How to Stop a Flea Infestation in Its Tracks
Spotting a collection of itchy, red bites on your skin is always a frightening discovery. Was it from mosquitoes, bed bugs, or even a spider? Clusters of bright red bites are often, unfortunately, from a flea infestation.
Even the cleanest, most well-organized homes can end up with these leaping parasites in their living space, especially if they have pets that carried them indoors accidentally. Fleas are one of the most common pests across the US, with over 25,000 species plaguing homes today!
Despite their quick reproduction habits and stealth ability to hide, fleas can be prevented and managed without damaging your home. When DIY efforts don’t do the trick, professional exterminators can eradicate fleas long before they become a serious infestation.
We’ve gathered all you need to know about flea behavior, what fleas look like, and how to manage these unwanted pests in your home.
What Are Fleas?
Unless you’ve had a pet suffer from a flea issue in the past, there is a solid chance you’ve never even seen a flea, or at least known that you have. Fleas are incredibly small, wingless parasites that feed on the blood of mammals and humans.
Though it may appear that fleas are flying away when they scatter, it’s actually their massive and strong legs that allow them to leap great distances. This makes them particularly hard to catch, even if you catch them in the act of biting you.
Where Do Fleas Live?
You are most likely to find flea infestations in the hot and humid regions of the country, particularly the south and southwest. However, fleas can be found throughout the entire continent since they only need a season of warmth to survive. Fleas are more likely to appear in homes with pets, but can always come in with humans, firewood, and luggage.
Once inside, fleas can hide and lay eggs in the smallest cracks and corners of your house. They tend to hide in floorboards, pantries, carpets, furniture, and pet beds.
How to Spot a Flea
Fleas only typically grow up to ⅛ of an inch, so if you do manage to grab one between your fingers, it will be difficult to analyze it with the naked eye.
Up close, these insects range from reddish-brown to black. They have round exoskeletons, small heads, and long dangling legs. Their mouths contain sharp spines to break the skin of their targets, though only the young larvae have mandibles and teeth.
Flea larvae—the stage after hatching from their eggs—will appear as worm-like and off-white in color. You are unlikely to find a young flea on you or your pet since, at this stage, they do not feed off of human or animal blood.
Identifying a Flea Bite
It’s important to be able to identify a flea bite so you can address a possible infestation as quickly as possible. First of all, you are more likely to find flea bites around your ankles or legs since fleas cannot fly or crawl very far onto the higher parts of your body.
The bites themselves will appear as red or pink spots, typically appearing in clusters of two or three at a time. Flea bites can easily be mistaken for bed bugs, but bed bugs can bite all over your body instead of just the ankles.
Depending on your level of allergy to fleas, your bite may slightly swell or develop a small halo around the site. Flea bites can be quite itchy but should be treated with anti-itch remedies to avoid infection.
Are Fleas Dangerous?
Like any parasites in your homes, fleas can threaten our health when small numbers turn into a larger infestation. For the most part, however, fleas are no longer dangerous to most humans and create more problems for your furry friends.
However, fleas have been known to carry bacteria and disease throughout history, and even spread the bubonic plague. Since they spend time on animals like rats and large rodents, fleas can transfer a range of illnesses to you and your pets. Here are a few ways fleas can be harmful to your home.
Both flea bites and the presence of flea feces throughout your home can cause an allergic reaction in both humans and animals. Bites can turn into larger welts and those with asthma can even suffer from attacks in extreme conditions.
Flea tapeworm is one of the most common concerns of pet owners. These parasites can even be transferred to humans in some cases. Speak with your vet about preventative tapeworm treatments.
The majority of the illnesses carried by fleas throughout history are no longer a major threat in the US. Even if they are treatable and rare, however, these illnesses are still possible to catch from fleas:
- Bubonic plague
Unsanitary Food Conditions
Like all small insects that infest a home, fleas run the risk of bringing bacteria in contact with your food source or eating area. Fleas can leave skins, eggs, and feces throughout your space, often unseen, so it’s difficult to keep a home fully sanitary when you encounter a full infestation.
Complicated Pest Control
When fleas begin to flourish, it may take several rounds of treatments to completely eradicate their eggs, even for a professional. Fleas can lower the value of a home over time, especially if the infestations are recurring. It’s important to address possible flea problems before they start mating.
How Does a Flea Infestation Begin?
As we stated above, fleas are more likely to travel inside on your cats or dog. Keeping your cats indoors, for example, can help lower their chances of growing an infestation. Dogs, however, can be much more difficult to protect.
Flea Reproductive Habits
Flea infestation truly takes off if the initial visitors find that your home is a good place to lay eggs. These parasites can lay eggs while they’re feeding, dropping the eggs wherever they bite their hosts. Fleas can lay up to 50 eggs a day, especially when they have a constant source of food and shelter. The eggs themselves typically fall to the ground. They can grow and stay safe in the smallest cracks and corners without damage.
