One Flea Can Mean An Infestation! – Photo credit: Kat Masback
Fleas or Siphonaptera have a big reputation as being one of the nastiest and annoying insects that humans have to deal with each year. There are over two thousand species of fleas, all of which suck blood and can cause a plethora of problems in pets and humans.
Almost all animals carry fleas. Cats, dogs, opossums, raccoons, rabbits, and the hedgehog carry fleas. Any area that these animals visit can become contaminated with flea eggs and fleas that they happen to scratch off while visiting that location. Fleas are small and deadly, so make sure to take them seriously when you go over your prevention plan each summer.
It is up to you to formulate a battle plan against the fleas to win back your home. Along with killing the current fleas, you also want to fortify your home against further infestations. You want to use the proper tools and medications to keep fleas under control as some products on the market are dangerous or ineffective.
Flea Life Cycle and Anatomy
Fleas have 3 pairs of legs and can jump around 100 times their size which is impressive to say the least. When there are many fleas, you can refer to the flea population as a flea biomass. A flea biomass is the total number of fleas among all life cycles that are living inside of one area. You can tell if you have a flea by running a flea comb through your pet then looking for white or black specks. The white are eggs, the black are the feces from the fleas.
It is possible that several generations have been established in your house by the time that you notice even one flea. Each flea can lay up to 50 eggs each day, and can lay their first set of eggs just 35 hours after their first blood meal. One flea can lay up to 2000 eggs in their lifetime which can create a serious problem for home owners. Flea eggs usually represent about 50% of the total population inside the average home.
Fleas have several life cycles that they go through before they become an adult. Fleas go through the larvae, pupae, and adult stages. It can take only 3-4 weeks for the eggs to turn into adults during ideal weather. The ideal weather for fleas is around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is not ideal, it can take a couple of months for all of the eggs to hatch.
The flea eggs are white in the animal fur. The eggs hatch in about 1-10 days after they are laid on the animal or in the environment. It can take up to 14 days for eggs to hatch in conditions that are not ideal.
Larvae are tiny worms that consume flea dirt. The larvae stage will last 5-11 days on average. It can take up to 20 days in temperature that is not ideal. Flea larvae take up about 35 percent of the total flea population.
Pupae is the silky cocoon that can develop into an adult flea in as little as five days but can lay dormant for up to 6 months. The pupae account for 10 percent of the total flea population in a household.
The cocoon that is weaved has a very sticky shell that can prevent it from being vacuumed easily, which causes the most problems for flea infested households. The cocoon will not hatch until there is a signal such as body heat that indicates there is a host nearby.
It might surprise you that only 5 percent of the flea population are adult fleas. Adult fleas are have a flat body and are dark colored. The flea will become larger and lighter which each blood meal that they take from you or your pet. Fleas can live up to 3 or 4 months long if they feed at normal times.
Controlling the Flea Population
Controlling fleas and taking preventative measures to keep them out of our living spaces is a requirement for maintaining a happy and itch-free family. Each year as the flea population quickly expands in the summer time, we need to be prepared to end a flea infestation the second you notice one starting. You can view all of the best treatment products for fleas on my page about flea treatments and preventatives.
There are a myriad of products, treatments, and remedies that are advertised for controlling fleas. You can find most products at your local veterinarian’s office or from a Petco store. Learn which brands are more about pet health than a quick dollar by doing some research on this site. It is my goal to help you effectively treat the premises in which fleas live so you can keep them at bay. Some of the good brands that you can buy from include Frontline, Advantage, Revolution, Trifexis, Comfortis, and Zodiac. Treatments come in pills, sprays, spot on treatments, dips, and even shots.
I do not routinely recommend that people buy their flea treatment products from a supermarket due to the fact that some of them are dangerous and can cause harmful side effects. Products not purchased directly from the veterinarian are referred to as over the counter products. I also want you to avoid using a dog flea medication on a cat or vice versa, even if you hear that splitting doses can save money and works as effectively.
Spot on treatments with meticulous vacuuming and laundering each day is the best choice. Cleaning all the bowls and litter boxes would be a plus. Diatomaceous earth can be used on the carpet prior to vacuuming. Use a broom to push the powder into the wall corners. Fleas die about 12 hours after laying down this solution and vacuuming. You want to reapply this solution every week for 2 months, until all of the hatched adults die. Borax can be used in the same way.
The spot on treatment needs to be applied to every animal for at least a couple of months to kill the current fleas and the hatching fleas. You can read my entire article on the different medications if you want to learn about each individual product.
Bombing and spraying the entire house is not the preferred treatment route, but it is an option. All animals would have to be removed prior to the bombing and spraying for at least 10 hours. With bombing, you still have to apply a spot on product as you do not want fleas to jump back into the just bombed house. Don’t forget to clean the flea excrement and dead flea bodies when you return.
Keep in mind that you have to treat all the surrounding areas when you are battling fleas. Fleas can hop and lay eggs just about anywhere in the house. Tabletops, bedding, clothing, carpet, behind corners and couches, even in toy boxes are popular locations.
The Best Treatment Plan
Overall the best and most cost effective plan is to use dawn dish soap and a flea comb. The flea comb and dawn dish soap techniques are natural, safe, and require no specific weight or age for them to be used. The flea comb can be used to mechanically remove fleas and their excrement. Flea combs come in all shapes and sizes and are very easy to use. The caught fleas would be dumped into a cup of soapy water to suffocate them. Read more about treating for fleas on my other article about flea preventatives.
The dish soap can be used as a shampoo for cats when you bathe them as a flea killer. The dish soap has to be the blue dawn kind for this to be effective. Simply rub the dawn dish soap all over the cat and allow it to sit for a few minutes prior to washing. Catch the drowning fleas and excrement with a flea comb. Note that the water may turn completely red when the fleas start dying. Make sure to dry the cat or kitten well to prevent chills with a blow dryer or bath towels.
Medical Issues Caused By Fleas
Fleas can present a huge problem to adult animals, especially young puppies and kittens. Young animals can lose weight very fast and develop flea anemia if the fleas are not eradicated quickly. Animals that are very anemic may start eating cat litter and become very lethargic. Not eating at all, lack of drinking, or decreased urination may also be noticed. Dehydration can be seen in the later stages of anemia.
Flea allergy dermatitis might also be observed if the cat or dog is allergic to the saliva produced by the fleas. Scabs might be noticed and patches of fur might be missing. Fleas can also infect a cat or dog with tapeworm if the animal happens to ingest an infected flea. All it takes is just one to cause an allergic reaction or tapeworm.
If a cat or dog is suspected of having been infected with tapeworm, you will want to treat them with a reputable medication that contains praziquantel or fenbendazole. Tapeworms can cause more problems in addition to the flea problem. Tapeworms can cause weight loss, vomiting, and sometimes seizures.
Tapeworms are segmented and flat, and may be seen when an animal has a bowel movement. You will notice what looks like a small piece of rice around the rectal area. A fecal test done with a microscope by a veterinary professional is important if you are just getting over an infestation.