Fleas are one of the worst pests that can ever enter our homes. Not only are they voracious blood suckers, their jumping makes them very hard to kill. So if you’re here to learn how to get rid of fleas in your house, on your pets and even from on your own body, you’ve come to the right place!
Below is a complete guide in eradicating fleas, featuring safe and effective methods that you can try out at home.
Basic Flea Info
Fleas are virtually found all over the world. But surprisingly, unlike other infestations, attacks from these bugs go largely undetected. One reason for this is because fleas are naturally minute. A full grown flea is only about 1/8 of an inch long while its larva is so much smaller.
Top Flea Killing Solutions
Additionally, all fleas are laterally flat. Meaning, their body structure is the opposite of a bed bug’s. It’s vertically flat, making it possible for them to easily move through a jungle of hair or through a bunch of feathers.
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The flea is also equipped with mouthparts that can suck blood to continue their reproductive cycle. And its secret weapon is a set of powerful legs that can enable them to leap 100 times their own height. That’s like a person jumping over a skyscraper.
So catching and killing them is going to be a bit of a challenge.
Types of Fleas
Before you think about how to get rid of fleas, you need to identify the species you are dealing with.
Fleas are classified into more than a thousand species. Specifically, there are about 2,500 different species on Earth. And in that massive number, here are the basic types of fleas that humans deal with on a personal level.
Let’s start with the Ctenocephalides felis or the cat flea. This type is very common in the US, and it’s also a problematic pest in tropical regions of the world.
Cat fleas are very thin, so they can move through a thick forest of hair above the skin. They measure only 1 to 2 mm long. And they’re red or dark brown in color. Female fleas of this species have cream colored spots in their abdomens when they’re carrying eggs.
As the name tells us, the cat flea is commonly found in our feline friends. However, it’s a hardy parasite that can give pet owners a run for their money. While the name implies that a cat is the main host, dogs, humans and livestock can also be a home for this pest.
Dog fleas look a lot like their feline loving cousins. CC Image courtesy of Wikipedia
If there are cat fleas, then there should definitely be dog fleas.
The Ctenocephalides canis resembles the cat flea, except for a few minor details. Its head is round and less elongated. And the legs on its back have 8 notches that hold setae, hairlike structures that the fleas uses to navigate through hair.
Other than those features, the two fleas species are roughly the same. Dog fleas can grow from 1 to 2 mm, and they also come in red or brown. They can even live in other hosts like humans.
The dog flea is troublesome because it carries and spreads another parasite, the tapeworm. These worms live in the small intestines of infected cats and dogs. They reproduce through cutting off egg-filled segments of their bodies. And those segments are then discarded as waste. The eggs in them are then eaten by flea larvae. So the unlucky fleas carry with them young tapeworms until they mature. Dogs get the worms when they accidentally swallow the infected fleas.
Chicken fleas have longer abdomens that make their bodies look more elongated. CC Image courtesy of KatjaZSM on Wikipedia
Chicken fleas or Ceratophyllus gallinae are found in chicken heads and faces, buried in their skin. That’s why severely infected fowl have bulging little black dots in their faces.
Chicken fleas have a really dark color that it almost looks black. It’s also bigger than other species, with a length of 2 to 2.5 mm. It’s typically larger because of its elongated abdomen that extends way beyond its hind legs.
Aside from staying on its usual hosts, chicken fleas can also temporarily inhabit human bodies and houses. So if you are in close contact with barn animals, you are at a higher risk of carrying them home with you.
Unlike chicken fleas, sticktight fleas look like they’ve been compressed. CC Image courtesy of Walker, K. on PaDIL
The sticktight flea (Echidnophaga gallinacean) is another fowl loving insect that mostly lives in hens.
There are two ways to recognize this flea. First, if you look at it through magnification, you can see that it doesn’t have a sort of “mustache” looking part in its mouth.
And second, it has a habit unique to its species. In fact, its peculiar name comes from its way of firmly sticking itself to the skin. It does this by burying its head on its host’s skin much like how a chicken flea attaches itself to a chicken. But once it does this, it takes a lot of patience and even medical procedures to get it out.
This flea can cause infections because of how it infiltrates skin. And a severe infestation from this kind of flea can even cause anemia.
This Oriental rat flea looks like it just ingested blood. CC Image courtesy of Dr. Pratt on Wikipedia
Yes. As gross as it may sound, there’s really a separate flea species that lives mainly on rats.
There are two kinds of them, the Northern and the Oriental. Northern rat fleas (Nosopsyllus fasciatus) are more likely to infest rodent-like animals such as opossums and raccoons. Meanwhile, its Oriental cousin, the Xenopsylla cheopis, has developed a liking to humans. They’re both found in areas near rivers or along coasts.