In just a few days, the eggs will hatch and flea larvae will spend their young lives feeding off of feces and skins in their nests.
How Do Fleas Survive?
Fleas can go weeks without feeding, but they do need a dependable food source to survive. A healthy flea with constant access to humans or animals can live around 12 months. Clearly, during this time, a female flea would have laid thousands of eggs that can build their own nests.
How to Prevent Fleas in Your Home
Prevention will always be your best defense against a flea infestation. If they do not travel into your home in the first place, they will not have the chance to reproduce and hide in your home. Here are the top ways to keep fleas outside where they are below.
Check Your Pets for Fleas
A scratching pet is often the first sign that they could have picked up fleas on a walk through the grass or from another dog at the park. Use a fine-toothed comb to part the fur of your cat or dog and look for the presence of red bumps or irritation.
You should also check the comb for flea feces or for the fleas themselves, which will probably leap away or scatter when revealed.
Speak with your vet about flea and tick prevention products that can help protect them and your home before the high season.
Act As Soon As You See Bites
Do not ignore flea bites, even if you are not sure at first glance if they came from within your home. The moment fleas have moved on to biting you and your family, it is often a sign that the flea infestation is spreading.
Step Up Your Deep Cleans
Although simple cleaning will keep the majority of pests away, fleas require more of a deep cleaning to catch them where they hide and where they lay their eggs. Vacuum hard-to-reach areas such as baseboards, inside floorboard cracks, in corners, and throughout the cushions and seams of your furniture.
After sweeping or vacuuming, be sure to change your garbage and vacuum bags immediately. Fleas are not easily killed when swept up, so they could continue to reproduce inside your home inside these cases.
Switch Your Linens
As you move through your cleaning things-to-do list, remember to wash your blankets, sheets, and pillowcases in hot water, especially if you were recently concerned about fleas in your home. Fleas can also get into fabrics and luggage and unsealed storage areas. For a thorough deep clean, wash these after a flea scare as well.
Line Your Home with Flea-Repelling Plants
If you have a flea issue in your yard, you can create a barrier around your home with plants that naturally repel fleas and other pests. These include chrysanthemums, lavender, and mint.
DIY Flea Treatments
Like many small pests, there are several natural remedies for getting rid of fleas, but it should be noted that these are only ideal for small flea populations. A larger infestation should always be handled by a professional.
This popular natural remedy comes in a dust form that can be sprinkled throughout trouble areas in your home. Since it is poisonous to fleas, it is ideal for getting into the small cracks and corners where they hide.
Salt and Baking Soda
Since fleas require moisture to survive, you can attempt to try them out by sprinkling salt on carpets a few days before vacuuming or using a steam cleaner. This process also works well with baking soda.
Soap and Water
This method is ideal both for killing fleas and testing the size of your potential infestation. Place a small, wide-mouthed bowl anywhere in your home where you detect a major flea issue. Hidden spots out of the way of common traffic are best, since fleas will prefer to hide from disruptions.
Fill a bowl with water and several drops of dish soap and leave out for a few days. The thickness of the soap will trap fleas inside the water. You are more likely to spot fleas after a few nights of leaving the bowl out, since fleas are nocturnal.
Vinegar and Water
Both white and apple cider vinegar are used as popular natural remedies for home pests, including fleas. Be sure to dilute your vinegar with at least double the amount of water.
Spray the solution in trouble spots around your home like carpets floor cracks. You can also create a pet flea repellent with vinegar and water, but be sure to speak with your vet before preceding.
Store-Bought Flea Traps
You can also purchase some low-tech flea traps at the store, many of which do not use harsh chemicals or poisons. Some traps, for example, will attract fleas to a sticky surface with the use of a warm light that will attract them in the evening. Others trap the fleas into a pod so you can avoid the insects out in the open as they’re caught.
Sprays and Poisons
Chemical-based sprays and fleas are often only necessary for more extreme flea infestations, but we do not recommend handling these on your own. It is also always important to check with your vet before using these sprays around pets.
Professional Flea Care
Working with a professional pest expert at Aptive can help you identify and eliminate your flea worries in no time. With our eco-conscious approach to pest treatments, we ensure that your family and pets are safe and comfortable from start to finish.
At the very first signs of fleas in your home, call your local Aptive office for a free consultation. We will thoroughly inspect your home and design a game plan to address your unique flea problem.
Additionally, you can depend on Aptive’s Four Season Protection plan that catches and prevents fleas throughout every stage of their reproductive process. Whether you’re dealing with an influx in the summer or are looking to eradicate them as they hide out in the winter, our guaranteed treatments will keep fleas away for good.