Fleas

What do fleas look like?

  • Adult fleas are black to reddish-brown; larvae are dirty-white.
  • Adults are about 1/8-inch long; larvae: 1/4-inch long.
  • Wingless, laterally flattened with piercing-sucking mouthparts.
  • Fleas have very well-developed legs (which allows them to jump at least six inches vertically).
  • Their bodies are covered with backward-projecting spines (that help them move easily between the hairs on the host animal).
  • Fleas have a row of very heavy spines on the front of the head (genal comb) and the back part of the first body segment (pronotal comb).
  • Larvae look similar, albeit, smaller than fly maggots—except for their well-developed head and a pair of “hook-like” appendages on their last abdominal segment.

What are the habits of fleas?

  • Fleas undergo complete metamorphosis (i.e., egg/larva/pupa/adult) meaning that one life-stage looks physically different than the previous).
  • After a blood meal, females lay four to eight eggs (400 to 800 total) on the host animal or in its bedding.
  • Following egg hatching, developing larvae feed on adult flea feces (which contain small amounts of dried blood).
  • Eggs typically fall into the nest or bedding of the host animal (or wherever the animal happens to be at that particular time).
  • Developmental time from egg-adult is approximately 16 days to 20 months.
  • Following maturity, larvae spin silken cocoons in which they pupate and this pupal stage lasts up to 20 weeks.
  • Adult cat fleas often stay within the cocoon until vibrations stimulate them to emerge.
  • Cat and dog fleas readily feed on other animals, e.g., raccoons, opossums, rats, and humans.
  • Adult fleas remain on the animal throughout their lives but occasionally are knocked off the animal by scratching or physically removed by grooming tools.
  • Higher concentrations of adult fleas are also generally found in pet bedding and resting areas such as sofas or upholstered chairs.

What kind of damage occurs from fleas?

  • Bites can cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals and secondary infection can occur from scratching.
  • Fleas are also known to transmit murine typhus.

What should I look for when trying to identify fleas?

  • Adult fleas on indoor cats and dogs.
  • Flea excreta (i.e., black droppings near the skin) on pets.

How do I control and eliminate fleas?

  • Detailed inspections should be conducted by a professional exterminator in order to expedite the elimination of flea infestations.
  • Family pet bedding should be placed in a plastic bag and laundered in hot soapy water—or discarded if severely infested.
  • The house floors and sofas (or other known pet resting sites) should be thoroughly vacuumed in order to remove larvae, pupae, and food materials and the bag immediately sealed and discarded.
  • The pet should be treated by a veterinarian, pet groomer, or the owner on the same day that the house is treated. This timing cannot be overemphasized.  Numerous products are available for on-animal flea control, e.g., pills containing an insect growth regulator, spot-on adulticides, flea collars, on-animal insect growth regulators, soaps, dips, etc, that aid in the speed of resolution.
  • Regardless of the treatment, adult fleas must be eliminated from the animal in order for treatment to be effective and sustainable.
  • Fireplaces should be inspected for infesting animals such as raccoons or squirrels—and if fleas are observed, a fire can be set following the humane removal of animals to aid in the elimination of flea activity within the chimney area.
  • Chemical aerosolized applications of products such as Precor2000 may be applied via “whole-house” treatments or “spot treatments” to eliminate fleas.
  • Homeowners and pet owners should expect that multiple treatments will usually be necessary to fully eliminate infestations.