A whole world of creatures exists on the edge of a human's visual acuity. Fleas are among those that are visible to the naked eye, yet small enough to live a life utterly undetected by humans when they remain in their natural environment. However, when fleas infest domesticated pets or invade homes, they can find themselves under heavy scrutiny.

When your pets have fleas, it quickly becomes a serious situation for everyone involved, especially if your pets spend any length of time indoors. Fleas are insects that feed on the blood of animals and humans alike. They may prefer to live on fur-covered animals, but they aren't picky about where they will get their next meal. If you are experiencing difficulty with fleas, there is hope when it comes to eliminating these pests.

What Are Fleas?

Fleas are a small parasitic insect that feeds on the blood of domesticated pets, wild animals, and humans. They are tiny in stature, making them hard to detect without intense examination. Many species of fleas exist. The cat flea is the most common of them all, and they are challenging to wipe out.

Fleas will lie in wait for an animal to pass by and then jump onto the new host. They have heightened senses that provide them with the ability to detect increases in temperature and carbon dioxide. They also use changes in light and shadow to locate their next host. These abilities enable them to find their next meal with ease.

What Do Fleas Look Like?

Image via Flickr by Michael Wunderli

Fleas are quite small, measuring around 2.5 millimeters. They have strong hind legs and can jump incredible distances. They have a black to reddish-black coloration and will live their entire adult life on a fur-covered animal unless they are forced off.

Female fleas lay eggs that are oval in shape, smooth in texture, and white in color. Although females lay their eggs on their current host, the eggs typically slide off and land on the ground below. These eggs will most likely never be seen due to their diminutive size.

Female fleas can lay anywhere between 18 to 25 eggs per day, at a rate of about one egg per hour. In ideal conditions, up to 1,200 eggs can be produced a week by only ten fleas. This number dramatically multiplies as the fleas increase their numbers, resulting in a staggering number of fleas once the eggs begin to hatch. The four stages of a flea's life are the egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

Where Do Fleas Live?

Fleas originate from the outdoors. They can live on any furry creature under the sun. Due to the smooth texture of flea eggs, they slide off of the animal they are on and end up on the surface below. The majority of flea eggs in nature can be found in low-lying grassy areas. After fleas have invaded your home, their eggs can be found in your carpet and on your furniture.

Problems With Fleas

Animals infested with fleas generally have what is known as flea allergy dermatitis. In severe cases, fleas have caused dehydration in their animal hosts due to the amount of fluid loss that the host suffers. Combine this with the constant discomfort of itching and the skin-crawling sensation, and a flea-infested animal will become miserable.

For both humans and animals, fleas can carry and transmit some pretty nasty diseases. These diseases can be transferred across different species by either the flea's bite or its contaminated fecal pellets. This makes eliminating fleas of the utmost importance when they are affecting your pets and your home.

Many flea-borne diseases can affect people. The following are a few examples:

  • Flea tapeworm is most commonly reported in children who may have accidentally eaten an infected flea or have come into contact with infected flea feces.

  • Flea-borne typhus, or murine typhus, is spread by the bacteria present in an infected flea's feces.

  • Bartonellosis, or cat scratch disease, is contracted by humans when bitten by the cat flea or the oriental rat flea.

  • Secondary bacterial infections are most commonly caused by scratching flea bites.

The diseases that a flea can transmit to pets and other animals include the following:

  • Cat scratch disease (CSD).

  • Murine typhus.

  • Rickettsia felis, which affects both cats and dogs.

  • Flea tapeworm

  • Dipetalonema reconditum, a parasitic worm that dogs get from cat fleas.

  • Acanthocheilonemal reconditum, a microfilarial disease that dogs get from cat fleas.

When you have pets that spend time outdoors, it is imperative to take preventative measures. If you wait until there is a flea infestation inside your home before taking action, it will be harder to manage than if you put safeguards in place ahead of time.    

Flea Control Solutions

If you fear you may be facing an invasion of fleas in your home, the first place to start is your pet. Though they are small, adult fleas can be seen relatively easily on your pet's body in the areas that are covered with less hair. Your pet will also let you know that something is wrong by excessively licking or biting at their skin, scratching, and exhibiting hair loss.

Once you have established that you are dealing with fleas and it is your pet that has brought them into your home, you can take steps to control the pests. Using a flea comb on your pet is a good start, as it will remove the adult fleas from your pet's coat. You should dip the comb in a mixture of water and dish soap to kill the fleas. You can also use veterinarian-recommended preventative treatments for your pets, which kill current fleas and prevent them from infesting the animal again.

If you do not have pets, keep in mind that fleas can be brought into your home by other pests. When this is the case, a professional exterminator can show you how to get rid of the fleas and whatever pest brought them into your home. With their expertise, they can pinpoint the source of the fleas and implement a plan to eliminate both pests at the same time. 

Now you know what fleas are and how to recognize the signs of a flea infestation, you can take preventative measures to protect your home, family, and pets.

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