If you notice fleas on your pet or in your home, you need to take immediate action. Fleas aren’t just annoying. Their bites cause itching – sometimes severe – in pets and people. Cats and dogs can damage their coats, tear out their fur, and injure themselves by scratching and biting. Hair loss can be permanent. Some animals, including humans, can be hypersensitive to flea bites and others can develop allergies. Hypersensitivity can result in full-body itching from a single flea bite. An allergy to proteins in flea saliva is called flea bite allergic dermatitis and it can develop after repeated bites. It causes intense itching lasting up to five days after a bite, reddened skin, and hair loss. Excessive scratching can lead to secondary infections.
Blood loss due to flea feeding can lead to anemia. In fact, fleas are more likely than ticks to cause anemia in pets. The risk of anemia is higher in cats than dogs, specifically kittens, elderly, or ill cats.
In addition, fleas are vectors for diseases and parasites, including typhus, bubonic plague, tularemia (a disease that causes fever and ulcers), bartonellosis (cat scratch disease), heartworms, and tapeworms. Though typhus, bubonic plague, tularemia, and bartonellosis are rare, they are dangerous to both people and pets. Pets must ingest fleas to be infested by tapeworms, which often occurs during grooming. Children can also get tapeworms from infected fleas. In rare cases, fleas can cause the death of a pet.
Here, we’ll cover the signs of a flea infestation, how to identify fleas (including an overview of the most common type of flea), flea preventative methods, how to kill fleas in or on homes, yards, pets, and people, some things that don’t work well, and finally when to seek help from professionals. The best way to get rid fleas is through an integrated approach that includes home, yard, and pet treatment.
Signs of a flea infestation
You may not notice the fleas right away if you have an infestation. However, there are several signs of fleas that will help you identify a problem early.
Most common signs of a flea infestation
The first thing you’re likely to notice in the event of a flea infestation is pet discomfort.
They will scratch, bite, and lick themselves more than normal. Fleas prefer the middle of a pet’s back, the head, the neck, the base of the tail, the underside of the pet’s body (especially ‘armpit’ regions), and the groin.
Several of these areas are difficult for pets to groom, so fleas can eat in relative peace.
In addition to behavior, telltale signs of flea activity on your pet include hair loss, skin redness, and scabs or bumps on the skin. You’re also likely to notice bite marks and flea dirt. Fleabites are tiny, raised red spots surrounded by a larger bright red area. The bites themselves typically scab over. They usually don’t swell up much. Flea dirt is the term given to flea feces, which are just partially digested dried blood. Flea dirt looks like black dandruff or black pepper in your pet’s fur. To definitively identify flea dirt, collect some on a white towel, tissue, or cotton ball and wet it. If it spreads out and turns red, it’s flea dirt.
You may even spot fleas on your pet. They’re tiny, only reaching about 4 mm (0.16 in.) in length, reddish brown to dark brown, wingless, and laterally flat. They can jump incredibly high for their size (up to 12 inches) and can jump twice as far horizontally. If you groom your pet and notice tiny bugs jumping out of their fur, those are fleas.
If you don’t notice signs on your pet (or if you don’t have a pet), you may notice the fleas or flea dirt on your floors or your pet’s bedding. You may notice fleabites on yourself or other family members. If you’re feeling itchy, especially around your feet or ankles, check for fleabites. They’re often found in groups and sometimes form a line.
How to test for fleas
If you think you have fleas, do a test to be sure. To double check your pets, use a flea comb or other fine-toothed comb, brushing in the wrong direction. This will expose the pet’s skin, making fleas and flea dirt visible and some will get stuck in the comb. You can have your pet stand on a white surface (e.g., large paper, pillowcase, towel). Objects that are picked up by the comb will show up against the when they fall. If they leap away, they’re fleas. If they spread out and turn red when wet, it’s flea dirt. If a fine-toothed comb isn’t available, you can gently blow on your pet’s fur. This will raise the fur and you can see if there are any black specks lurking within.
To check your home or yard, wear long white socks and shuffle through your rooms or your yard, being sure to disturb any carpeting or vegetation. Fleas will jump on you and will be easily discernible against the white background of the socks.
How to distinguish a flea infestation from another pest infestation
While we’ve mentioned a couple of ways to identify fleas, it’s important to be sure what kind of pest is responsible for the infestation. Many other insects bite and all other insects generate waste. We’ll cover the differences between fleas, mosquitoes, bed bugs, lice, and ticks.
