Fleas

Facts, Identification & Control

Latin Name

Order Siphonaptera

Appearance

Fleas
Fleas are small, wingless and about 2.5 mm long. Their bodies are shiny and reddish brown in color covered with microscopic hair and are compressed to allow for easy movement through animal fur.

More information on what fleas look like.

Behavior, Diet & Habits

Adults are parasites that draw blood from a host. Larvae feed on organic debris, particularly the feces of adult fleas, which contain undigested blood.

What do they eat?
Fleas commonly prefer to feed on hairy animals such as: 

  • dogs
  • cats
  • rabbits
  • squirrels
  • rats
  • mice
  • domesticated animal
  • wild animals

Flea after feeding:
flea after feeding

Fleas do not have wings, although they are capable of jumping long distances.

See Do Fleas Fly?

Reproduction

Eggs are not attached to the host. Eggs will hatch in the following places:

  • on the ground
  • in rugs
  • carpet
  • bedding
  • upholstery
  • cracks in the floor

Most hatch within two days. Read more about the life cycle of fleas.

Fleas In The House

Seek a host for blood
Fleas depend on a blood meal from a host to survive, so most fleas are introduced into the home via pets or other mammal hosts. On some occasions, fleas may become an inside problem when the host they previously fed on is no longer around. Then fleas focus their feeding activity on other hosts that reside inside the home. An example of such a situation is when a mouse inside the home is trapped and removed, the fleas that previously fed on the mouse are then forced to feed on pets or people.

Flea Infestation

Keeping them out
Employing exclusion practices is important for many pest problems, but exclusion does not have a major, direct benefit for flea control. However, sealing cracks, gaps and holes to help keep rodents or other potential hosts from gaining access into the home is an important indirect way to keep fleas outside.

The most effective ways to keep fleas from getting inside the home is to eliminate outdoor flea habitats and outdoor hosts, plus using area-wide flea control chemical products and veterinarian-approved flea control products on pets.

Dog Fleas (ctenocephalides canis)

Cat Fleas (ctenocephalides felis)

How To Identify and Manage a Flea Problem
Adult fleas
Since fleas are relatively easy to see in their adult stage, most of the attention is directed at adult fleas. Adult fleas are usually easy to locate, especially if the homeowner and their pets return to the house after a long vacation or other absence during which the resident flea adults were not able to take a blood meal. Upon returning, the homeowners are often greeted by fleas jumping around and trying to land on them and their pets.

Flea Eggs
The flea eggs, larvae and pupae are another situation.

Since these stages are much more secretive and much less active, they are found in out-of-the-way places like:

  • behind, under or in furniture
  • in a pet’s bedding
  • inside cracks and grooves in the floors
  • in carpets

Flea eggs that were deposited by the female adult, fall off your pets as they move, allowing them to be disbursed throughout the environment where a pet spends time. Flea eggs represent about one-half of the entire flea population present in an average home. Larvae make up about 35 percent of the flea population.

Flea Larvae & Cocoons
If conditions are favorable, the larvae will spin cocoons in about 5-20 days after hatching from their eggs. The cocoons are the flea’s pupal stage and account for about 10 percent of the flea population. This cocoon stage is the last developmental stage before the adult flea emerges. If environmental conditions are not right for emergence, the cocoon can protect the developing flea adult for months or even longer.

The adult flea does not emerge until a potential host is detected by vibration, rising levels of carbon dioxide and body heat associated with the host. A pet walking by, or people moving in the house alert the flea to emerge from its cocoon to feed. Once a flea has emerged from the cocoon, it will begin taking a blood meal on a host within 24-48 hours. Shortly after the first meal, adult fleas will mate and the female fleas begin laying eggs on her host within a few days. Female fleas are not able to lay eggs until they obtain a blood meal.

Signs of  Fleas

Many signs can indicate flea activity.  

Scratching
A common indication would be pets that repeatedly scratch and groom themselves. This is caused by the discomfort of the flea activity as the adult fleas feed on the pet’s blood.

Bites
People also may experience bites which leave behind itchy bite marks (a medical doctor can be consulted, since there are other sources of skin irritation beside fleas).

Feces
Flea dirt, the adult flea feces, also can indicate activity. Flea dirt looks similar to coarse ground black pepper and may be seen in pet beds, carpets, rugs and other areas where the animal host rests.

Read more on flea infestations.

Get Rid of Fleas: Flea Control

Flea infestations require multifaceted treatment plans. Addressing only a pet’s infestation or individual flea bites will not prove effective for ridding your home of fleas. Effective flea control should encompass both chemical and physical methods and should be conducted on your pet as well as inside and outside of your home.

Contact a pest control professional.

Treatment

Since the immature stages of fleas are very cryptic by nature, the first thing the homeowner should do is contact their pest control professional for assistance. Most of the time simply using over-the-counter products for controlling fleas will not resolve the root causes of the infestation.

Your pest management professional will conduct a thorough inspection and locate areas where the immature stages of the flea population are residing.

After completing the inspection, the next step is preparing the flea management plan. This plan will include:

  • Species – identifying the flea species causing the problem.
  • Education – explaining the flea’s life cycle and how their habits, habitat and behavior affects the control plan.
  • Hosts – inspecting for the presence of other animals that are the flea population’s source of food. This may include rodents either inside or outside the home or perhaps a raccoon or feral cat that is living in the crawl space.
  • Vets – homeowner contacting their veterinarian for advice and purchase of flea control products that can be used on pets.
  • Bathing – regular bathing and grooming of pets.
  • Chemicals – explaining the use of growth regulators that will interfere with the flea’s normal development into the adult stage.
  • Vacuum – using a strong vacuum to physically remove flea eggs, larvae, pupae and adults.
  • Bedding – frequently washing and drying pet bedding.
  • Products – treating affected areas by using safe and effective flea control products where immature fleas may be located.
  • Inspections – scheduling a follow-up visit.

More Flea Information

The cat flea is the most common flea in North America, although the dog, human and oriental rat fleas can also be found.

Pets suffering from flea bites scratch themselves incessantly. Fleas also feed on humans, and some people exhibit flea allergies.

Do fleas carry disease?
Yes, fleas can transmit diseases when taking a blood meal from a host or via contaminated fecal pellets. Some flea-borne diseases include:

  • Plague – transmitted by the Oriental rat flea
  • Typhus – Flea-borne typhus, also known as murine typhus – transmitted by the bacteria-infested feces of infected cat fleas when they enter the body at the time of the flea’s bite or from scratching the area of the bite.
  • Bartonellosis –Oriental rat flea and cat flea bites may transmit cat scratch disease.
  • Flea tapeworm – can be transmitted if children accidently eat an infected flea or contact infected feces.
  • Tungiasis – a tropical area ailment that is caused by the chigoe flea (Tunga penetrans) when it burrows into the skin and takes a blood meal. As the adult female feeds, she grows larger due to the development of her eggs. The bite of the chigoe flea often results in secondary infections and itching.

What Do Fleas Look Like?
Flea Life Cycle
Signs of a Flea Infestation
Flea Bites
Fleas on Humans
Sand Fleas
Dog Fleas (Ctenocephalides canis)
Cat Fleas (Ctenocephalides felis)
Are Cat Fleas and Dog Fleas The Same?
Flea Bombs
Flea Diseases & Pets
Fleas in Carpets & Rugs
Fleas in Bedding
Can Fleas Fly?