Rat fleas are exceptionally dangerous. They carry tapeworms and diseases like murine typhus. The Oriental rat flea, in particular, has been credited to be the main culprit in spreading the plague, a bacterial disease that killed several millions of people in Eurasia in the 14th century. You might even know it more as one of the plagues in the time of the infamous “Black Death”.
Like the name implies, these fleas mostly live on humans. The Pulex irritans or the human flea looks like a cat or dog flea, but it can grow up to 2.5 to 3.5 mm long. These fleas are reddish brown in color. And they live in the hairier areas of the body like the head, underarms and pubic region.
Human fleas should not be mistaken for lice or crabs, they are completely different and need to be treated accordingly. Since hygiene has improved over the years, these fleas aren’t as common as they were decades ago.
This sand flea doesn’t look anything like a real flea, but it feeds on blood. CC Image courtesy of Waugsberg on Wikipedia
The name “sand flea” actually refers to a lot of animal species. But in this list, it is a crustacean that just acts like a flea.
Sand fleas (Talitridae spp.) are actually shrimp-like creatures that live in beaches, muddy places and even in dying plants. What makes them very flea-like is that they bite humans and pets for blood.
The sand fleas’ color is a combination of light and walnut brown. They’re also a little bit bigger than their insect counterparts, making them more visible and inevitably more noticeable.
Unlike insect fleas, these crustaceans don’t rely on blood to survive. They feed on plants and other organic matter from the ocean. But what’s surprising about them though, is that they can latch on to our pets and live inside our homes. And when they do bite, they do it painfully. They take away pieces of skin with them, digging into it to get blood.
The sand flea gives so many health risks that it’s even been classified as one of the deadliest parasites around.
How to Get Rid of Fleas on Cats and Dogs
Now that you know a little bit about the type of pest you’re dealing with, you can begin the process of removing them.
The first thing that you need to do is to consider the host. Usually, pets are the first to be affected by fleas. It can get worrying at first, but there are many ways to get rid of these pesky bugs without harming your furry friend.
The methods we’re going to show you are either natural or recommended by animal welfare enthusiasts.
Flea baths can be effective if they’re done in the right place with the right people involved.
When fleas are around, a flea bath is usually the first method homeowners try. The idea is simple. Bathing your pet with a specialized shampoo covers most of his body parts, leaving fleas nowhere to hide. The flea bath will kill the live fleas on contact, allowing you to deal with the problem directly.
Is it any good? Well, there are a couple of things you have to understand about this method. First, we recommend letting an expert do this. There are plenty of things that can go wrong. So your pets should be bathed in clinics or in animal hospitals.
But if you really have to do this on your own, know that a lot of “specialized shampoos” are riddled with chemicals that could be hazardous to your pet. So you have to pick out a shampoo that’s made from natural ingredients. This way, the shampoo will be mild for your pet but deadly for fleas.
You also have to leave the shampoo on for a while before rinsing it out. Follow the instructions in the bottle down to a tee.
The water trap is a pet-friendly method for your quest in learning how get rid of fleas. All you have to do is mix warm water with non-toxic dishwashing soap, and put the mixture in a shallow bowl. Complete the setup by pointing a light source directly at the bowl. You can stick a candle in the middle of it or just place a lamp near it. Leave it in a dark flea-infested area overnight. And you should see results soon.
Is it any good? The trap exploits the flea’s fatal attraction to light. The insect gets attracted to the candle/ lamp and jumps towards it. It then lands on the soapy water and drowns. The soap in the water actually gets rid of the surface tension making it impossible for fleas to float.
What’s great about this trap is that you don’t have to worry about your dog getting thirsty and licking it up, just as long as you use a non-toxic soap.
However, keep in mind that the water trap only works with adult fleas since they’re the only ones that can jump in the bowl. So it’s best to pair this method with other treatments.
Use this to get rid of fleas by putting it directly into your pet’s food. Usually, a regular dose of 1 teaspoon of the yeast will do, but make sure to check the proper dosage with your vet first.
Is it any good? Brewer’s yeast doesn’t kill fleas. However, it’s one of the best products out there. It’s even considered as a nutritional supplement for a lot of animals. It’s a rich source of B vitamins, calcium, iron and other essential minerals for growing pets. It also helps maintain good digestion and even boosts energy levels – all that while repelling fleas!
Apple Cider Vinegar
This vinegar has been used by a lot of homeowners to save their pets from fleas. It works similar to the yeast product.
Add the raw apple cider vinegar in your pet’s drinking water everyday. Use 2 tablespoons for big dogs and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon for cats and small dogs. The vinegar’s acidity will get detected by the fleas, and they’ll stop attacking your pets.
Your pets may not like the change at first, so it’s best to gradually introduce the vinegar into their diet. Start with drops, and work your way up to adding spoonfuls of the stuff into your pet’s water bowl.
