The Facts About Fleas

A Flea Close UpThey can’t fly, but they can sure jump. Fleas are among the best jumpers of all living creatures. They can jump 200 times their body length. Widespread pests of people and pets, fleas are wingless, tiny insects that can seem to be everywhere. Mature fleas live on blood from the much larger creatures they ride around on. Many kinds of fleas jump around. Each kind of flea being quite versatile and adaptable.

The worst misdeed perpetrated upon mankind by this kind of bug involves the kinds of fleas which ride on rats and carry the bacteria that cause bubonic plague. Such fleas have changed the course of history.

Fleas are tiny, 1/16 to 1/8 inch in length. They are laterally compressed, that is, thin from side-to-side, permitting easy movement through the hairs and feathers of their hosts. Their mouth parts are especially adapted to permit feeding on the blood of their hosts.

The Flea Life Cycle

Flea Life CycleIn order to lay eggs, a female flea must first eat blood. Dog blood or cat blood will do and the flea doesn’t care about the bloodline. The well-fed female will lay up to 20 eggs at a time, often deposited on the host, but easily rolled off onto the ground or carpet where the host animal might lie down to rest. Such eggs take two days to two weeks to hatch. The larvae which emerge from the eggs will probe around for nourishment which can be almost any organic material.

After three larval stages the individual will spin a cocoon of silken fiber and go into a pupal state. These pupae may stay for some length of time or they may emerge in a week. Whenever they emerge it is as a mature flea, looking for blood. Actually fleas appear to have good eyesight which they use to navigate from one part of their host  to another.

On the other hand, the silk-enclosed pupa might just sit there from year to year, maybe not forever, but for some extended time, awaiting the right conditions to emerge. Thus you might think you have eliminated fleas only to have them come back with a vengeance in some future season.

Ideal Conditions for Fleas

Fleas live on a variety of warm-blooded hosts including mice, rats, ferrets, squirrels, rabbits, chickens, and of course cats, dogs, and humans. All of these can itch because of the action of the fleas they carry. The host will scratch, bite, or peck in the vicinity where the flea is feeding. Not that the scratching does much good. Fleas are parasites which appear to do no good for the animals on which they ride and jump.

Fleas have some allies, however. Tapeworms appear to depend on fleas to carry their eggs into the guts of certain animals. What a comforting thought.

Flea larvae are sensitive to humidity, meaning that there must be some water associated with the organic material they find to eat. Of course, a flea egg can wait out a long dry spell.

Flea Bites

Flea BitesFleas like to feed off the blood of cats, dogs or people.  While fleas are far from deadly, their bites are extremely itchy and will affect dogs, cats and people.

Common symptoms of flea bites are:

A flea bite will agitate and aggravate the skin.  Flea bites itch because they cause an allergic reaction with the skin.  Generally this reaction just results in little swollen bumps on the skin; a very similar skin reaction to that of mosquito bites.  However, sensitivity to flea bites varies between people; children are often more sensitive and may have a more severe reaction.  In sensitive people the bite is often surrounded by a “halo” of red, irritated skin.

Common treatments for flea bites:

  • To help relieve itching you can get a over the counter 1% hydrocortisone cream.
  • You can also help relieve itching by
    • Washing the area with antiseptic soap (to reduce the risk of infection).
    • Use an ice pack to help keep swelling down.
    • Use anesthetic creams, calamine lotion or similar creams to treat itching.

Flea Bites on Humans: Where do humans generally get bitten?

Flea Bites on HumansHuman flea bites generally happen in areas of tight clothing, like the lower legs and around the waist.

Where do fleas come from?

Household pets such as cats and dogs are usually the main carriers of fleas in the United States.

Pets and their bedding should be kept clean to help control flea problems.  Once a pet brings fleas in it will most certainly affect the other members of the household if the problem is not taken care of quickly.

Some More Flea Bite Pictures

Flea Bite Pictures (back closeup) Dog Flea Bites

Flea Bite on the Legs

How to Get Rid of Fleas

Getting rid of fleas can involve several strategies which depend on the conditions encountered. Regardless of the strategy chosen, determination will be required to get rid of fleas. Fleas strive to persist where they are comfortable. Pet owners and others with flea problems should be aware of several of these strategies and choose the ones best for them. It will be a good idea to think about the various effects of fleas on humans, on pets, and on the living area. It is also important to know the four-stage life cycle of fleas and deal with fleas with a continuing program.

Anti-itch creams are available to give relief to humans who live in situations where fleas might get at them. Make sure the cream is known to be effective for flea bites. Calamine lotions will not work. A bath with sodium bicarbonate will help reduce itching. While such measures may give temporary comfort, they will do nothing to eliminate the causes of their problem which are the fleas.

Flea Control Information

How to Get Rid of Fleas

A program of regular and frequent pet shampooing is essential for all pet owners. A number of excellent shampoo preparations are available in pet supply stores or at your pet care shop. These shampoos will kill the adult fleas, their eggs and their larvae. The dormant hibernating cocoon may resist such shampoos, but these will eventually emerge and the resulting adults can be eliminated in the next shampooing, providing it is frequent and regular.

How to Get Rid of FleasA pet can pick up fleas from anywhere. Fleas can jump up to 6 feet and they lurk in the pet by-ways anxious for a source of warm blood. Just assume that a couple of weeks after a thorough shampoo, your pet is totally infested again. For this reason, only the frequently shampooed pets remain essentially flea-free.

Flea repellent, applied three days after a shampoo, can reduce the number of fleas that will want to climb aboard your pet. These preparations are improving and should be considered.

The pet itself is not the only object for your anti-flea campaign. The place where the pet stays should be treated with preparations that will kill adult fleas, their eggs and larvae. This includes carpets and furniture as well as the dog house or litter box. The yard where the pet spends some time may also need some treatment. The more wide ranging your pet is, the more likely it is to become infested again—soon.