Fleas: Even the word makes you shudder.
These little critters are some of the most persistent pests you’ll ever come across, and while you’re eradicating them, they continue to make life miserable for you and your pets.
Fleas can also be dangerous. Smaller pets can become anemic due to the amount of fleas sucking off their blood. Skin irritations are common, which leads to continual scratching and possible infections — plus, it’s just plain miserable to be itchy all the time.
Fleas can also carry disease. “Ctenocephalides [canis and felis] are of medical importance as vectors of rickettsial diseases, including Rickettsia typhi, and may serve as intermediate hosts for tapeworms, including Hymenolepis and Dipylidium,” warns the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC).
How Infestation Occurs
The best way to eliminate a flea problem is to prevent it from occurring in the first place, which means understanding how fleas manage to attach themselves to even strictly indoor pets.
The short answer? You.
You can carry fleas in with you from outdoors without even knowing it. One jump, and the flea is on your pet and busy reproducing.
The entire life cycle of the flea takes about 4–6 weeks. During that time, every female in the adult stage is dropping eggs.
This is why it takes so long to eradicate a flea problem: When you first address the issue, you may kill off the current adult fleas, but there could be eggs or larvae in hard-to-reach places that you miss. They hatch, and the whole cycle begins anew.
Obviously, outdoor pets are more at risk for becoming flea carriers, but even indoor pets get them. My cat, for example, has not been outside — save for trips to the vet in his carrier — since I adopted him 14.5 years ago. However, if I don’t take preventative action, he gets fleas every summer.
There are several options on the market for flea and tick control for your pets, from collars to pills to ointments applied to the skin. The best course of action when deciding what is right for your pet is to talk to your veterinarian.
You’ll need to take into account a few factors:
- Weight of your pet
- Size of your pet
- Allergies (if any)
- Type of animal
Mixing medications meant for a different animal can be dangerous. For example, cats should not receive the same dose of preventative as a dog (yet some people use the ointments interchangeably).
Figure out what works best for your busy lifestyle and for your pet. Collars may be the solution for a dog who refuses to take pills, or if you have a dog with skin allergies, maybe forego the collar or ointment and use pills.
While these medications will not eradicate an existing flea problem in the house, they will prevent your pet from perpetuating the flea cycle.
Pest control giant Orkin recommends calling as soon as you notice the problem. The company you choose will come out and do an inspection to determine the severity of the issue. Then they’ll create a plan with you to determine the best way to eradicate the fleas.
Some use chemicals, some don’t, but all companies should discuss the plan of action with you fully before initiating it. You need to make sure any chemicals used in the house are safe for you and your pets.
Any pet store will carry various types of flea treatments for pets and the home. You’ll need to apply these treatments frequently and for a period of months before you can be sure the problem is solved, so it’s important to get started as soon as possible.
Always read the labels so you know just what you’re applying in your home. Be vigilant about keeping pets and children away from toxic chemicals.
If you’re going to use any type of solutions on your furniture, test it on a small area first to ensure it won’t cause staining or other damage.
Many people turn to household items that are less harsh than over-the-counter chemicals. Here are just a few:
- Fill a plate or bowl with a mixture of dish soap and water. This traps any fleas that jump into the liquid. Change the mixture at least once every 24 hours and expect to see more activity at night.
- Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. The vacuum cleaner is your new best friend. Use it on every part of the house you can think of. Inside the sofa cushions, on carpets, up and down curtains and in corners. Throw away the bag after every vacuum to prevent fleas from hatching inside the bag and then jumping back out to reinfest the house. (If you have a canister vac, wash the canister after each vacuum.)
- Some people use a mixture of baking soda and salt on the carpets before they vacuum — this mixture dehydrates and kills fleas.
- Do laundry — a lot of it. Continually wash any pet and people bedding repeatedly over the course of the treatment. If you can take curtains down and wash those too, go for it. What you’re looking for is anything a flea could have laid eggs on. If you can fit it in the washer and it won’t cause damage, wash it.
- Diatomaceous earth is another nontoxic solution that dehydrates fleas. However, it can cause irritation. According to the National Pesticide Information Center: “If breathed in, diatomaceous earth can irritate the nose and nasal passages. If an extremely large amount is inhaled, people may cough and have shortness of breath. On skin, it can cause irritation and dryness. Diatomaceous earth may also irritate the eyes, due to its abrasive nature. Any dust, including silica, can be irritating to the eyes.” So this may not be a good solution unless you are treating a vacant home.
Listen to this vet discuss various flea and tick preventatives:
Dealing with a flea infestation is an exercise in frustration — but you can eradicate them.
Remember, the best treatment is to prevent an infestation from starting by using flea and tick preventatives for your pet. Vacuum your home regularly to catch the odd flea that’s hitched a ride in, and remember to wash your pet’s bedding and bathe them when appropriate for their breed and type.