Is it any good? Apple cider vinegar only works if you use the brand that has the “mother” in it. Basically, it’s a bottle of murky unfiltered vinegar with all the good bacteria and acids still intact.
These traps are a cheap and non-toxic alternative to pesticides. Their name basically say what they do; they trap fleas using a sticky adhesive substance that stops the bugs from moving, killing them through dehydration and hunger.
There are a variety of sticky traps to use in the market. Some are simple white colored pads that you can just lay on flea-infested corners while others are electrically powered ones with light sources to attract fleas.
Whichever you choose, make sure to put them in the right spot where pets or even humans won’t accidentally step on them.
Is it any good? This trap should not be used as a quick fix because it takes a quite a long time to get solid results from it. It can take two weeks or even longer to trap a substantial amount of fleas.
Flea combs are cheap tools that can help alleviate your flea troubles. Image courtesy of Amazon
A flea comb is another easy way to get rid of fleas. It’s a fine toothed comb designed specifically to pick up fleas from your pet’s fur. Good quality combs can pick up larvae and even eggs, so you’ll literally be reducing those flea numbers one by one.
Is it any good? If you don’t mind going the extra mile in caring for your pet, then this method won’t be a problem.
Most flea combs have two rows, so they’re effective for targeting and even trapping fleas. They can also double as a grooming comb as they can pick up debris carried by your pet’s fur. Just make sure to remove any tangles before you begin combing.
Lastly, a flea comb is an excellent excuse for giving your pet that loving attention that he deserves.
Precor is not a pesticide. It’s an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR). It works by stopping flea larvae and eggs from reaching maturity, keeping them from reproducing.
Spray Precor in the areas of your home where your pets would sleep. Places like the carpet, couches, recliners and area rugs are ideal for using this spray. Check out dark places like under the furniture and in corners where sunlight doesn’t usually hit. Fleas avoid the light and often choose darker places to lay eggs.
Is it any good? PETA generally recommends IGRs as pet-friendly tools for killing off fleas. The product is also something that’s worth your money. It works because it hits the infestation in its core. About 80% of fleas in a population are in their early pre-adult stages, and adult fleas can only live for about 2 to 3 months. So constant exposure to Precor can steadily decrease this insect’s population and possibly even wipe them all out.
Lavender oil works like any other essential oil. Its strong smell repels fleas. And since these insects breathe through their skin, the thick consistency of the lavender oil covering their exoskeleton should suffocate them.
Mix 1-2 drops of the oil into a spray bottle filled with water. Use this spray gradually. Do not bombard your house with the lavender mixture as it may cause adverse reactions to your dog. And once your dog seems to have settled with the treatment, apply it on the carpet, on your pet’s corner and to other pest infested areas.
Remember to dilute the oil heavily before using it. Too much of the oil can damage your dogs liver and kidneys.
Is it any good? As you may have noticed, this method only works with dogs. Cat’s shouldn’t get anywhere near essential oils. According to Earth Easy, cats don’t metabolize essential oils like other animals. It’s basically toxic for them.
Also, lavender oil is only used for controlling fleas, not for exterminating an entire population. So it doesn’t work with a severe infestation.
What NOT to Use on Your Pets
The methods we mentioned above have been labeled as safe options you can apply to your pets. However, there are a lot of other flea treatments out there masquerading as pet-friendly even if they deliver health risks. Here are three of them:
In dozens of our other articles, we’ve always cautioned the use of boric acid to eradicate pests. Sure, it can be effective against roaches and ants, but it comes with a price. Any unsuspecting dog or cat ingesting it will run into serious health issues in the end.
Even though its toxicity level for humans is relatively low, boric acid is officially classified as a hazardous material by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Hazard Communication Standard. In fact, it’s one of the main ingredients of chemical pesticides, the very things we’re trying to avoid using in the first place.
A substantial amount of the powder inhaled or ingested can cause damages in the lungs and the digestive system. It can also create other illnesses like cardiovascular problems and renal distress. It’s basically poison that shouldn’t be used when pets are involved.
There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the flea collar. But one thing’s for sure; they’re not as effective as we think.
Flea collars can only protect places closest to the neck. So your pet’s hind area doesn’t get as much of the treatment as it should. This causes the fleas to vacate and live into body parts far away from the collar.
Additionally, according to Pets WebMD, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has deemed the flea collar as a source of lethal poisons. That’s because they contain organophosphate (OP) compounds which are put into many highly toxic commercial insecticides. They also have tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur in them, risky substances that can harm us humans.
Another toxic flea treatment is the flea dip. Flea dips contain substances called pytheriods, a common pesticide ingredient. Because of this, a study has reported that about 1,600 pets have died from flea dips causing major concerns on whether or not homeowners should trust this treatment.
However, some vets do disagree with this finding. But they’ve come to a conclusion that flea dipping is really a sensitive treatment that should only be done inside clinics or animal hospitals with trained experts involved.
