Ridding your home of fleas can be a daunting and costly endeavor. Unlike most household pests, fleas bite dogs and cats as well as people. The bites can cause intense itching and irritation, and a hypersensitive animal will often require veterinary assistance. Fleas can also transmit tapeworms and bacterial infections. The pests are highly prolific — the biting adult stage might be living on the pet, in addition to hundreds or thousands of eggs, larvae, and pupae elsewhere in the home or yard. If early signs of fleas are ignored, infestations can quickly spiral out of control. Flea eradication requires treatment of pets, and oftentimes the premises. Your level of success will depend on how these treatments are performed.

Facts about Fleas

Fleas are common external parasites of both dogs and cats. The adults are ravenous blood-feeders, consuming up to 15 times their body weight in blood per day. Pets initially become infested when adult fleas occurring indoors or outdoors jump on the animal. With the ability to jump vertically up to about 6 inches, the adults can easily hitch a ride onto a passing dog or cat, or even the shoes and pant legs of a human. Pets acquire fleas from kennels, groomers, etc., or from stray dogs, cats or wildlife (especially opossums and raccoons) wandering through the yard. Contrary to popular belief, fleas seldom jump directly from one pet to another.

Adult fleas spend most of their time on the dog or cat, not in the carpet. This is why treatment of the pet is an essential step in ridding a home of fleas. Within minutes of jumping onboard, fleas begin to feed. Digested blood expelled as feces appears as dark, pepper-like specs in the pet’s fur. Mating and subsequent egg laying occurs within 24 hours. All of the eggs (40-50 per day) are laid in the fur. However, the eggs soon fall off into carpeting, beneath the cushions of furniture, and wherever else the pet rests, sleeps, or spends time. When
treating premises, thorough attention to these areas is crucial.

After hatching, the eggs develop into tiny, worm-like larvae that remain hidden beneath carpet fibers, furniture cushions, and other protected areas. The larvae feed mainly on the feces (dried blood) expelled by the adults which accumulates, along with the eggs, in areas where pets tend to rest or spend time. Before becoming adult fleas, larvae transform into pupae within a silk-like cocoon surrounded by bits of debris. Pupae remain inside the cocoon for 1 to 4 weeks. However, it might take longer for them to emerge if conditions become unfavorable, for example when a flea-infested home becomes vacant. The cocoon is also impervious to insecticides—another reason some fleas may persist for an extended period, even after the pet and home are treated.

Even after treatment, expect to see some fleas for a few weeks or longer. These are often newly emerged adults, which have not yet succumbed to the insecticide. Instead of retreating immediately, continue to vacuum. As mentioned earlier, vacuuming stimulates insecticide-resistant flea pupae/cocoons to hatch, bringing emerging adults into contact with the treatment sooner. If adult fleas continue to be seen beyond 4 weeks, retreatment of the premises and/or pets may be necessary.

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