Fleas are among the least loveable of household pests. They’re parasites which feed off the blood of their hosts, and you get different types which live off dogs, cats and rabbits. And while they don’t use us as hosts, they sometimes have a taste for humans.
If your pet has fleas, it’s important to get rid of them before you get an infestation. Here we explain how to identify a flea problem, and how to get them out of your home.
The most common way for fleas to get into the home is on your cat or dog. Even if they’re very clean, they can still easily catch fleas by meeting other animals.
“Fleas are a common household pest, especially for those with pets," says Paul Blackhurst, Technical Academy Head at Rentokil Pest Control.
"These parasites can cause a problem in businesses and homes alike. While they don’t cause direct damage to properties, seeing fleas jumping around can be alarming as their bites can cause an uncomfortable itch or a reactive rash."
Fleas can cause allergic reactions, and blood loss in your pets – which can be serious if they’re very young or frail. Flea larvae can also become infected with tapeworm eggs, which can be passed onto your pet. They might also cause disease, such as myxomatosis in rabbits.
If you have a furry pet, it’s likely that your vet has already recommended regular flea treatments. You should also groom your pet regularly so you can check for fleas or ticks – tiny dark brown specks. Their favourite spots are the pet’s neck and tail.
If you’re not sure if they’re fleas, groom your pet with a fine-toothed comb over a piece of kitchen roll. This means that any fleas or droppings will fall onto the paper. Next, add a few drops of water. Any droppings will turn reddish-brown – an indication that there are fleas.
Other signs your pet may have fleas:
If your pet does bring fleas into the house, they can be hard to get rid of. The female flea can lay between 25 and 50 eggs a day, which fall off the ‘host’.
These become adult fleas in 14 days, or lay dormant in carpet or furniture fabric until disturbed. It’s estimated that 95% of eggs, larvae and pupae live in the environment, rather than on your pet.
Yes, they can. It doesn’t necessarily require a ‘host’ for fleas to get into your home. They can get in via any old fabric, such as clothing or previously infested. Or they might be attached to people who have an infestation at home, usually on their clothes.
Alternatively, they may already in your home, but lain dormant. In warm and humid conditions, the larval stage can last up to six months. Then at pupal stage, a cocoon forms which is resistant to insecticide. Afterwards, the flea may also stay inside the cocoon for a long time until they sense a ‘host’ come along.
There are many home-spun remedies that do the rounds, such as salt, lemon spray, baking soda and rosemary. However, Rentokil points out that these are mostly myths and basically overcomplicate the main tip – to vacuum.
So how do you get rid of fleas?
Start by vacuuming everything – carpets, upholstered furniture, cracks in the floorboard, and any other fabrics. This should remove adult fleas, but also the eggs, larvae and pupae.
Next, empty the vacuum cleaner away from the house, as the fleas will still be alive. You should also wash all your sheets and bedding.
Give your pets flea treatment, and worm them too. Also wash their beds in a hot wash. You should do this every week for a month, or until the infestation is over.
Remember, you may not get rid of them in one go because of the life cycle of the flea. Be patient and prepare to do it a few times before they’re gone.
You can try insecticides or bug bombs in targeted areas like your pet’s favourite areas of carpet or furniture. After using the insecticide, let the area dry, and then vacuum it thoroughly to get rid of any surviving pupae. Don’t let your pet back into the area until this is all done.
If your infestation keeps returning, consider hiring professionals. Rentokil have a flea monitoring and riddance package, combining LED flea traps with targeted spray treatments over two or three visits. If you do this, also give your pets flea treatment at the same time to avoid reinfestation.
Paul Blackhurst says: “Prevention of fleas is difficult as they usually enter properties on a pet, and then can quickly find refuge in carpets and bedding. They are able to jump long distances and move between pets and property with ease.
“There are 62 species of flea in the UK, each with different habits, which can make treating them difficult. Trained professional pest control technicians understand the biology of fleas which allows for targeted treatments, ensuring control of an infestation by targeting the fleas and their larvae at the correct times in their lifecycle.”
Fleas can jump over 100 times their body length: vertically up to 18cm, and up to 33cm horizontally. The equivalent in humans would be jumping over 75m vertically, and 135m horizontally.
However, part of the reason that fleas can jump so far is down to their tiny size and environmental factors. If fleas were the same size as humans, they wouldn’t be able to jump much further than they do now.