How to Get Rid of Fleas on Humans
Humans don’t really get infested with fleas. While this is a species that lives in the hairier areas of the human body, they are almost extinct due to hygiene routines. But if you have concerns about it, there are some things you can do to cure an infestation.
Cleaning Personal Items
Checking and cleaning personal items is a necessity when it comes to flea infestations. That’s because these bugs’ eggs drop into almost anywhere. So you have to wash many of the things you own.
Wash your clothes, towels, beddings and even your luggage in hot water at least twice. For delicate things like designer clothes and purses, let professional cleaners take care of them. If dry-cleaning is an option, then go for that.
Is it any good? Cleaning won’t completely eradicate an infestation. But you’re generally limiting these insects’ habitable places. So yes, cleaning your personal belongings is a must.
Treating Pets First
As you’ve learned, when you notice fleas around the house, the first thing to do is to check your pet first. They’re the first to be targeted by fleas and the most vulnerable ones too. So once you cure them of their flea problem, you’re basically also curing your entire house.
Our last recommendation puts the “treat” in treatment.
Coconut oil is a flea repellent that can be used in plenty of ways. You can apply it directly on your skin as part of a daily routine. You can use it as a natural bath oil, a massage oil or even a hair conditioner. Lastly, you can also apply coconut oil on your pet’s fur. This will deter fleas as well as make their fur shiny and healthy.
Is it any good? As a flea deterrent, coconut oil has lauric acid which is naturally hated by fleas and ticks. It’s completely non-toxic, and it’s also chock-full of beneficial substances that can give you more than just the convenience of repelling fleas.
How to Get Rid of Fleas in Your Home and Yard
Aside from treating the residents of the house, you also have to treat your home and your yard. Below are some easy ways to kill fleas in your home.
- Vacuum every area in your house. Make with no exception. Fleas can live in carpets, curtains, wall cracks, floors and furniture. By vacuuming on a regular schedule, you’re destroying flea eggs and lessening their population. Just remember to seal the bag right after vacuuming. Throw it away immediately; you don’t want stragglers coming back to your house.
- Wash the carpet, rugs and your kids’ fluffy toys. Flea eggs can be dropped onto things with hair-like attachments to them. Clean your carpet weekly and wash those kitchen rugs and your kid’s stuffed toys with warm water, twice.
- Use flea bombs. Warning: this method should only be used if you’re running out of options for severe infestations. Flea bombs are highly toxic for everyone in the house, not just to your pets. So make sure you plan this method extensively before actually doing it.
- Use fleabusters. This is a lot safer than flea bombs, but it still has a toxicity level equivalent to boric acid. So even if it’s a safer and a more environmentally-friendly alternative, you should also only use it as a last resort. Make sure that your pets and your kids don’t go anywhere near treated areas when you do finally decide to apply it.
- Contact an exterminator. Lastly, if all else fails, just contact a trusted exterminator. The services of these professionals can be a bit expensive to buy, but you’ll have something more reassuring than trying to handle your flea problem by yourself.
Preventive Measures for Recurrences
After figuring out how to get rid of fleas, you definitely don’t want to deal with it again and again. So here are some of the things you might want to keep in mind to prevent reinfestations.
- Use preventive medicine for your pets. This keeps fleas from latching on to the same animal many times. Flea Treats, in particular, is recommended by PETA. It’s a natural B vitamin based edible treat that repels fleas. But if you’re not sure about this yet, it’s never a bad idea to talk to your vet first.
- Mow the grass and pull out weeds. Tall grass and weeds could attract flea-infested animals. So keep a regular mowing and weeding schedule to keep them out. For more info on getting rid of fleas outside, check out our post here.
- Spray apple cider vinegar all over your house. Earlier, we talked about how apple cider can be bad for fleas. But if you’re comfortable with the smell of this acidic condiment, we recommend making an easy repellent out of it. Just mix equal parts water and apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle, and apply it all over your carpet and in other flea-infested places in your house.
- Thoroughly clean your home. Nothing beats good old cleaning. Again, we can’t emphasize this enough. Cleaning makes fleas go away. It should be done just after you’ve discovered the first flea. Don’t give flea eggs any time to hatch. And remember not to leave out anything when cleaning.
- Check newly adopted pets. While it’s better to adopt a pet than to buy from a breeder, make sure that you’re on top of that animal’s condition. Ask about fleas, vaccinations and possible preventive medications to avoid an overdose and other complications.
Dealing with a flea infestation isn’t easy. Learning how to get rid of fleas may take some trial and error on your part. But if you aren’t sure that you’ll be able to treat your pets or to clean your home alone, don’t be afraid to ask for help from an exterminator or a vet. They are paid to be good at what they do and this decision may take a load off of your mind.
If you didn’t see what you need in this article, check out more info on fleas and treatments here.