Flea Control and Prevention in 5 Steps

Cat Flea picture under 35x zoom optical microscope
Cat Flea picture under 35x zoom optical microscope. by Erurac-Wikipedia

Fleas are a common problem with people who have pets, but how does your pet suddenly get fleas when it was previously flea-free? And how do you get rid of fleas when they invade your home?

Pets may get fleas from the outdoors or from being around other flea-ridden animals - both domestic (such as pets of friends, neighbors, or even pet stores) or wild (squirrels, raccoons, deer, etc.). Additionally, people can carry fleas into the home themselves, from the same sources.

Although do not feed on humans, they can survive at a home without pets if there are animals that shelter within or near the home's structure (e.g., under a porch or in a crawlspace). Such wild animals also can cause a flea infestation to begin.

Flea Identification

To get rid of fleas, you need to first positively identify them as being fleas:

  • Fleas are about 1/18th inch in length.
  • Their bodies are wingless and hard.
  • They are very dark brown in color.
  • Back legs are longer than the front legs.
  • Fleas cannot fly, but, rather, jump from one host animal to another.

Flea Infection and Disease

Fleas can be of harm to pets because they will bite the animal in order to feed on its blood, resulting in both irritation and potential disease transmission, such as:

  • The animal's incessant scratching at the flea-bitten areas can cause infection or hair loss.
  • The fleas can transmit tapeworm infestation in the pest, which can also be transmitted to humans.
  • Fleas can also transmit plague from infected wild animals.

Although fleas have a preference for animals over humans, they can bite and feed on people, leaving small itchy, red marks as signs of their presence.

After feeding, the female flea can lay up to 50 eggs each day. The eggs are generally laid on the animal, but because they are not attached in any way, they will fall off onto carpeting, furniture, or other areas the animal may walk or lie.

The eggs will hatch deep within these areas into larvae "worms," and eventually grow, through stages, into an adult that hops back onto an animal host to start the circle of life over again.

4 Steps to DIY Flea Control

Homeowners can control flea infestations themselves, but it is important to read all label directions for all products and ensure that the correct product is used for the animal being treated. In addition, it is recommended that pet owners talk with their veterinarians prior to beginning a control program, and that you take steps to prepare your home for the flea treatment - DIY or professional.

The best method of flea control is a four-step approach:

  1. Step 1. Eliminate existing adult fleas on pets. This is achieved through treating the pet with a product from the veterinarian or pet store. Although over-the-counter soaps, shampoos, and combs are available, it is recommended that pet owners consult with their veterinarians even when using these products. This should be done at the same time that the home is treated, or the pet kept out of the home until after both are treated.
  2. Step 2. Eliminate larvae in the home. Wash any bedding with which the pet has come in contact, particularly its own bed and the sheets and blankets of any family members with whom the animal sleeps. Vacuum carpets anywhere in the home that the pet has been,
  1. Step 3. Treat the home. Treat carpets, upholstery, and baseboards with a pesticide product specifically labeled as an indoor insect growth regulator (IGR) for fleas. If pet bedding cannot be washed, it also can be treated. It is also beneficial to use an outdoor-labeled product in the yard if the animal spends time outdoor. Follow all label directions and never use room products on your pet.
  2. Step 4. Wait. Allow pesticide to dry thoroughly (generally about 3 to 5 hours) before returning or bringing pets back into the home. This time is important to ensure the home is completely aired out. Treated areas should not be cleaned for at least two weeks after treatment. 
  3. Step 5. Prevent a recurrence. While the IGRs will provide prevention by keeping eggs from hatching and not enabling larvae to grow, it is wise to use a flea-control products to keep your them from bringing pests into the home. Such products may be in the form of a pill that is given to your pet once a month; a collar that is replaced every six months; or a topical medication that is dispensed on the pest skin between the shoulder blades. Use only products that are labeled for the type and age of pet(s) you have.

    Many of these products also include active ingredients to kill ticks as well as fleas. In warmer areas the products should be used year round. In northern climates where insects become relatively inactive in the winter, use of the products can sometimes be limited to the potential flea seasons. Discuss the options with your veterinarian.