Fleas are a common problem in homes, especially those with pets. You may discover a problem with fleas even if you do not have pets, if previous owners of your property kept cats or dogs for example. Fleas may also be carried on other animals like rabbits, foxes, squirrels, rats, mice and livestock such as pigs. The greatest concern about the presence of fleas in your home or business comes from their bites. Although these are not painful, they can result in an uncomfortable itch or rash. Your pets could also develop allergies to flea saliva.
Common Flea Species
There are many species of fleas but in the UK it is cat and dog fleas that cause most problems. The main concern about fleas is the distress and discomfort that flea bites may cause you and or your pet.
After feeding, a female cat flea can lay between 25 - 40 eggs a day, in the fur of the host or its bedding. A single female cat flea can produce up to 2,000 eggs in a life time. Flea cocoons can remain dormant for two years. They only hatch when conditions are right.
Flea eggs are tiny (approximately 0.5mm long), oval and white. They are almost impossible to see against rough surfaces like carpets, rugs and pet bedding. A flea's lifecycle can be anything from two weeks to about eight months. Fleas can breed quickly this makes it difficult to prevent fleas completely.
Cat fleas are often unable to determine whether a host is suitable until it has been bitten. If it is deemed unsuitable, the flea soon drops off.
Cat fleas are 3mm long wingless ticks, flattened from side to side with long legs enabling them to jump. They have both genal and pronotal combs (ctenidia), differentiating them from most other fleas of domestic animals.
Fleas pass through four stages: eggs, larva, pupa, and adult. The eggs are small and white. These stages combined, vary from two weeks to eight months. The adult flea is awakened by the detection of vibration of pet or human movement, pressure, heat, noise, or carbon dioxide for potential blood meals. A cat flea cannot complete its life-cycle feeding only on human blood.
Cat fleas nest where the host is in its usual resting place, for example the cat basket, sofa or blanket. This is where the young often drop to mature.
Adult Dog fleas feed on the blood of dogs and cats, they occasionally bite humans. It is a vector of the Dog Tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum, which can also affect humans.
An adult is brownish black in colour, but can appear reddish-black after a blood meal. Adult dog fleas are 1 - 4mm long. The legless larva is off-white and measures up to 5mm long.
The fleas go through a four-stage life cycle: eggs, larvae, pupae and adult. The larvae are longer than the adults and feed on particles of dry blood, excrement and organic substances.
The body of a flea is laterally flattened, which allows it to move easily through an animal's fur. Spines project backwards from the body of the flea, which also help it to hold onto the host animal during grooming. As they can jump approximately 6 inches, they can move from host to host. They can also infest garden lawns.
Human fleas are now less common in the UK, except for farming areas where they can survive on pigs, and then jump to humans. They will bite anywhere on the body and are associated with itchiness as fleas crawl over the skin.
Adult fleas are black to brownish-black wingless insects. Adult fleas are 1 - 4mm long. They possess a long, fine proboscis, which is used to pierce the skin of their host to feed on their blood.
A female flea will lay 4 - 8 eggs after each blood meal, and can usually lay several hundred eggs during her adult life. The smooth, oval light-coloured eggs measuring around 0.5mm long are deposited on, but not firmly attached to, the body, bedding or nest of the host. The adult generally emerges in a week or two after completing a larval and pupal stage, but under unfavourable conditions, the pupal period may be as long as a year.
Since they move from one host species to another, they present a risk of transmitting disease. They are a known vector of Yersinia pestis (plague). Human fleas can also be found on animals such as dogs, rats, pigs, deer and foxes.
Bird fleas can multiply enormously in hen houses, lofts, breeders, batteries and other similar environments.
Adult bird fleas are generally brownish in colour, and 1 - 8mm long. Their mouthparts are well adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood and project downwards from the head.
They breed during the nesting period when the host and or young are available for regular blood meals. If the nest is reused, the pupae will hatch, mate and continue the breeding cycle.
Bird fleas can only live for a short time indoors and only in nests. When the birds move from the nest, the adult fleas must find a new host.
The first indication that you have a flea problem is flea bites.
How To Identify Flea Bites
Fleabites often appear as tiny red spots on the skin. Given their small size, as with other insect bites, it is often difficult to identify fleas just by looking at your bites. You should consider other factors, which may help to identify your insect problem. Look for tiny dark spots, surrounded by a reddened area with much less swelling around the bite than with other insect bites.
Common areas to receive flea bites are on feet or lower legs. Cat or dog fleas will jump from pets, carpets, bedding or furnishings to feed. A flea bite is usually felt immediately, with a single flea often biting two or three times in the same area. The actual bite does not really hurt. It is the itchiness that results from the body's reaction that causes the discomfort.
Infants are at a higher risk from being bitten by fleas, particularly when playing on the floor, especially carpeted areas and or on rugs. Children also tend to be more sensitive than adults to being bitten. You should consult a pharmacist for advice and treatment if you or your children develop an itchy rash or eczema. These are common symptoms of an allergic reaction to fleabites.
We also advise you to consult your vet if there are any signs of irritation such as reddening of the skin or there are any thin patches in your pet's coat.
Can you see fleas crawling on your pet's coat? They are normally reddy-brown and about 2mm long. Check the hindquarters of your dog or the head and neck of your cat. These are the areas that are targeted and where you might see signs of flea activity. Carefully look at your pet's skin for fine black droppings. This is 'flea dirt' or adult flea faeces and looks like ground black pepper. A good way to spot it is to use a flea comb over a sheet of white paper, which makes it easier to see the small black specks. Another sign of a problem is flea dirt on pet bedding, carpets or rugs.
While bites by fleas on people can cause distress, your pets often suffer much more. You may notice your dog or cat scratch frantically trying to bite the fleas in their fur. A fleabite is not particularly painful, but you will often be aware as soon as you have been bitten. You may develop some itchiness around the bite though, which could become uncomfortable, depending on your sensitivity.
Sometimes it's easy to think you've got rid of the fleas in your home when you haven't. This is because flea eggs are very difficult to spot. Fleas will lay their eggs on your pet's body. But they won't stay there. Eggs easily fall off and can become hidden in carpets, rugs, bedding or gaps between floorboards. Flea eggs are tiny (only about 0.5mm long), oval and white. This makes them almost impossible to see against rough surfaces and materials. If fleas keep coming back, or you want to make sure they are eliminated first time, then call in the professionals such as Peskill.
The very thought of fleas in the home is enough to make most people's skin crawl, but it can happen through no fault of your own. Pets can pick up fleas from other animals or places and give them a ride home. Once they arrive, you'll want to get rid of them fast.
Call the experts and let Peskill solve your flea problem quickly and effectively.
There are several things you can do to get rid of fleas if you catch the problem early enough. Here's our to-do list for a flea-free home:
- Before you do anything else vacuum carpets, furnishings, cracks in the floorboards and upholstered furniture. This will not only get rid of adult fleas, but also their eggs and larvae. The larvae feed on adult flea faeces and other organic matter, which collects in things like carpets and rugs. Removing this source of food is an important step. Empty your vacuum cleaner very carefully away from the house because the fleas will still be alive.
- Pets are the most common source of fleas. Groom your pets regularly with a flea comb. Wash their bedding every week (ideally at 50°C or above).
- If your pet is scratching or biting its fur you should talk to your vet. They can recommend the best flea sprays or powders to use to treat your pet. Prevention is better than sure so make sure your pet is routinely treated for fleas.