Adult fleas feed on the living blood of mammals and their young feed on dried blood that has been defecated by the adults. Pretty nasty, huh? Read on and we’ll conquer these nasty little insects together.
1. Destroy fleas in the environment
Fleas live on their host, but eggs can be left both on the host and in the host’s bedding. The eggs that are left on the host will fall off and accumulate in beds, clothes, carpets, cars, and anyplace that the host visits. These eggs normally hatch in 1-2 weeks, after which the fleas emerge as larvae that can live in carpets (learn how to get rid of carpet fleas) and bedding for up to 200 days before transforming into legless pupae. If conditions are still not quite right, the pupae can sit dormant for over a year before transforming into an adult! This means that many generations of flea eggs can accumulate and lead to a mass-infestation!
The first step after infestation is to clean everything that has come into contact with the infested persons or animals in order to remove as many eggs and larvae as possible. This section will walk you through this process.
Environmental flea extermination: Initial steps
- Quarantine infested pets.
- Collect bedding, rugs and throws and wash them in soapy water. Soapy water kills the eggs, larvae, pupae and adults. Be careful not to spill eggs or larvae when picking them up. Eggs are usually found with tiny pellets of dried blood that are defecated by the adults and used for food by the larvae – the combination looks like salt and pepper. Really gross salt and pepper.
- Vacuum everything. upholstered furniture, carpets, cracks in the floor, bare floors, and use the attachments to get in the corners, behind doors, and anywhere else that dust collects. This will pick up most of the eggs, but larvae will latch onto carpet fibers and stick around. After vacuuming, immediately remove the vacuum bag and seal it in a plastic bag. This bag can then be put into the freezer to kill any fleas and be reused later.
- The remaining larvae can be dealt with by having the carpets professionally steam-cleaned (the steam will kill every stage of flea except eggs). Make sure you warn the cleaners about the fleas and remove infested animals. Alternatively, you can shampoo the carpet with insecticidal carpet shampoo or have a pest control professional apply an infrared heat treatment to the carpet, which kills all stages of flea.
- If your pet spends much time outside, drench his usual resting areas with lots of soap and water to drown any fleas that may be waiting for his return.
2. Flea removal from people and pets
Once the environment has been thoroughly cleaned, move immediately to it’s inhabitants. Following are details for removing fleas from people and pets.
Removing fleas from people
- Bathe one to two times daily with soap. Insecticidal shampoos are available but are not necessary.
- Comb daily with a special flea comb designed to drag fleas out of hiding and dispose of any rousted fleas in soapy water. Record daily the number of fleas removed so you can identify any population increase before it becomes a problem. You can also measure flea populations by wearing a special pair of flannel “booties” over your shoes and pants. The fleas get caught in the material and can then be counted, removed and disposed of. These booties can also be used for temporary protection when traveling into a flea infested area.
Removing fleas from pets
Please be very careful when applying flea treatments to yourself and your pets. Only use treatments that are meant for the animal you are going to use it on. Flea treatments meant for dogs and the environment can easily KILL cats. Also keep in mind that any insecticide is designed to interfere with natural biological processes – to kill.
- Wash your pet with soapy water. Insecticidal cat and dog flea shampoos are available but not necessary. Safer’s flea shampoo is one of the least toxic varieties. Stay away from shampoos that contain DEET (diethyltoluamide) as it can cause serious adverse reactions.
- Comb your pet daily with a special flea comb that is designed to extract fleas and dispose of any you find in soapy water. It is a good idea to record the number of fleas you comb out every day to keep a handle on the population numbers. Alternatively, you can wrap a length of sticky tape around your hand (sticky side out) and pat your animal down. This method works best on short haired animals.
Allergic reactions to flea bites
Allergic reactions to flea bites in humans are usually manifested as dermatitis, skin lesions and mild to severe itching (Learn how to get rid of flea bites). These symptoms can be improved by applying ice, menthol, camphor or calamine lotion to the bites. Over the counter insect repellents that contain diethyltoluamide (DEET) will repel fleas and lessen the frequency of bites. Apply repellents only to clothing, never to skin and never to your pets. Vitamin B1 taken orally has also been proven to repel fleas, so start taking a B-complex multivitamin. If your allergies are really bothering you, go see your doctor about getting flea saliva allergen treatments to lessen or eliminate the allergy altogether.
Pets that are allergic to flea bites will exhibit hair loss, usually around the base of the tail and often accompanied by relentless chewing of the area, often until it becomes raw. Pets can become allergic to flea bites because of poor health or poor nutrition so make sure your animal is getting plenty of protein and a balanced diet.