Fleabites are both larger and darker than mosquito bites and they usually cause worse itching. Mosquito bites don’t occur in patterns and most often occur at dusk or night. Fleabites occur throughout the day and night. Fleas differ from bed bugs in that bed bug bites result in blisters and look like small mosquito bites. While fleabites are more common on the feet and ankles, bed bug bites are most often found on the arms, neck, and face. Bed bugs also exclusively feed on humans. Rather than finding a bite from a tick, you’re most likely to find the tick itself embedded in the skin.
Adult bed bugs are oval-shaped and flat from top-to-bottom, lacking the long rear legs of fleas. They are about twice the size of fleas, reaching lengths of up to 7 mm (about ¼ inch). Adult mosquitoes have two wings and can fly, unlike fleas, bed bugs, and lice. Adult lice are around 4.5 mm long with a diamond-shaped body. Ticks are arachnids and thus have eight legs instead of six in adulthood. Unfed ticks are flattened like bed bugs. The most common types of ticks are dog ticks and deer ticks. Dog ticks reach nearly 5 mm in length and deer ticks are about half that size. Both are brown to reddish brown when unfed, while female dog ticks get larger and look like a small gray grape when gorged on blood.
Fleas lay their eggs on their hosts and these eggs fall off in places the animal spends time. What do flea eggs look like on a dog? Flea eggs are white ovals approximately 1/12 the size of an adult flea. Mosquitoes lay eggs in standing water. Bed bug eggs are larger than flea eggs, about ¼ the size of an adult bed bug. Like the bugs themselves and their feces, the eggs are found in beds and bed linens. Louse eggs are only found in the hair or clothing of humans. Ticks lay thousands of eggs in sheltered places on the ground. They are tiny, reddish-orange balls deposited in a mass.
Fleas undergo a larval stage, with the white, legless larvae reaching 10 mm in length. Bed bug juveniles are called nymphs and look like small, pale versions of adults. Mosquito larvae, like the eggs, are found only in water. Lice have a nymph stage, during which they look like small, rounded adult lice. The tick life cycle includes larval and nymph stages, with larvae resembling tiny six-legged adults and nymphs possessing the eight legs present in adults.
Flea dirt is most likely found in pet fur, pet bedding, or in areas where pets rest and play. Bed bug excrement is found in human bedding. Fleas and bed bugs both deposit tiny black feces that look a bit like pepper. Mosquitoes digest blood more fully than do fleas and their feces will behave differently when wet. The feces of lice are deposited in small, round, dark-colored clusters, usually stuck to the host’s hair or skin. Tick feces resemble those of fleas and are found surrounding an attached tick.
For effective pest control, you need to know what you’re dealing with. Different pests require different control methods. In this section, we’ll dive deeper into flea identification, so you can plan a successful strategy.
What do fleas look like? Fleas are tiny, laterally flattened, reddish-brown insects with long legs. They specialize in blood, which they obtain by piercing the host’s skin. They prefer temperatures between 70 and 90°F but can survive in conditions as low as 45°F. They undergo four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. After consuming a blood meal, the adult female begins to lay eggs. She can lay up to 50 eggs per day, often in batches with bouts of feeding in between. The eggs are smooth, and soon fall off the host. Around 2 to 5 days after the eggs are laid, they begin to hatch into larvae. The larvae, which look like tiny, hairy, white worms, don’t attach to a new host, instead of remaining where they hatched. They live off flea dirt shed by the hosts of adult fleas, dead skin, bits of dropped food, their own eggshells, and even their fellow larvae. Larvae thrive in humid conditions, requiring at least 75% relative humidity to survive. Fleas remain in the larval stage for between 8 and 15 days before spinning a cocoon in which to pupate. They usually emerge as adult fleas around 1 to 4 weeks later. Fleas mature more quickly in warmer temperatures and can survive as a pupa for up to a year when conditions are cool. Emergence from the pupal case is typically stimulated by warmth, vibrations, or an increase in carbon dioxide, all indicators that a potential host is nearby. Newly matured adult fleas jump onto the nearest host and immediately begin feeding. They are likely to remain on their chosen host for the rest of their lifetimes (4 to 8 weeks). Within 20 to 24 hours of taking her first blood meal, an adult female begins to lay the next generation of flea eggs.
The cat flea
There are over 2,000 species of flea. The most commonly encountered on dogs and cats in the U.S. is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. Other flea species you may run across include the dog flea (C. canis), the sticktight flea (Echidnophaga gallinacea), the ground squirrel flea (Oropsylla montana), the human flea (Pulex irritans), and the rat flea (Xenopsylla cheopis). All flea species resemble each other and follow very similar life cycles.
