‘I have fleas in my house!’
This is a frequently heard phrase in the shop and not one we like to hear. Fleas in the house are bad news! What’s worse is that they are very difficult to get rid of once you have them. But why is this? Why doesn’t the flea infestation die off as soon as you treat your pet? The answer is simple. It is not just your pet that needs treating. However before we get into treatments lets look at the flea itself.
Flea today, gone tomorrow?! If only.
A flea is a tiny parasite. Depending on the species, they are about half the size of a grain of rice. Cat fleas are by far the most common flea in the UK and despite the name, they are the most prevalent flea on dogs too. Cat fleas and dog fleas are actually different species. A dog flea is about twice the size of a cat flea (3-4mm as opposed to 1-2mm for a cat flea). Fleas survives by literally sucking the life blood from your pet. It is not just pets that they live off though. Humans are on the menu too, some more so than others!
In addition to being physically small, they can also have a very short life cycle. As a rough guide, a flea life cycle is about 3 weeks. In perfect conditions it may be a bit shorter. In adverse conditions, considerably longer. Good conditions from a flea’s point of view are warmth and moisture. As I write this, it is early September in Dorset. Daytime temperatures are early to mid 20 degrees Celsius. There has been rain on and off and it is humid. Perfect conditions for fleas.
‘But I only have a small flea problem in my house….’
I like to call statements like this ‘famous last words’. A small flea problem one day can be a household flea infestation a few days later if left untreated. The short flea life cycle is the reason for this and here is a brief description of it:
- The life cycle starts with a flea egg. After mating and finding a host, a female flea can lay up to 300 eggs in about 5 days.
- The eggs and ‘flea dirt’ (dried blood) drop off the host and into the home environment as the host (dog, cat or us!) moves around.
- Within a few days the flea eggs produce their larvae. These hatch from the eggs and look like tiny maggots.
- To survive and develop, the flea larvae then consume any dead organic matter like dead skin and flea dirt.
- The larvae then make a cocoon or pupae. The adult flea develops in this pupae over the course of as little as a week in ideal conditions.
- Once the environment outside the pupae is right, the adult flea emerges looking for a host and a mate to start another lifecycle.
Imagine that lifecycle being replicated 300 times from one single flea. In as little as few weeks, those 300 eggs could all be adult fleas, each producing their own clutch of 300 eggs! This is why flea infestations seem to appear ‘out of nowhere’. One flea today could be thousands upon thousands of fleas within a matter of weeks.
How to break the lifecycle and win the battle against fleas!
Your pet has fleas. So to get rid of the fleas, you need to kill the fleas, right?! Yes, but not just the fleas. Some flea treatments are just an adulticide. This means they will only kill adult fleas. Moreover, some adulticide treatments only last a day or two. But what about the larvae and eggs? In a couple of weeks they’ll have produced adult fleas that will be bouncing around your house, drinking you and your pet’s blood at will! Not to mention the tremendous skin irritation caused by their highly allergenic saliva. What you need is a product with an IGR (Insect Growth Regulator).
Insect Growth Regulators
An IGR will break the flea life cycle. It will not only kill the adult flea but also the larvae and eggs. IGRs can be contained in home flea sprays and also in flea products that are given to your pets. Note, I have mentioned 2 different flea treatments. A house treatment and a pet treatment. Both are equally important and to successfully rid your home of fleas you will need to use both methods. Only treating your pet is not enough. Certainly a treatment given to your pet will kill the fleas on your pet. However if you do not spray the house, the pet will become re-infested quickly. Moreover this re-infestation cycle will continue as the home environment continues to produce hungry adult fleas.
However, as fleas are such nasty little blighters that have been around for about 100 million years, they are quite resilient. With that in mind it is important to remember the following when it comes to treating your house:
ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH!
No matter what brand of house flea treatment you use, even if you employ a professional pest control company, you will need to treat the house for fleas twice. Upon discovering a flea or flea infestation, do the following:
Beat fleas in your house with our step by step guide
- Treat your pets if they are due a treatment
- Vacuum all surfaces in your house. Vacuuming carpets will open up the carpet pile. This will allow the household spray to penetrate deep into the carpet. The vibrations of the vacuum cleaner will also encourage the pupae to break out into an adult flea. This is because they will think there are lots of potential hosts about due to the vibrations. Pupae are not affected by household flea sprays and can lie dormant for many months so it is crucial to encourage them to produce their adult flea. Most importantly, empty the vacuum or throw the vacuum cleaner bag away after filling it.
- Spray your house thoroughly, from top to bottom. It does not matter whether or not your have carpet. Any tiny nook or cranny on your floor can harbour flea eggs, larvae and fleas. Two things to know about fleas: they are attracted to gravity and they don’t like light. In other words, they will be somewhere dark and as deep down as they can get! Think under sofa cushions down the cracks at the side. Corners of rooms. Between skirting boards and the floor, deep down in your carpet pile etc.
- Two weeks after the first application you will need to repeat the entire process.
- It is only 2-3 weeks after the second round of household treatment, combined with the treatment of your pets, that you will start to get on top of the flea infestation. Fleas haven’t been around for 100 million years just because they’re lucky…..
A word of warning about household flea treatments
Household flea sprays are powerful pesticides. Certain pets like fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians may be affected by these. As a result, the utmost care and consideration should be taken if you have any of these pets and need to treat your house. With this in mind, there are pesticide free household treatments available like silicone sprays and DE powder.
To learn more about the cat flea click here: Cat flea – Wikipedia