Fleas are external parasites, most feed on the blood of animals although a few species do feed on birds. There are over 300 different kinds or species of fleas living in North America. The most common flea indoors is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) which bites cats, dogs and humans as well as many other animals. Fleas can become one of the most annoying pests in a home due to the potential for large numbers of individuals, the multiple bites from a single flea and the many challenges of eliminating flea infestations.
Interesting Flea Facts:
Fleas can jump as far as a foot in a single bound.
Female fleas can lay as many as 5,000 eggs during their lifetime.
A single flea can bite repeatedly and often bites several times before jumping away from a person.
The cat flea is dark reddish-brown in color and is compressed laterally so that it can easily move between dense hairs. As small as 1/8th of an inch, this thin dark insect is often seen jumping on the lower legs of individuals.
The first hint of the presence of fleas indoors may be seeing either the pet cat or dog scratching intensely or noticing itchy bites on the lower legs of people in the house. In either case you can confirm the presence of fleas by several different means. You can take your pet to a veterinarian and have them perform a careful examination for the presence of fleas. You can give your pet a flea bath and look for fleas floating in the used bath water. Or you can comb your pet with a flea comb that will extract fleas close to the skin. The flea comb has the tines so closely spaced at the base that the head of the flea passes between but the body of the flea is trapped. Then the comb with adult fleas and flea eggs can be quickly dipped in hot soapy water to remove the fleas before they can escape.
Another means of detecting fleas is also a means of reducing and even eliminating fleas without using expensive and potentially ineffective chemical sprays. You can readily trap fleas using several different types of flea traps. A home-made trap consists of a light bulb or other heat source close to the floor with a sticky monitor trap placed directly below the light. The heat attracts fleas from a distance so you want to place traps away from areas where people sleep and sit. You can enclose the trap within an open mesh or grid to keep pets and young children from accidentally encountering the sticky trap.
Flea eggs are deposited in large numbers by female fleas while they are feeding or crawling on the cat or dog. Many of these eggs will drop off near the sleeping area of the pet. Within a few days these small white round eggs hatch and become immature flea larvae that look like small white maggots. These larvae feed on dead skin, dried blood and other organic material found near the bed of the pet. These small larvae are hidden and difficult to find much less see by the homeowner. Within a couple of weeks these larvae grow and molt and spin a cocoon where they enter a resting or pupal stage that can last until the flea detects a potential host . As soon as the resting flea detects either the vibrations or the warmth of an animal, they immediately begin to search by jumping rapidly until they find a host and start to feed. Once the fleas have fed, they can wait several months before they feed again. This survival ability makes the fleas exceedingly difficult to eliminate.
Preventing Flea Bites
Fleas can bite both pets and people multiple times so that a primary goal during control efforts is to minimize the number of bites until the fleas are eliminated. A veterinarian can treat your pet with chemicals that will kill fleas immediately upon contact. This treatment will serve two purposes. First the pet will get immediate relief from bites and second, the pet will serve as an attractive host, luring fleas in the vicinity to itself rather than to the homeowners. After returning home from a vacation many pet owners who suspect fleas will let the pet roam the house first. Thus attracting and eliminating any residual fleas from an earlier infestation that may be waiting in the dark.
If you wear white knee-length socks, you can quickly see jumping fleas as they crawl up the sock to feed. And of course placing multiple sticky traps and heat sources around the home is one of the best methods of detecting and eliminating fleas.
People react differently to the saliva that fleas inject into the bite. The purpose of the saliva is to thin the blood so that it can be sucked up via the narrow mouth parts of the flea. Some people exhibit little or no reaction to the bite while others show extreme itching and welts. The different reactions to the bites can create misleading conclusions about the presence or absence of fleas.
There are a wide variety of chemical products sold for flea control. A non-residual chemical pesticide will only flush out and kill adult fleas in the vicinity that are in direct contact with the pesticide. Flea larvae on their way to becoming adult fleas and adult fleas resting within the safety of their pupal cases may not be affected. Flea eggs and adults on the pet will also escape.
Residual chemical pesticides for flea control can have the same drawbacks unless treatment is directed in the immediate vicinity of the resting and sleeping areas of the pet so that flea larvae and emerging adults are contacted. While waiting for chemical control to take place, flea traps as outlined above are useful in cutting off active fleas before they can reach you or a pet to feed. Click to see some flea traps
If no pets are present in the house then a careful inspection and search for animals nesting in the attic, under a crawl space or porch or deck must be made. The fleas dropping off of a squirrel, rat or other rodent could be the original source of fleas in your home. These fleas will keep on searching throughout the house for a host until they find you and/or your pet.
Keep the flea traps in place for several weeks after you think all fleas have been eliminated to insure a successful outcome. If a squirrel or other animal removal is required, a residual insecticide in the attic or crawl space where the animal was nesting can be helpful.
Finally, there are many cases of mystery bites eventually being attributed to fleas. Often within a multiple housing complex, fleas will spread to adjacent units requiring a more comprehensive control effort. People with impaired vision requiring assistant dogs may have fleas and not be aware. Fleas can come into a work place on handicap wheel chairs and other equipment from a home with fleas. There have been documented cases of fleas coming into a commercial mail room on the bags of mail. The mail courier was keeping his pet dog in the back of the delivery truck.
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