Fleas are one of the most difficult pests to remove from your home once they find their way inside. You might typically think of fleas on cats or dogs, but finding fleas on humans can become a real issue, even if you don't have pets.
If you have a dog or a cat, and especially if your pet or pets spend a lot of time outdoors, you might find yourself dealing with an indoor flea problem at some point or other. There are steps you can take to help prevent them, but fleas are practically impossible to get rid of without some sort of insecticide treatment.
Fleas are small, wingless insect parasites that feed mainly on the blood of animals. Their bites cause itchy bumps and welts, and they are active throughout the daytime. Fleas often select mice or rats as hosts initially, then later move on to your pets to live and feed. In the absence of pets in a home, they will find their way to you and your family to feed. They love dark, humid areas of their host's body to feed.
Fleas can live for several months without feeding, but female fleas need a blood meal before they can reproduce.
What Do Fleas Look Like?
Fleas are small, flat insects (Adult fleas usually measure between 1/8" - 1/6" long) with six legs (including much longer hind legs). Their "flatness" allows them to easily burrow through coarse animal hair so they can get down to the skin to feed.
They are a dark reddish to brown in color, with biting mouthparts.
Fleas are known jumpers! They can jump up to two feet off the ground to get onto their newest host creature of choice. That may not seem very high, but for a creature their size, that's about the same as you being able to jump over half a football field up into the air and about the length of a football field.
Common Types of Fleas
There are more than 2,000 species of fleas around the world. The most common you will likely encounter are Cat fleas, Dog fleas, and Human fleas.
Cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) are the most common and most prevalent flea you will encounter. They can be found most often on cats and dogs, as well as on other hosts, such as foxes, raccoons, and rodents. They are usually black to brownish-black in color, but may also be a reddish-black after feeding.
Dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis) bear some resemblance to their Cat flea cousins, and prefer dogs as hosts, though they will latch on to cats if nearby. Dog fleas have more rounded heads than the elongated heads of Cat fleas.
"Human fleas," (Pulex irritans) are among the least common of flea species, and can thrive on a wide range of host animals, including dogs, cats, and pigs. These fleas actually prefer pigs over humans.
Fleas on Humans
Fleas feed primarily on bird and mammal blood. Their main preferences, however, are for hairy animals such as dogs and cats (and pigs, in the case of human fleas).
One flea species, known as the Chigoe flea, or "jigger" (Tunga penetrans), is native to Latin America and parts of Africa, and is known to live exclusively on people, burrowing into skin and feet. They not only cause itching and ulcers on the skin, but if they become serious enough a problem, they can cause their human host to have problems walking.
All flea species will feed on a human if the opportunity arises, but don't worry, their bites aren’t as painful as stinging insect stings.
What do Flea Bites Look Like?
Flea saliva makes their bites undetectable at first, but later, you will notice signs of the bite: swollen, red, and itchy bumps, in a cluster, or sometimes in a row. Flea bites are quite recognizable, and they won't get larger after being scratched, unlike mosquito bites. A red “halo” is often visible around the center of the bite.
Fleas most frequently like to infest your pets' neck, ears, back, belly, and base of the tail. The most common places to find flea bites on humans include the legs and ankles. You may also find flea bites around your waist, armpits, groin, and in the folds of your elbows and knees.
If you or your pet are allergic to flea saliva, these bites may be inflamed for up to several weeks.
Flea Bites vs. Bed Bug Bites
Bed bugs feed primarily on human blood, and they only come out at night. They hide in mattresses, bedding, headboards, bedroom furniture, and carpets, and feed on humans while they’re sleeping.
Bed bug bites also appear as red, itchy bumps, and their bites are most commonly found in areas of the upper body, as opposed to flea bites that often go for the legs and ankles. Bed bug bites will not have the irritated, red halo around the bite area.
Where Do Fleas Hide In Your House?
At different stages in their life cycle, fleas will prefer to live in different types of areas.
Eggs: Dozens of flea eggs may get laid directly in your pet’s fur every day and will fall off into the carpet, furniture, bedding, and wherever else your pets may roam.
Larvae: Flea larvae prefer dark, narrow and dusty spaces for protection.
Pupae: Flea pupae are almost always found on floors and in your carpet.
Adults: Adult fleas live on host animals such as dogs, cats, and rodents. Remember, in the absence of furry animals to live on, fleas will come looking for you and your family.
Do You Have Fleas in Your House?
You may notice fleas hopping around on your drapes, carpet, furniture, pets, and in your pets' bedding. You'll know them by the way they quickly vanish!
You may notice your pet scratching, licking, and gnawing at its fur, which is likely because of flea bites. For serious cases of fleas, your dog or cat may lose patches of fur.
You or a family member might have an itchy, red, swollen rash on the skin.
How to Get Rid of Cat Fleas in Your Yard
The best way to win against fleas (along with ticks and other pests) is to practice prevention in your yard.
Keep your lawn mowed and shrubbery well-trimmed. Trim foliage and trees back from your home. Pay careful attention to areas of your yard where your pets like to frequent. Seal off any openings to crawl spaces, garages, sheds, under decks, etc. Clean up trash from your yard that flea-infested deer, raccoons, etc. might come to feed on. Don't leave pet food outside overnight.
Keep Your Pets Treated. Treat your pets frequently with products labeled for fleas and ticks. Brush or comb your pets thoroughly before letting them back in the house. Keep your pets well-groomed and trimmed, especially in the summertime. If you don’t treat both your pet(s) and your home (indoors and out) you won't get rid of all the fleas and they'll make a comeback.
How to Prevent Fleas Indoors
Keep your home clean and tidy. Even if you do have fleas at home, it doesn't mean you are a bad housekeeper. Clean floors and well-vacuumed carpets and rugs are definitely focus areas in your fight against fleas.
Thoroughly sweep your wood and tile floors, and vacuum carpets, rugs, pet bedding, and furniture to remove flea eggs, larvae, and pupae that may be present. Seal the vacuum cleaner bag in a plastic trash bag and dispose of it in the trash, preferably outdoors.
Indoors, fleas can be killed directly by spraying with an effective indoor plant-powered flea spray like Maggie's Farm Bed Bug & Flea Killer or Maggie’s Farm Home Bug Spray. Maggie’s Farm Spider & Insect Dust or Maggie’s Farm Bed Bug Killer are longer-lasting treatments for the edges of carpets, under and around pet bedding and rest areas, and underneath furniture cushions.
An effective yard spray, can also be a good longer-term strategy and can cover larger areas outdoors.
Pay particular attention to your pets' favorite areas and treat them thoroughly, but don’t treat pets directly with Maggie's Farm products. It can be difficult for insecticides to penetrate pupae, so you should plan to do a couple of treatments a few weeks apart to get the fleas that emerge out of their protective life cycle stages.
For more information on preventing and how to get rid of fleas, check out:
For scientifically-tested, effective flea control in your home and yard that is friendly to the environment, try Maggie’s Farm pest control products. Our promise is that our plant and mineral-based products are developed by scientists and seasoned pest control professionals to be the most effective.