Almost all homeowners who have pets will eventually come across a flea problem. This is because pets tend to attract these little insects who will cling onto them when outdoors and start hopping off when they’re in the house. There are over 2,500 species and sub-species of fleas in the world, so if we were to go into each and every one, this article would be the length of a novel. About 325 of these species are found in continental America however only a few species are the ones that become a typical nuisance in our homes, hair, pets, and lives. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of these common fleas.
- Cat Fleas – The most common type of flea found in America. If you have a flea infestation in your home, the cat flea is your most likely culprit. Cat fleas are brown in color and about 3mm in length and their eggs are seen as small white specks. They often nest in your pet’s bedding, such as your cat’s favorite basket. Flea larvae will typically be dropped off there in order for them to mature to adulthood. Also, while they are called cat fleas, they will also bite dogs and humans although they will likely drop off after tasting non-feline blood as it is not their preferred meal.
- Dog Fleas – This flea is brownish black in color and turn reddish black after they have fed. They range from 1mm to 4mm in length, however their larvae, which are legless, are an off-white color and can measure up to 5mm in length. These larvae will feed on the dried feces and blood of the adults (yuck!), known as ‘flea dirt’. I’ve followed this specific guide on killing fleas on my dog that I found especially effective, so you should refer to that too if you own a dog. Dog fleas are more dangerous than cat fleas because they are a potential vector for the dog tapeworm, which can also infect humans.
- Bird Fleas – Also known as the chicken flea, you may be exposed to these pests if you keep chickens as pets or livestock. These fleas are brown in color and can range from 1mm to 8mm in length. Fortunately for us, bird fleas are only able to survive indoors for a very short amount of time; and even then only in nests. If you suspect your fowl has bird fleas, examine their faces and heads for black specks or nodules.
- Human Fleas – These fleas look much like any other flea, except that they are also a known vector for plague. Fortunately, they are quite rare nowadays, except in countryside and farm areas, where these fleas can use pigs as an intermediary host and transmission vector to eventually find a human host.
- Rat Fleas – There are two types of rat flea: the Northern Rat Flea and the Oriental Rat Flea. If you have rodents in your house then they might sometimes bring these fleas with them as well, just as an additional bonus to mess up your household. Or if you have pet mice, they may attract these fleas as well. These two fleas are relatively similar although the Oriental Rat Flea is typically found more in coastal areas, as these fleas, which originated from the East, initially came to the West via ships, explaining their coastal prevalence. The Oriental Rat Flea was also responsible for the Black Death.
Eradication and Prevention
Fortunately, no matter what type of flea you have in your home and bugging you, they can all be killed with the same methods. We recommend the following three methods:
- Insecticides – You can purchase these in two forms, liquid or aerosol. The liquid formulations are typically separated into liquid residual insecticides, for killing adult fleas, and insect growth inhibitors, which stop further development of a flea’s lifecycle. If using a liquid formulation, mix the two together. Aerosol sprays are a premixed mixture of the two and are more convenient but also more effective. You will need to apply at least two treatments as some pupae (the cocoon offers some protection against the insecticides) will develop into adults in the intervening time (separate the treatments by about 2 weeks).
- Boric Acid – More commercially known as Borax, this is a poison that will kill most insects. Sprinkle the powder liberally in your carpets and rugs, but be warned that it is mildly toxic to small children and pets.
- Diatomaceous Earth – A non-toxic solution that is great or getting rid of fleas in your yard, however you can use it indoors as well. Diatomaceous earth is a natural silica substance that kills insects by piercing their waxy exoskeletons (these silica particles are like tiny razors) and start absorbing their oils and fats, causing death via dehydration.
In addition to the methods above, it is all extremely important that you vacuum your rugs and carpets at least every other day throughout the infestation process. Vacuuming can scoop up adult fleas, larvae, pupae, and eggs while increasing the effects of the methods above.