3. The flea control and elimination routine
You’ve waged the massive assault described earlier and exterminated the majority of the fleas, you must now follow up with a strict routine in order to kill off the remaining stragglers and ensure that they remain under control. You must be more efficient at killing the remaining few then they are at reproducing. This section will show you how to accomplish this, step by step. Keep up these practices for a few weeks after you stop seeing fleas to ensure success.
Flea control habits
- Restrict pets to areas that are easily cleaned. (No basements, bedrooms, garages, cars, etc)
- Vacuum daily since the previously applied steam cleaning can trigger any remaining eggs to hatch. Remember to seal up or dispose of vacuum bags immediately after use.
- Provide bedding for your pet that is easily removed and cleaned. Lay towels anywhere your pets like to lounge, and wash them all every week until the fleas are gone, and every two weeks after that. Be careful when picking them up as you can spill flea eggs and larvae/pupae if you’re not careful.
- Comb your pets daily with a special flea comb and record the number of fleas you find in the first 5-10 strokes so you can identify any surges in the population. Flick any fleas that are removed into soapy water to kill them and if a population spike occurs, bathe the pet.
Extreme flea control measures
The previous steps are usually enough to eliminate and control fleas, but in some extreme cases they can still be insufficient. If this describes your situation then consider the following in addition to the previous list:
- Apply a liquid insect growth regulator (IGR) to the environment. IGR’s inhibit the natural growth of insects (and so they only kill non-adult fleas) and can last for up to 200 days. Methoprene (FleaTrol and Precor) and Fenoxycard are two popular varieties.
- Regularly treat your pets outdoor resting areas with lots of soap and water.
- Use a flea collar, but only for as long as is needed to control the fleas. Flea collars constantly emit a poisonous vapor that is breathed by both people and pets, and can cause health problems. If this is your pet’s first flea collar, check the skin underneath for irritation often.
- Steam clean or shampoo the carpets in your home as frequently as is needed.
If this still isn’t enough, it’s time to call a professional and put the task in their hands. You’re probably exhausted anyway!
4. Popular flea control products
Please folks, consult your vet before using anything other than soap and water on your pets, some animals are very sensitive to this stuff and can get very ill or even die. All-natural flea control products derived from plant oils and crushed flowers can be just as toxic as chemicals so be careful, pets are family too.
Insect Growth Inhibitors (IGR’s)
IGR’s inhibit the natural growth processes of insects and can last for up to 200 days. These products will keep eggs, larvae, and pupae from evolving into adults, but will do nothing to control pre-existing adults. Methoprene (FleaTrol and Precor) and Fenoxycard are two popular varieties. Use these only with the complete control routine outlined above – they are not enough by themselves.
Citrus peel extracts (Limonene and Linalool)
Citrus peel extracts are among the safer treatments, but you need both limonene and linalool to kill fleas in all 4 stages of growth so make sure you choose a product that contains both of them. Use these for spot cleaning and beddings, but not entire rooms or outdoors. Use only EPA registered products directly on people or pets, as a poorly refined citrus extract can cause harm and even the death of your pet. Always consult your vet first.
Sorptive dusts kill fleas by dehydrating them, they absorb their moisture and damage their bodies. These dusts can be applied to carpets and animals but will irritate the lungs so wear a dust mask when applying and keep it out of your pets face. Diatomaceous earth is a popular and effective variety. They work well when applied to carpeting and pets (Don’t forget to get between the toes!). Short haired pets should get one dusting, long haired pets may need a second. Afterwards they should be limited in their mobility for a few hours to allow all of the fleas to contact the dust, otherwise the pet may dissipate too much dust through normal activity. Wait at least a week before wetting or washing the animal. After dusting your pets, vacuume and apply the dust to their usual resting locations, bedding, and travel routes. As with any flea treatment please consult your vet before applying to your pet, especially with cats who will lick much of it off of their fur.
Pyrethrins (organic and synthetic)
Pyrethrins is derived from the chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium flower and is one of the least toxic flea control products available. Unfortunately it is often packaged along with the somewhat more toxic chemical piperonyl butoxide which can cause severe health problems in humans. Make sure any product you use does not contain piperonyl butoxide. Also make sure that the solution contains no more than .04% active Pyrethrins. Higher levels can cause serious reactions in pets.
Flea collars work by constantly emitting poisonous vapors that kill any fleas on the animal. Unfortunately, these vapors can also be harmful to the pets and people that they are supposed to protect so use them sparingly and only for as long as needed. When not in use, store them in a tightly-sealed container in a cool, dry place. If you are putting a flea collar on your pet for the first time, check his or her skin underneath the collar often for any reaction.
Ultrasonic flea repellant devices and electronic flea collars
Beware of ultrasonic devices, there are several out there that claim to eliminate insects of all kinds, including fleas. A study was conducted by veterinarian M. W. Dryden that proves that these devices do not work. Don’t waste your money.
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