Specifically, cat fleas are between 1 and 3 mm long with short antennae and have bristles on their backs and legs that point backward. These bristles help them move forward through animal fur while making it difficult to pull them out. Their mouths are composed of two parts: the petal-shaped outer laciniae and the inner proboscis called the epipharynx. The laciniae penetrate the skin while the epipharynx stabs into a blood vessel like a straw into a juice box. The long rear legs of cat fleas enable them to jump up to 12 inches from a resting position. Cat flea larvae are approximately 6 mm long and have brown heads.
Unlike some other flea species, cat fleas do not transmit plague. However, they do carry tapeworms. Also unique to cat fleas is their tendency to stay on one host rather than dropping off to find a new one. Their lifespan on a host is usually between 30 and 40 days.
Common flea living and hiding places
The next step is to find out where the fleas are hiding. Where do fleas live? They won’t just be on your pet or in the couch cushions; they’ll be on the pet, in the couch cushions and other indoor places, and outside in your yard. You’ll have fleas in the carpet and fleas under your house. We’ll cover the most likely places to find them indoors, outdoors, and on your pet as well as how they got there. Fleas don’t like light, so they will not be found out in the open anywhere.
Inside your house, flea eggs and larvae will be most commonly found in pet bedding and within and beneath furniture, the eggs having fallen from the host animal during rest. You may even have fleas in bed. If you have carpets or rugs, the eggs can become embedded in the fibers. Don’t think that if you don’t have carpets, you don’t have fleas, though. Eggs can also become wedged between floorboards or beneath baseboards. Fleas can come into your home from your own pet, a visiting pet, a visiting pet owner, or even a piece of furniture, carpet, or rug you bring in from another home. Remember, flea pupae can remain dormant for up to a year, so even a long-vacant home can suddenly explode with fleas when people and/or animals start walking around in it.
Outdoors, adult fleas seek out moist, shady areas, and will be found near where pets spend time. Outdoor kennels, dog houses, and sheds are prime flea hiding places. Their larvae may be found burrowed within leaf piles or mulch or living beneath decks and porches. Any passing animal or visiting pet can drop flea eggs in your yard, which will grow up to jump onto you or your pet. Fleas feed on birds as well as mammals, so fleas can even leap from birds’ nests to reach a new canine or feline host. Once fleas are established, your pet will continue to shed eggs in the yard, where the cycle will continue.
As mentioned, fleas prefer hidden and hard-to-reach areas on pets that are difficult to groom. So, they’ll most likely be found on the pet’s underside, especially in the hollows of hip and shoulder joints and the groin, at the base of the tail, along the middle of a pet’s back, and on the head and neck. An initial flea infestation often begins when a pet picks up some fleas either outdoors, at someone else’s home, at a boarding facility, or even at the groomer. If an infested animal walks through your yard shedding eggs, your dog or cat can pick up the adult fleas once they hatch. Fleas can survive for up to 100 days without a host, so if they’re dropped in the yard by a passing animal, your pet can still pick them up months later.
Preventative flea control steps
The best way to defend your home and property from fleas is to prevent them from ever colonizing it to begin with. Fleas thrive in high humidity. If you don’t have air conditioning, consider investing in a dehumidifier. This will make your home less hospitable and may kill off any eggs or larvae that happen to find their way inside. Vacuum/sweep/mop floors and wash linens and pet beds regularly. If a few fleas manage to get in, you may be able to prevent an infestation simply by cleaning them up or drowning them in soapy water. If you get used furniture, rugs, or carpeting from a secondhand store, garage sale, or friend, thoroughly clean it before bringing it into your home to kill any fleas that may be lurking within. Keep window and door screens in top condition to prevent the entrance of any animals that might be carrying fleas (e.g., rats, mice, birds). Similarly, make sure to repair any cracks or holes that may allow pest ingress. Keep pet cats indoors. Not only can they pick up fleas themselves, but they could bring them in via something they’ve caught and/or killed.
To make your yard less habitable for fleas, commit to regularly mowing and raking your yard. Long grass, as well as piles of debris, are great places for fleas to live and grow. Debris piles are also great hiding places for rats and mice, which carry fleas.
Keep fleas off yourself by using insect repellent when you go outside.
The very best way to prevent a flea infestation is to treat your pets with flea and tick medication. There are monthly oral and topical treatments that kill any fleas or ticks that bite a treated pet. In fact, some veterinarians posit that any home with pets that aren’t on a flea and tick preventative treatment will eventually experience a flea infestation no matter how many other preventative measures are taken.
Treating the home
If you do find your home infested with fleas, you must follow an integrated management plan. Simply treating the pet won’t be enough. If fleas are in one area, they are most definitely also in others. You’ll need to treat your home, yard, and pet. This section covers how to get fleas out of the house. There are a few different actions you need to take, including controlling the flea life cycle.
