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Fleas

Got questions about fleas? How big are fleas? Can fleas live in beds? Do fleas burrow? We've got answers and much more, plus tips for preventing and controlling fleas.

Fleas

Samantha Johnson

Unfortunately, everybody knows about fleas. We know they're annoying and bothersome and that we want to keep them far away from our homes and pets. But there's much more to know about fleas, so let's take a look at some flea facts and then find out how to get rid of these troublesome pests.

Meet the Flea

Fleas are tiny brown insects. We know fleas bite, and we know they jump, but how big are fleas? Adult fleas are approximately one-eighth-inch long with a trio of unique characteristics: they are wingless, they have powerful hind legs, and their mouths are well-suited to biting.

There are over 2,500 species of fleas across the globe,1 but only a few hundred exist in the United States, and only a handful are problematic. Of these, the most common—and the one that is basically synonymous with the word "flea" in the U.S.—is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). And don't let the name fool you—cat fleas affect dogs and cats alike. (There is also a dog flea, but it isn't as common as the cat flea.)

Fleas go through four stages on their way to adulthood, and understanding these stages is helpful in learning how to control and prevent fleas. Let's look at the flea's life cycle.

  1. Egg: Every day, an adult female flea lays many eggs, depositing them in various places, like your home, yard, or even on your pet. This same individual flea might keep laying eggs for over 100 days, which adds up to a lot of eggs.
  2. Larvae: The eggs hatch, and the flea larvae spend the next five to eleven days living on debris, "flea dirt" (flea feces), and dander. Then they spin cocoons and enter the next stage of the cycle.
  3. Pupae: Once the larvae are in cocoons, they become pupae. The pupae stage can be as short as eight or nine days, but this stage can last for many months in certain conditions.
  4. Adult: Once an adult flea finishes the pupae stage, it immediately requires a host, as adult fleas live on blood. The female adult flea begins laying eggs, and the cycle begins again.

Why Fleas Are a Problem

It's no secret that everyone avoids fleas like they avoid rain on a picnic, but it's worth a quick reminder of exactly how fleas affect various parts of our and our pets' lives.

How Fleas Affect Your Pet

  • Pets typically pick up fleas from the environment, not necessarily from a flea jumping directly from one host to another. But if your pet visits a flea-infested environment, they'll probably come home with a flea, or two, or three...
  • The itching, redness, and subsequent issues from flea bites are caused by an allergy to the flea's saliva.
  • Fleas can also transmit pathogens that may lead to more serious health issues.
  • Skin issues can develop from flea bites.2

How Fleas Affect Your Home

  • Fleas can bite you, too! While fleas tend to gravitate towards furry animals if they have the chance (they like those thick coats to hide in), fleas may occasionally bite human feet and ankles.
  • Fleas can live in your bed. If your dog sleeps in your bed, you may have fleas hanging out in your sheets. Good rule of thumb: Wherever your dog hangs out, fleas can hang out there too.
  • Do fleas burrow? Not into skin. But they may burrow into your carpeting!

How Fleas Affect Your Yard

That lovely lush lawn of yours just might be a hideout and breeding ground for fleas. This can be especially true if you frequently have wildlife or stray dogs or cats in the area.

How to Get Rid of Fleas

Now for the good news: you have options to send fleas packing.

  • Mow the grass. Fleas have a tougher time making a living in a dry, short lawn.3 Plus, the yard looks great!
  • Vacuum the carpets. And the rugs! And your pet's bed! Be sure to dispose of the vacuum bag outside the home, or the fleas might crawl back out.4 If vacuuming isn't enough, try a flea carpet spray like Adams Plus Flea & Tick Carpet Spray. It can kill three stages of flea life—hatching eggs, larvae, and adults.
  • Protect your pets. There are many flea control options for dogs and cats, and your pet's veterinarian will be able to recommend the best type. There are flea collarsdipsshampoosspot-on treatments, and sprays to choose from.
  • Spray the furniture. Control and kill fleas in other areas of the house with a basic home spray like Adams Flea & Tick Home Spray. It is safe to use on furniture, dries fast, and doesn't leave behind a lingering smell.
  • Use a fogger. You might have further success with a product like Adams Plus Flea & Tick Indoor Fogger. The fogger reaches fleas that may hide in carpets, drapes, and more, and it protects your home from a flea reinfestation for up to seven months.

Fleas are no fun, but you can make progress towards eliminating them and getting your home back to normal.

1. Centers for Disease Control and Protection. "Common Fleas of the United States," 13 August 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/fleas/fleas_of_the_us.html

2. Hahn, Jeff and P.J. Liesch. University of Minnesota Extension. "Fleas," 2020. https://extension.umn.edu/biting-insects/fleas

3. Flowers, Amy. Fetch by WebMD. "Healthy Yard: Insect Control for Your Lawn," 14 June 2020. https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/healthy-yard

4. Jacobs, Steve. Pennsylvania State University Extension. "Cat Fleas," 2 March 2017, https://extension.psu.edu/cat-fleas

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