Many people are surprised that they can get fleas in their homes even if they don't have any pets.
Fleas on dogs and on cats can leave their host animal to find another host. Though fleas prefer animals, they will quickly latch onto you or a family member as a host and bite him or her for a blood meal. If you don’t have a pet at home, the source of your flea bites might be in your yard or from a neighbor's pet.
Fleas inflict itchy bites when they go for blood, but they can also transmit all sorts of bacteria, blood-borne contaminants, and even parasites.
What should you be on the lookout for? What are the signs of fleas? How do you get rid of fleas?
I Don't Have Pets, But I Have Fleas
Finding fleas on dogs or on cats is very common, no matter how clean your house is. The fact is, fleas and ticks are part of the reality of owning a pet. If you keep your pets treated properly along with your yard, and areas in your home where they like to play and roam, it will go a long way to prevent fleas and ticks in the house.
Fleas and Ticks
Fleas and ticks are outdoor pests that make their way indoors somehow on an animal (or sometimes a human). Fleas, in particular, prefer tall grass and shaded areas near decks, woodpiles, or storage buildings, and ticks prefer wooded areas, tall grass, woodpiles, stone walls, etc.
It's possible that you might have a family of raccoons, squirrels, or opossums living in your chimney, from where your flea problem is originating.
Fleas and ticks on pets is one of the main ways those sneaky parasites find their way into your home.
Facts About Fleas
Fleas are external insect parasites of dogs and cats. Adult fleas feed on blood whenever they can, at times consuming up to 15 times their body weight in blood daily. Ironically, fleas can go several months without a blood meal, though females need to feed on blood before they can lay eggs.
Fleas are brownish-red to dark brown in color, and measuring from 1/10" to 1/5". They have six legs, the two hind legs being much longer than the other four.
Pets can become infested when adult fleas jump on them to use them as hosts, either indoors or outdoors. Fleas are known jumpers (some can jump as high as one foot forward and up to two feet into the air), and they can easily hop onto a passing dog, cat, or human, though they do prefer hairier animals. Within minutes of jumping onto a host, fleas can begin to feed, and then mate. Egg laying then occurs usually within 24 hours afterward.
Pets can also get fleas from kennels, groomers, and even the veterinarian's office. as well as from stray animals (e.g., raccoons, deer, skunks, feral dogs/cats, opossums, etc.). There's an old wives' tale about fleas jumping directly from one pet to another, but this is rare.
Female fleas can lay up to 50 eggs daily in your pets' fur, but they don't stay there, as they are round and smooth. They easily slide off into the soil, or your carpeting, furniture cushions, your pets' bedding, play areas, etc.
Once hatched, the flea eggs develop into tiny, worm-like larvae hidden in your carpet or furniture and in other pet areas. Before becoming adults, the larvae develop into pupae within a hard, cocoon-like shell, where they can remain for another one to four weeks. Because of this shell, flea pupae are much more difficult to eliminate using insecticide than flea adults or eggs, which many times extends their presence in your home and can lead to flea resurgences.
At home, adult fleas spend most of their time on your dogs and cats, and not in the carpet. This is why treating your pet in conjunction with treating pet areas where fleas are active, and where their eggs can be found, are essential steps to preventing and getting rid of fleas in your home.
Types of Fleas
Cat fleas are the most common of domestic fleas, and they can be found most often on cats and dogs throughout the world, including in the United States. Cat fleas often can't determine whether a host is suitable until they have bitten into it. If a Cat flea decides a host is unsuitable, it will soon drop off and go in search of another host. They may also be found on other hosts, such as foxes and rodents. This flea species tends to nest wherever its host usually rests (e.g., the cat basket). Such areas are where flea pupae usually drop to develop.
Cat fleas are more prevalent around the world than dog fleas, mainly because they can survive on a wider variety of host animals. They are usually black to brownish-black in color, but may also be a reddish-black after feeding.
Dog fleas bear some resemblance to Cat fleas, and though they also latch onto cats, they prefer dogs as hosts. Dog fleas can be distinguished by their more rounded heads compared to the cat fleas' elongated head, as well as their hind legs bearing eight notches rather than six. This flea species is known to infest outdoor lawns.
Though they are often referred to as "human fleas," this flea species can thrive on a wide range of host animals, including dogs and cats. They are the least-encountered species. Human fleas actually prefer pigs over humans as hosts but will transmit from one human to another to feed, especially in less sanitary, crowded conditions.
How Do You Know if You Have Fleas in Your House?
- Scratching. Your first signal that you might have a flea infestation on your hands is if your pets are frequently scratching and biting at themselves. For more serious infestations, your cat or dog may start losing patches of fur (mange).
- Discolored Gums. If your pets have pale, discolored gums, that may be another sign there is a flea issue. This is a sign of anemia, is often prevalent in young kittens and pups, and may be a sign you need to take your pet to the veterinarian.
- Flea Dirt. Flea remains (also known as "flea dirt") is another sign of fleas at home. This is dried flea feces (which many times contain a lot of dried blood), and it kind of looks like pepper flakes. You might see these remains on your pet's skin, on their bedding, on the carpet, curtains/drapes, on furniture, etc.
- On Your Pet. If you suspect flea activity, also carefully check your pet's ears, neck, and back for signs of scratching, redness, blood, or dirt. If fleas are present, you might see fleas on your pet's skin.
Flea Activity. You may also notice tiny insects hopping around on your drapes, carpet, furniture, pets, and in your pets' bedding. Fleas are distinguishable by the way they quickly vanish from sight.
- Irritated Skin. You might also notice itchy, red, swollen rashes on your pet's skin or on your own where you've been bitten.
What do Flea Bites Look Like?
Flea saliva makes their bites unnoticeable at first, but you will definitely notice signs of the bite later. Bites look like swollen, red, and itchy bumps sometimes lined up in a row, and sometimes in a cluster. A red “halo” is often visible around the center of the bite.
Fleas most frequently like to infest your cat's or dog's neck, ears, back, belly, and base of the tail. The most common places fleas will bite you or your family members include your legs, ankles, and folds of your knees. You may also see flea bites around your waist, armpits, groin, and in the folds of your elbows.
Flea Bites vs. Bed Bug Bites
Fleas are often confused with bed bugs. 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 an irritated, red halo around the bite area as flea bites do.
Flea Bites vs. Mosquito Bites
Flea bites can be difficult to distinguish from mosquito bites. Keep in mind that flea bites are often found in rows or clusters, whereas mosquito bites are often found by themselves, and are often found on arms, neck, and on the face, where fleas are less likely to venture.
How to Treat Flea Bites
If you find one of your pets with any flea bites, be sure to treat him or her with a product labeled to treat for fleas.
If you or a family member has flea bites, Wash the area to keep any infection from spreading and remember to avoid scratching the bitten area. You can apply rubbing alcohol, an ice pack, vinegar, or Aloe Vera lotion to help accelerate the healing process. If treated promptly and kept clean, these bites will typically go away on their own within a few hours to a few days. Keep in mind that If you or your pet are allergic to flea saliva, these bites may be inflamed for up to several weeks.
How to Get Rid of 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.
Be sure to always follow directions for any pest control products you use.
For more information on preventing and how to get rid of fleas, check out:
What are your go-to strategies to get rid of fleas at home? Post a comment. We’d love to hear from you!
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.