and plants and bushes properly trimmed.
Clean the whole house This is the tough part: You should really clean your entire home. This is no time for half-measures, so everything needs to be spotless! In addition to making the place spick and span, you also need to clean your pets’ beds and wash every bit of clothing you have. Oh yes, and don’t forget sheets, pillowcases, and throws – if they can be washed.
Keeping Fleas Out of Your Home
Obviously, once you’ve gotten rid of the fleas from your home you don’t want them back again. So, here are a few pointers on how to keep these troublesome pests away:
1. Be alert to your pet's behavior. Make sure that they’re not obsessively scratching,
licking, or nibbling at their fur...
2. Examine your pets regularly for fleas (and other parasites, such as ticks).
4. Give your pets a bath after they’ve been outside for extended periods, or if they
have been in close contact with other animals.
5. If your vet recommends it, always use flea medication, such as flea collars,
shampoos, sprays, and powders.
6. Launder your pets’ bedding, collars, toys, and any other items they play with.
7. Clean your furniture and bedding regularly and vacuum your rugs and carpets
as often as you can.
If you’d like to know more about how to combat fleas here are some helpful articles: