How to get rid of fleas

Flea problems at home? Here’s a definitive guide on where to look and how to get rid of fleas for good. 

dog scratching himself and bite fleas.

© ulkas | 123rf

If you’ve got a cat or dog at home, then you’ll understand the pain of catching fleas on your cats or dogs. These pesky creatures can be more than just a nuisance. If left untreated, they can affect the wellbeing of your pets and you. Not to mention, a flea infestation can be a vexation and it’s not something you can fix overnight. 

Don’t worry, there’s always a solution for everything, including fleas. Here’s everything you need to know about how to get rid of fleas at home. 

What do fleas look like

Before we deep dive into the different ways to eradicate fleas at home, let’s take a closer look at what fleas look like. These parasitic insects are dark red/brownish in colour and the adults are only 3mm in length. The hind legs are longer to help them jump from one place to another with ease. An adult flea can live up to one year if they have a suitable host, without it, they can only last for a week or two. 

The flea life cycle starts from eggs, then it grows into larvae to pupae and finally, the adult. Flea eggs are white and oval, making them hard to spot. They’re about 5mm in length and can be found in places where your pets usually hang. Once the eggs are hatched, they will grow into flea larvae, which look like a worm. White and translucent in colour, the larvae will eventually wrap themselves up like a cocoon until they’re grown. 

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What’s the difference between fleas and ticks?

fleas and ticks

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Though both are parasitic creatures, fleas are wingless and they rely on jumping from one host to another to travel. Ticks, on the other hand, have six to eight legs and they are arachnids. Unlike fleas where they usually stay with their host until they die, ticks feed on multiple hosts and can live up to three years. Flea bites cause skin itchiness and the worse they can do is carry tapeworms. In contrast, ticks can transmit potentially deadly diseases like Lyme disease and the Rocky Mountain spotted fever. 

How to spot the signs of fleas

Have your cats or dogs been scratching more often than usual? Did you see something small and black jumping on your pet’s fur? Fleas are hard to spot because they are incredibly good at hiding. The only time they resurface is to feed on blood. If you’re concerned that your cats or dogs are tormented by fleas, take a look at these signs below and see if you check any of the boxes: 

1. Your pets are scratching more than usual

If you see your dogs and cats scratching and biting their fur constantly, you might have a flea problem. When fleas bite, they inject saliva into your pet’s skin and the saliva can cause irritation to both animals and humans.

2. You see them jumping around on your pets

Though fleas are small, they’re still visible to the naked eyes. An adult flea is about 1 to 3mm long, making them very, very hard to spot unless your pets have white fur. They have 3 pairs of long legs and can jump very high and far. 

3. You spot flea dirt

After finishing their meals, fleas often leave what we refer to as “flea dirt” behind on your pets’ skins, beddings, carpet and anywhere your pets sleep. Flea dirt is essentially a mixture of their blood meal and flea faeces. If you see them while combing your pets, then we’re sorry to say fleas have invaded your home. 

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4. You see flea eggs, larvae and pupae

Like all insects, fleas eat so they can grow and reproduce to ensure the survival of their species. Flea eggs are shaped like tiny white ovals and they can be found in places like your pets’ beds, carpet or your bed (if you sleep with your pets). Flea eggs take only a few days to hatch into flea larvae. 

Flea larvae look like worms. They have brown heads and will eventually wrap themselves up into a cocoon (yes, like butterflies) until they’re fully grown. This process will take around three to four weeks. Once they become full-fledged adults, they will start looking for food. And the cycle continues. 

5. Your dogs and cats are losing hair

Don’t panic, flea bites don’t cause hair loss, but the constant biting and scratch will result in hair loss. 

How to treat flea bites

flea bites

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Though it’s uncommon for fleas to feed on human blood, they still do if there’s nothing for them to feed on. Flea bites are not fatal, they’re not even painful, but they are extremely itchy and if you’re sensitive to the bite, you might develop a skin rash or eczema. 

So what do flea bites look like? They look just like any other insect bite, which is why it’s hard to know if you’ve gotten a bite from mosquitoes, bed bugs or fleas. However, there are other ways to help identify the culprit. Flea bites usually occur around the lower leg area. They will jump from your pets to you before taking a bite. The bites are not painful, but as mentioned, the itchiness can cause real discomfort to some people. Another telltale sign? They don’t just bite once, a single flea usually bites two or three times in the same area. 

Here are some common symptoms of flea bites: 

  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Soreness

If you’re allergic to flea bites, you may develop more severe symptoms like

  • A skin rash or hives
  • Swelling of the mouth, tongue or throat
  • Breathing difficulties

If you experience any of these, seek immediate medical attention to treat the bite.

As mentioned, flea bites can cause itchiness but refrain from scratching them or you’ll risk getting an infection on the wound. In fact, the less you scratch, the faster they heal. Having said that, it’s hard to ignore it and sometimes we may scratch it unconsciously. To ease the itchiness, here are some methods you can use to stop or relieve it. 

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1. Wash with soap and water

You can wash the bites with just soap and water to keep the area clean and infection-free. 

2. Take antihistamines

An over-the-counter antihistamine like Zyrtec or Claritin helps reduce itchiness on the bite. 

3. Apply anti-itch cream

Like antihistamines, these anti-itch creams like hydrocortisone, Sarna and calamine lotion soothe the bite and relieve itching. Just apply a small amount of the cream on the bites a few times a day and it’ll be gone before you know it. 

4. Seek medical help

If itching persists and over-the-counter products don’t work, go see a doctor. They can prescribe a stronger topical cream to help you with the bites. 

How to get rid of fleas at home

flea on human skin

© schan | 123rf

Now comes the exciting part — eliminating fleas and stopping them from coming back. To do this, you must treat both your pets and your home at the same time. Killing fleas is not enough, you have to obliterate the eggs and larvae as well. And they’re spread all over your home. Which is why pet owners have to tackle the problem from all angles. 

Here are some ways to remove fleas at home

1. Vacuum your home

Power up your vacuum and start vacuuming the entire home from the floors to the mattresses and upholstery. Don’t forget those nooks and crannies as well as these are the common hiding places for fleas and their progenies. Throw the vacuum bags away after vacuuming and clean the vacuum filters to prevent them from multiplying. 

2. Invest in a steam cleaner

Steam cleaners use a combination of high heat and dish soap to clean, and these two ingredients are the bane of fleas’ existence. If you have a steam cleaner at home, use it in areas where your cat or dog usually lie down like on carpets furniture and pet beddings. 

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3. Use a flea comb

This method’s a bit old school, but effective nonetheless. Prepare a bowl of solution (liquid dish soap and warm water) and place it next to you. Comb your pets’ fur with the flea comb to trap live fleas. Once caught, they will get trapped in the teeth of the comb. Quickly dip the comb into the solution. The hot soapy water will kill them right then and there. 

4. Make a flea trap

You only need three items for this: dish soap, water and a bowl. Mix both dish soap and water in a bowl and place it in areas which receive most flea activity. Replace a fresh batch every day until your house is a flea-free zone. 

5. Make a homemade flea spray

To make the solution, you need four litres of vinegar, two litres of water, 500ml of lemon juice and 250ml of witch hazel. Mix them in a large spray bottle before spritzing the solution around your home. Remember to vacuum your entire house before doing that or it won’t be effective. 

6. Sprinkle baking soda

Vacuuming is effective. But you know what makes it more effective? Baking soda. By sprinkling baking soda onto your pet beds and carpet, you’ll dehydrate fleas and their eggs. Leave baking soda overnight and when you come back the next day, just turn on the vacuum to remove fleas. 

7. Or sprinkle salt

Salt, like baking soda, is a good dehydrator and it helps with getting rid of fleas. Use the same process as baking soda. Sprinkle salt over your carpets furniture or other places your pets sleep. Leave it for a couple of days before vacuuming it. 

8. Diatomaceous earth helps too

Diatomaceous earth is also a very good dehydration agent and is effective to treat flea problems at home. But make sure you use the food grade option and always wear a face mask when handling the powder. Just sprinkle the powder in areas with high flea activity, leave it for a couple of days and then vacuum the area. 

9. Make a lemon spray

Lemon’s not only good for our health and a good cleaning agent. Turns out, it’s also a great home remedy for fleas. But first, you need to make the solution. Slice a lemon before adding it to a bowl of water. Bring the solution to boil. Let it sit overnight before pouring it into a spray bottle and then just start spraying. 

10. Grow flea repelling plants

Believe it or not, there are certain plants that fleas hate and they are chrysanthemums, lavender, spearmint and pennyroyal. Grow these plants around and inside of your house to deter fleas from coming in. 

11. Get a pest control professional

When all else fails, you might want to contact a pest control professional to remove fleas from your home. It might cost a bit, but they will do a thorough job of removing every single flea from your home. 

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How to get rid of fleas on cats

cat scratching

© Alexandr Ermolaev | 123rf

If your cat has been scratching and chewing her skin, that could mean that it has been attacked by fleas. Here are some ways to get rid of fleas on cats.

1. Check for fleas

First thing first, check for signs of movement in the fur. If you spot something jumping, get your flea comb and start removing them. Remember to dip the comb in a mixture of water and dish soap to kill the fleas.

2. Apply flea products on your cat

There are a few spot-on flea treatments in the market that are not just convenient and effective, but they’re safe for your fur friends too. You can get them from the nearest pet shop or just consult your vet.

3. Get a flea collar

Another effective method of ridding fleas off your pets? Just put a flea collar on them. Make sure the flea collar contains flumethrin and imidacloprid (Seresto).

4. Feed your cat flea medicine

Nitempyram is an antiparasitic drug to kill adult fleas. Give it to your cat and it will kill fleas on your cat within half an hour.

How to get rid of fleas on dogs

Like cats, your dogs are vulnerable to fleas too. To relieve your dogs from bites and itchiness, here are some ways to help get rid of fleas.

1. Bathe your pets

Instead of bathing your dog in shampoo, wash them in a tub filled with lukewarm water and soap. Washing your pets is one of the most cost-effective ways to kill fleas. But if you’re thinking of buying a flea shampoo, talk to your veterinarian before buying one. Some chemicals in the flea shampoo may cause irritation to your dogs.

2. Comb the fur

Pet owners, always equip yourself and your home with a flea comb. If you see tiny bugs jumping on your dog, grab the comb and start combing. And don’t forget to dip it in the soap and water solution to kill the flea. If your dog has a history of fleas, comb its fur once a week to do a spot check.

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