Once you notice fleas, they’ve already been developing in your home for as many as 2 months and the next generation of eggs has probably already been laid. In addition, fleas can live for 100 days without a host. For these reasons, an infestation can be very hard to control, and eradication can take several months. The entire population of immature fleas living and growing in your home is called biomass. Controlling the biomass inside the home is crucial for effective flea control. You’ll have to employ both physical and chemical tactics.
When we say, “physical methods,” we just mean good, thorough, and regular cleaning. This includes vacuuming, mopping, steam cleaning, and laundering. Before you get started, pick up pets’ and children’s toys and other items from the floor, move pet food and water dishes away from the treatment area, and be sure to protect fish tanks by covering them and disconnecting the aerator. If you have invertebrate, bird, amphibian, or reptile pets, move them away from the treatment area as well.
After you complete the physical treatment, move on to chemical control. You’re likely to have to repeat both types of control before complete eradication. After the first round of chemical control, vacuum again. Eggs and pupae are resistant to insecticides, so you need to suck up any remaining eggs and stimulate emergence from pupae so the adults will come in contact with the insecticides.
The first crucial step is regular (i.e., daily or every other day), thorough vacuuming of carpets, rugs, hardwood floors, baseboards, furniture and the floor under the furniture, cushions, and pet resting and play areas. If your vacuum has a bag, don’t just empty it; seal it up and throw it out when it’s full. It may be a good idea to add a flea collar or other insecticidal product to the bag or canister to kill the fleas that you pick up. During treatment, if it doesn’t become full, change it at least once a week anyway. Fleas and their larvae and eggs can survive inside a vacuum bag to re-infest a home. If your vacuum has a canister, empty it into an outdoor bin after every bout of vacuuming. Make sure the bin has a good seal so the fleas don’t escape and come back into your home. Vacuuming is extremely important. Not only does it suck up a lot of fleas (in carpeting, up to 30% of larvae and 60% of eggs) and flea dirt, but the vibrations entice fleas out of their pupae and you can vacuum some of them up as they crawl out of the carpet fibers and floorboards. This also makes the remaining fleas more susceptible to subsequent chemical treatments. Vacuuming also pulls up the nap of the carpeting, increasing the depth to which insecticides can penetrate.
You should also mop hard floors at least once a week.
Following vacuuming, all carpets and upholstered furniture should be steam cleaned. The hot soap and steam will kill many of the remaining larvae and adult fleas. Additionally, vacuuming doesn’t pick up flea pupae because they stick to fibers, so steam cleaning is the only way to get them out of your carpets and furniture.
Throw all the pet and human bedding (as well as linens and pet toys, if you can) in the laundry on the hot setting. Temperatures of 95°F and above kill flea larvae, so it’s recommended that you put the bedding and toys through the dryer as well. Wash all bedding at least once a week during treatment. If you don’t have a washing machine, hand wash everything in hot, soapy water. If you can’t wash bedding (or if the infestation is especially severe), it will have to be discarded and replaced. When you pick up bedding, be sure to get help and lift it by the corners so none of the eggs or larvae fall off onto the floor you just vacuumed.
Treat sheds and dog houses
Thoroughly clean outdoor kennels, dog houses, and sheds (or any outbuilding where your pet spends time) using the same methods outlined above for indoor spaces: vacuum, mop, steam clean, and launder. If outdoor bedding cannot be washed, throw it away.
Flea products for the home
As mentioned, just one type of treatment won’t be enough. Even after vacuuming and steam cleaning, there will still be some stragglers. For that, you need a chemical control. Before you begin a chemical treatment regimen, remember to keep toys, bedding, clothes, and food and water dishes off the floor and away from the treatment area and keep other pets protected from the chemicals. Make sure you have completed all physical control steps before beginning chemical control.
Choose your products carefully. Not all pesticides are safe to use indoors, so be sure to read the label. Products formulated for outdoor use contain more toxic pesticides and release more fumes than indoor products. Even when using indoor products, proper ventilation is important to protect yourself, your family, and your pets. Read all label directions before pesticide application and follow those directions to the letter. Improper application of pesticide products can endanger household residents or be ineffective.
Products available for indoor use include sprays, powders/dusts, and flea light traps. The most effective flea control products contain pesticides that kill adults fleas (adulticides) as well as those that target eggs and larvae (insect growth regulators). Check the label to identify an insecticide’s ingredients. Adulticides include citrus oils, pyrethrin, pyriproxyfen, permethrin, imidacloprid, propoxur, and dinotefuran. Pyriproxyfen and methoprene are both insect growth regulators (IGRs). It’s best to begin by treating your entire home (all the places you vacuumed and steam cleaned, including under furniture, rugs, pillows, and cushions) before focusing in on your pet’s favorite spots.
Sprays include both liquids and aerosols. Apply them throughout the home, making sure to spray carpets and furniture, including beneath rugs, furniture, and cushions. It is not necessary to treat hard floors as the physical methods should be sufficient.
Do not enter a treated room or contact treated surfaces until the spray has fully dried.
Because aerosols dry more quickly, they may be the best flea spray for the home and are often the better choice for high-traffic areas or areas that are difficult to close off. Sprays are especially useful for treating small, difficult-to-access areas, such as behind furniture.
Both plant-derived and synthetic sprays exist to combat flea infestations. If you want to get rid of fleas naturally, look for botanical products. Natural flea killers include citrus oil sprays containing linalool and/or limonene (both oils that can be derived from the peels of citrus fruits). They immediately kill adult fleas, but have very little residual (lasting) power as they evaporate quickly, leaving behind little to no residue. Such citrus sprays may be safer for homes with small children or dogs. Pyrethrin is another botanical product that kills both adult and larval fleas. Like citrus oils, it has a low residual effect.
Methoprene is an IGR included in indoor pest control products. It should not be used in areas that get a lot of sun as it is unstable and breaks down rapidly when exposed to sunlight. Pyriproxyfen is an insecticide that targets both adult and immature flea stages and can be used inside or outside.
Powders and dusts
Powders and dusts, such as borates (boric acid, borax), diatomaceous earth, and salt can be sprinkled on carpets and furniture for use in treating flea infestations. Borates kill larval fleas when they consume contaminated flea dirt or other food items. Diatomaceous earth and salt are effective against adult fleas because they dehydrate them upon contact. Given that they target different life stages, it may be advantageous to incorporate both into your treatment plan.
Powders and dusts work well because they penetrate deep into carpet fibers. You can help this process along by using a broom to push the particles down into the carpet after application. Borates also come in shampoo formulas, which may be preferable if dustiness or contamination of kitchen counters is a concern.
The advantage of using such products is that they have no toxicity to humans and pets. For extra safety, choose food-grade diatomaceous earth. One disadvantage of borates is that they can cause carpet and upholstery damage after prolonged use.
Flea light traps
Flea light traps are a combination of an attractant light and a glue trap. The most effective type of flea trap uses a green light that flickers to look like an animal’s shadow passing by. These types of products are good for monitoring your treatment plan as they catch adult fleas and you will notice as you start to catch fewer insects. However, they are not an effective overall treatment when used alone. For best results, you must use them in combination with one or more of the products outlined above.
Treating the yard
Without treating the yard in addition to the home, pets will track fleas right back in. Similar to indoor flea control, you will need to employ both physical and chemical methods for success. As mentioned, focus your attack on areas that pets spend a lot of time, including kennels, dog houses, and beneath decks. If there are crawl spaces beneath your home where wild animals might hole up, treat those as well. Fleas cannot survive in full sun, so you won’t need to treat the entire yard, only the shaded areas.
As outlined above, be sure to first clean outdoor spaces, including kennels, dog houses, sheds, under decks, and crawl spaces. Mow, trim trees, and clear the yard of debris. In some cases, simply heavily watering the yard can be enough to wash away eggs and larvae and drown adult fleas. Watering also washes away flea dirt, leaving little to nothing for larvae to eat.
Flea products for the backyard
Flea controls for the yard are similar to those for indoor spaces, but they have higher toxicity and more dangerous fumes. However, their effects on fleas are alike: some contain adulticides, some contain IGRs, and others contain a mixture of both. The most effective strategy for outdoor flea control is an initial adulticide application followed by an IGR. It’s important to note that several populations of fleas have developed resistance to the insecticide permethrin. It is therefore recommended to use a product with different ingredients. IGRs marketed for outdoor use include carbaryl, diazinon, malathion, propoxur, and esfenvalerate. As with indoor insecticides, follow all label directions for safety and effectiveness.
You may run across articles mentioning chlorpyrifos in your research. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, this insecticide is no longer available for use in treating fleas. There have been calls to ban it completely, and it is currently under review.
Insecticide sprays formulated for outdoor use typically contain the IGRs pyriproxyfen or methoprene. Pyriproxyfen is better for use outside because it is more stable when exposed to the sun’s UV rays. The best way to apply pyriproxyfen is by diluting it with water and spraying it from a pump-up or hose-end sprayer. Other spray insecticides include carbaryl, diazinon, malathion, and propoxur.
Granules and powders
Diatomaceous earth can be used outdoors as well as in. It is safe to use around gardens, dog kennels, and children’s playgrounds, so it may be preferable to insecticides. However, when using diatomaceous earth for fleas outdoors, know that once it becomes wet, it is no longer effective.
Adulticides and IGRs also come in granule or dust form and can be sprinkled in favored pet areas and other flea habitats. These include carbaryl (dust), diazinon (granule), and malathion (dust).
In some cases, steinernema nematodes can be an effective biological control. They are non-toxic to humans and pets, but they eat fleas. Nematodes can only survive in warm, moist areas, and they seem to do best in sandy soils, so be careful where you put them. They are best used in conjunction with other treatments. Be cautious, however. Nematodes are indiscriminate predators and will consume beneficial insects as well as fleas. You may trade your flea problem for a nematode problem if you’re not careful.
It is imperative that you treat all pets as soon as you confirm the presence of fleas and run treatments concurrently with indoor and outdoor control. As mentioned earlier in this article, fleas can cause severe discomfort, dangerous allergic reactions, and spread parasites and disease. While regular, preventive treatment is the best way to keep fleas from infesting your pets and your home, treatment is absolutely necessary in the event of an infestation. Here, we’ll tell you how to get rid of fleas on dogs and how to get rid of fleas on cats fast.
What is the best flea control for dogs and cats? Like premise flea control, pet treatment is two-fold, involving both physical and chemical methods. Physical methods boil down to grooming, including combing with a special flea comb and bathing with flea shampoos. Chemical methods include systemic treatments (including oral and topical preventatives), sprays, powders/dusts, flea collars, and flea dips.
If you want to know how to remove fleas from dogs and cats, you’re in the right place. Begin your pet treatment with combing and bathing before moving on to chemical control. This acts as a first wave attack, taking out a good proportion of the existing flea population before tackling the remainder. Physical methods further reduce the need for insecticides, meaning that your pet won’t have to take a large, potentially dangerous dose.
Flea combs have very fine teeth that allow fur to pass through while trapping fleas, flea eggs, flea dirt, and dried blood. You should comb your pet several times each day, making sure to comb with (rather than against) fur growth. As you comb, regularly dip the comb in soapy water or alcohol to clean it off and kill trapped fleas.
Some pets will not tolerate baths, so combs end up being the only physical option available to some pet owners. When this is the case, combing becomes even more important.
Added benefits of flea combs are that pets often enjoy being brushed or combed and the activity helps monitor your control regimen. Similar to flea traps, you will be able to monitor flea numbers and see when they begin to fall off.
Following bathing (for those pets who tolerate it), you should comb your pet again to remove any dead fleas.
If infestations are mild, regular pet shampoo can be enough. Soap works as an insecticide. Regular pet shampoo is less harsh than insecticidal flea shampoo and can handle small infestations. In addition to killing adult fleas, bathing removes dead skin and dried blood that larvae can eat. You can also use a gentle dish detergent (e.g., Dawn), but veterinarians recommend a specified, formulated flea shampoo.
When choosing a flea shampoo, seek advice from your veterinarian. Some react negatively with other flea treatments. If you have a cat, make sure to choose a product specifically for cats. If you have both cats and dogs, do not use the same shampoo unless the label specifies that it’s safe for both. Cats are more sensitive to certain compounds than dogs and can be harmed by dog products. Similarly, be sure to choose the right flea control for puppies and kittens as some adult shampoos can be toxic to young animals.
Flea baths are much like a regular pet bath except that flea shampoo must be left on for 5 to 10 minutes so that it can sink into the fur and skin.
Flea products for pets
As with flea shampoos, care must be taken when choosing flea medicine for dogs and flea medicine for cats. Cats are more sensitive to certain compounds than dogs. For example, products derived from citrus oils (i.e., linalool and limonene) as well as the common pesticide permethrin (pyrethrin) and the less common amitraz can be toxic to cats. The best flea treatment for dogs will not be the best flea treatment for cats. Similarly, kittens and puppies are more sensitive to flea products than adults. If an animal is too young for flea shampoos or treatments, just use a flea comb and a gentle bath with kitten or puppy shampoo. Senior pets can be more sensitive than younger adult animals. Different treatments are also often required for pregnant or nursing animals as well as those on other medications. Be sure to consult your veterinarian to determine the best course of treatment for your pet. Never treat pets with the same treatments you used on the house or yard.
Most flea treatments for pets contain insecticides that are safe for pets because they target specific neurotransmitters in fleas that mammals do not possess.
They cause disorientation and paralysis in fleas. After treatment, you may notice more fleas on your pet because they are disoriented and unable to hide as effectively. IGRs, however, are the safest option because they mimic insect hormones and thus do not affect people or pets. IGRs are available as sprays, spot-on treatments, dips, flea collars, pills, food additives, and injections. They include lufenuron, which can be used on cats and dogs, methoprene, and pyriproxyfen. Methoprene and pyriproxyfen require about 4 to 6 weeks for full control. For severe infestations, you will need to use an adulticide in addition to an IGR. Adulticides include the compounds imidacloprid, fipronil, dinotefuran, nitenpyram, pyriprole, selamectin, and spinosad. These have low mammal toxicity so they pose a low risk to people and pets. Imidacloprid and fipronil offer between 1 and 3 months of protection, though fipronil’s effectiveness falls off with time. Both are available as sprays and spot-on treatments. Nitenpyram works quickly but offers no residual control. Fluralaner and spinosad are both adulticides that begin killing fleas quickly (within 2 hours). Botanically-derived insecticides often kill both adult and larval fleas and generally have low toxicity to pets. However, they break down quickly and thus provide no residual control. Botanicals include pyrethrum (pyrethrin) and citrus oil extracts (limonene and linalool). Remember, though, that pyrethrins and citrus oils can be dangerous for cats. However, citrus oils can be effective home remedies to get rid of fleas on your dog.
Where you live will determine the amount of protection your pet needs. In places with warm climates, flea treatment must continue year-round, while in cooler locales, it should be carried out through the spring and summer.
Systemic treatments protect the whole animal by incorporating IGRs and/or adulticides with long-term (months) residual activity into your pet’s system. If a flea bites your pet, the chemicals in your pet’s skin and blood either prevent flea reproduction or kill the flea (sometimes in as little as 30 minutes). Both outcomes prevent fleas from reproducing and can stop an infestation before it starts. They are available as oral medications (pills, chewable tablets, food additives, etc.), injections, spot-on treatments, and sprays.
Oral treatments include those containing spinosad, selamectin, isoxazoline, and nitenpyram. Recall, however, that nitenpyram has no residual activity. Spinosad begins to kill fleas within 30 minutes and eliminates all fleas within 4 hours. Though it’s labeled to have one month of residual activity, it has been shown to stop working after 23 days. Selamectin has better residual activity, lasting up to 30 days. Isoxazoline oral treatments begin killing fleas within 2 hours, with all fleas gone within 12 hours and they remain effective for up to 12 weeks. Administer oral treatments according to package directions. For pets that don’t take pills well, you may need to mix the medication with treats or food. Chewable tablets are typically only available as flea protection for dogs.
Spot-on treatments are liquids applied to an animal’s back, where oils in the fur carry it over the rest of the body and it becomes incorporated into the skin. These treatments are typically fast-acting adulticides and IGRs with high residual activity. Prescription spot-on treatments usually retain their effectiveness even after bathing. However, there is typically a period of time after application when you shouldn’t touch or bathe your pet to allow the treatment to penetrate the skin. For this reason, be sure to keep your pets separated after spot-on application to prevent them from grooming each other and accidentally consuming the pesticide.
Sprays are available for flea control on pets. Some are even formulated for use on both pets and premises but be sure to read the label. If it doesn’t explicitly say that it is safe to use on animals, don’t use it on your pet. Some sprays are dangerous for small pets. Again, consult the label before spraying anything on your pet. These sprays contain adulticides such as pyrethrum (or related synthetic chemicals) and IGRs such as pyriproxyfen. To use these treatments, simply spray it onto your pet (avoiding the face area) and massage it into the fur and skin.
In addition to IGRs and adulticides, repellents can also be used on pets. These are especially useful as additives in regular treatments for pets that are hypersensitive to flea bites. Systemic adulticides only kill after a flea bites an animal. The added protection of a repellent means that your pet suffers fewer bites.
Powders and dusts
Powders and dusts similar to those used on homes and yards are available for use on pets. They rapidly paralyze fleas, which then fall off the pet and die. Some experts consider flea powder for dogs and cats safer to use than shampoos and sprays because they lack solvents that transfer pesticides into the skin. They are quick surface treatments rather than a systemic, residual control. However, they do come with the caveat that they can become airborne and potentially be inhaled or ingested by people and pets. It is recommended that you bathe your pet after powder or dust treatment to remove paralyzed fleas and reduce the risk of inhalation or ingestion.
Flea collars are usually plastic collars containing IGRs and insecticides, typically methoprene or pyriproxyfen and permethrin or tetrachlorvinphos. Like spot-on treatments, the product is spread throughout the pet’s fur and settles in the skin. Unlike spot-on treatments, they are physical collars that have to be left on to remain effective. However, they are only supposed to be used as a temporary treatment and should only be left on for a maximum of 6 days. Flea collars are decent preventative measures rather than a good way to combat a current infestation. Some collars also contain a repellent. Only the prescription flea collars are known to be effective. Those sold over-the-counter don’t work as well.
Flea dips are concentrated insecticides that you dilute with water and either apply using a sponge or pour over your pet’s back. Typically, you won’t rinse the dip off. Rather, let it sit on the coat and penetrate to the skin while your pet air dries. Major active ingredients in flea dips are pyrethrum, methoprene, and pyriproxyfen. Flea dips can be dangerous, however, if administered incorrectly. As mentioned, pyrethrum is toxic to cats. Pyrethrum has also been associated with discomfort and illness in humans. Only use flea dips if they are recommended by your veterinarian and don’t purchase over-the-counter flea dips as these have not been as rigorously tested as prescription medications.
If you or your family members are also experiencing discomfort due to the flea infestation, there are a few ways to get rid of fleas on humans. While there are no systemic human treatments, you can use a flea repellent. Some are specifically formulated for use against fleas. You should also wash all your clothes and take a shower. As with pets, a gentle dish soap will kill any fleas in your hair. Also like pets, it’s a good idea to run a fine-toothed comb through your hair after the shower to remove the dead fleas. These methods have limited effectiveness. If you don’t concurrently treat your home, yard, and pets, you will continue to suffer from fleas.
Things that don’t work well
As with any pest control endeavor, you will probably run across several suggestions that end up being completely, or at least partially, ineffective. We’ll try to save you time by covering some of those. As mentioned, over-the-counter products are just not as effective as prescription medications and you probably shouldn’t bother with them. These include shampoos, collars, and spot-on treatments. Prescription medications have undergone rigorous testing and are stronger than over-the-counter medications.
Some pests (including wasps) can be eradicated using bombs or foggers. Such devices are less effective against fleas.
They are tempting because they are so easy to use: just set them, leave the room, and let them do all the work. However, they propel insecticides up into the air and the mist typically doesn’t reach the cracks and crevices where developing fleas are. Furthermore, their ingredients tend to be flammable, so you must remember to extinguish any candles or pilot lights before use.
Many home remedies for fleas don’t work very well. While some natural oils (i.e., citrus) are effective against fleas, tea tree oil, though recommended by some sources, is toxic to pets and should never be used against fleas in households with animals. The oils found in cedar chips are lethal to fleas. However, they don’t last even as long as citrus oils and probably aren’t worth trying. Pennyroyal oil can be toxic to mammals. Oils from rosemary, eucalyptus, wax myrtle leaves, and citronella have not been tested for use against fleas.
Garlic and brewer’s yeast have both been recommended for flea control. However, there is no scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of garlic, and the evidence is against brewer’s yeast. Neither vitamin B1, herbal flea collars, nor ultrasonic devices have shown effectiveness against fleas.
As mentioned previously, some flea populations have developed resistance to pyrethrins, including permethrin, so be sure to consult your veterinarian, who will know about any current local resistance.
When to seek professional help
Sometimes, a flea infestation is just too much to handle on your own. When you’ve reached your limit, it’s time to reach out to the professionals. They have extensive knowledge and experience and will be able to take care of your flea problem effectively and efficiently.
Calling a pest control company
Pest control companies are equipped to treat both your home and your yard. It’s best to tidy the house and do a thorough vacuuming before they arrive to prepare your carpets and furniture for treatment. For especially severe infestations, professional-grade products may be required and the professionals are the best people to apply such treatments. You will still need to control fleas on your pets because this is not a flea exterminator’s job. They are only there to treat the premises.
Calling your vet
If you’re having trouble controlling fleas on your pet, it’s time to call your veterinarian. If you call them up and say, “My dog has fleas,” they’ll know the right questions to ask and can provide you with advice. This will often be necessary for heavy and/or recurring flea problems. If you think you’ve kicked the fleas and they suddenly show up again, your veterinarian may be able to tell you why. Fleas in your area may be resistant to certain insecticides and your veterinarian can recommend or prescribe a more effective treatment.
Flea infestations are serious issues. If you are experiencing one, you need to act quickly and treat the problem thoroughly. Fleas cause pet and human discomfort and spread diseases and parasites. In this article, we tell you how to get rid of fleas in the house fast. We’ve detailed how to recognize a flea infestation (including how to identify fleas), where fleas are most likely to be found, the steps you need to take to control fleas (including indoor, outdoor, pet, and human treatment), and finally, when to reach out to the professionals for help. Physical (cleaning) and chemical (IGRs and insecticides) methods are both necessary for all types of treatment. It is crucial that you treat the premises and the pets at the same time and be very thorough in your cleaning and treatment. We covered the major active ingredients in flea control products, the effects they have on fleas, and their role in integrated flea management. Remember to be cautious when treating cats, very young animals, pregnant or nursing animals, and elderly animals. As always, follow the proper precautions and all labels. Good luck!