Fleas are small, wingless parasites that draw blood from their host. Their bodies are shiny and reddish brown in color, and are covered in microscopic hair which allows for easy movement through animal fur. While fleas do not have wings, they are capable of jumping extraordinarily long distances. Fleas are usually more annoying than lethal, but they can spread tapeworms to your pet and other family members.
Life Cycle and Habits of Fleas: Fleas have four life stages: egg, larvae, pupae, and adult. Flea eggs are not attached to a host, but rather are laid and will hatch on the ground, in rugs, carpet, bedding, upholstery or cracks in the floor. The egg, larvae and pupae stages of the flea are significantly secretive, characterized by low activity. In contrast, the adult flea is relatively easy to see and is very active. Flea eggs represent approximately 50% of the entire flea population present in an average home infestation; larvae comprise 35%, pupae approximately 10%, and adult fleas make up only 5% of a flea infestation. It is important to note that adult fleas comprise only a small portion of an infestation, therefore, treatment must be aimed towards the eradication at all stages.
Risk Factors for Flea Infestation: While pets are “man’s best friend,” unfortunately they are a significant risk factor related to flea infestations. Adult fleas spend most of their time on the animal, while flea eggs, larvae, and pupae are most often found in the pet’s environment, including carpeting, furniture, and bedding. Additionally, fleas can be found on rodents (such as mice). Pets who spend time outdoors are particularly susceptible, since many adult fleas live outside and on wildlife hosts until they find a happy home on your pet. Regionally, the most common flea is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis).
Inspection and Treatment: Eliminating fleas is a multi-step process. Using a white bath towel, walk backwards, dragging the towel behind you on the ground. Unaware that it is an inanimate object, adult fleas will jump on the towel, allowing their presence to be known. Begin by removing all stages of fleas (egg, larvae, pupae, and adults) from the indoor environment. This can be accomplished by vacuuming and the application of an approved pesticide. Discard the bag/empty the canister after the first cleaning to reduce the risk of reintroduction into the environment. (Note: It can take up to 21 days for complete eradication). Removing fleas on your pet is also a critical stage of elimination. Using flea control products, such as shampoos, dips, collars, and oral products can provide success. Again, realize that persistence is key. While an initial treatment may remove adult fleas, subsequent treatments may be necessary to eradicate immature forms that may continue to develop; additional treatments can be applied if necessary after 21 days. Depending on the severity of your situation, treatment of your outdoor environment may also be necessary. This can typically be accomplished by removing moist organic debris (leaves, straw, grass clippings), and the application of an approved pesticide.