It’s a beautiful, sunny summer day outside and you decide that it would be a nice opportunity to go outside and play a little “fetch” with man’s best friend, the family dog. You’re only outside for about a half hour before the little guy gets tuckered out, so you head back inside. That’s when you notice that your puppy is scratching a little more than he usually is. He won’t seem to stop. He CAN’T seem to stop.
You head on over to take a look, and that’s when your heart sinks. Your puppy brought fleas into the house and all of a sudden, they seem to be EVERYWHERE.
It’s something that pet owners and even regular, pet-less homeowners face at some point in their lives. Fleas are among the most common insects that seem to know how to perfectly drive humans crazy. Images of huge bills flash through your head like playing cards as you try to figure out exactly what you need to do from here.
The most important thing you can do is to stop, relax and take a deep breath. By learning as much as you can about fleas including what they are, where they come from, and what type of trouble they like to get into in the first place, you’ll be in a much better position to make the right decisions moving forward.
Fleas are a part of a class of insects called Siphonaptera, which are unique because they don’t have any wings. Another thing that makes them unique is the fact that they live exclusively by consuming the blood of whatever organism they happen to land on. For homeowners around the world, this usually means their dog.
One of the more fascinating points about fleas is that there are not one, not two but two THOUSAND different species and through evolution, they’ve naturally adapted to a wide range of different conditions. There are fleas that specifically target cats, versus ones that will seek out dogs whenever possible. There are also fleas that live on birds, rats – you name it. Interestingly, these species very rarely “cross pollinate,” so to speak. The only exception to this is the cat flea, which despite its name accounts for nearly every case of fleas found on both cats AND dogs in the United States according to Revival Animal.
Another one of the more interesting points about fleas goes back to the idea that they don’t have any wings. If they did, they’d probably be a much more pressing problem than they really are (not to limit the issues fleas can cause your household in any way). If they happen to notice a host, like if your dog goes out in your yard for playtime, they literally have to leap until they latch onto him. As one would expect, evolution has also aided them significantly in this regard – they can jump like nobody’s business.
To put their leaping ability into perspective, the average flea is only about 1/8th of an inch in length. Despite this, they’ve got a natural vertical leap of up to SEVEN inches, and can jump horizontally about 12 inches. If you’re a 6′ 0″ human being with the jumping prowess of a flea, that means you have the ability to jump about 150 feet straight into the air and you can leap horizontally almost 300 feet.
No discussion of fleas in general would be complete without referencing some pretty impressive facts, figures and stats regarding what these little insects are capable of.
To say that a flea problem in your home can be a costly issue to fix is something of an understatement. According to a study conducted in association with the University of Florida, people spend an incredible $2.8 billion each year on flea-related bills to veterinarians. Another $1.6 billion goes to flea treatments with specialists like pet groomers, for a combined total of an incredible $4.4 billion – and that’s just when you’re talking about helping to rid your furry little friends from their unwelcome flea stowaways.
The same research revealed that people spend an additional $348 million just for flea-related pest control costs, which means trying to get them out of your house. However, even going beyond the initial cost, there are a number of health-related concerns that you definitely need to be aware of moving forward.
As far as your health is concerned, there are two main factors that you have to concern yourself with: the health of any animals that may be infected and your own safety and well-being.
First, your animal. If your dog happens to be affected by fleas, their bites will often lead to intense itching and scratching. The affected area could get worse if the problem is left untreated, and the skin could even form scabs, break apart and get infected in the event of a worst case scenario.
According to Dr. Adam Denish of the Pennsylvania animal hospital at Rhawnhurst, the most common flea-related issue with regards to animals is called “flea bite dermatitis,” which essentially just means that your pet is allergic to the flea’s saliva.
However, it isn’t only external issues that you have to worry about in relation to your pet. Many people don’t realize that tapeworms can also be caused by fleas, as these parasites typically live inside the flea and become a big problem for your animal when they accidentally get ingested. Anemia is another major problem for flea-ridden pets, which can actually cause their red blood cell count to decrease significantly.
These are just a few of the major reasons why it is always so important to check your pet for fleas regularly and if discovered, do something about it right away.
Generally speaking, fleas are a much bigger problem for any pets in your home than they are for humans. However, this doesn’t mean they’re not an issue. Fleas very rarely live on humans (including on the skin or in the hair), but they can and will bite you if given the opportunity. Because fleas are natural carriers for certain types of diseases, this could lead to transmission among the people living in your household. Historically speaking, plague and even cat scratch fever have all been spread by fleas. Are you going to get the plague if you get bit? Probably not – but it’s not exactly off the table, either.
Fun fact: it is for this reason that fleas are actually seen as a bioterrorism weapon. During World War II, for example, Japanese soldiers dropped plague-infested fleas on the unsuspecting population in China. Many experts agree that if someone wanted to spread the bubonic plague (or its close cousin the septicaemic plague) throughout the world, fleas would be an incredibly efficient way to do it.
So again: take care of any flea problem that you may have sooner rather than later.
Another interesting tidbit that many people don’t realize about fleas is that they can be tricky little beasts, no pun intended. If you’ve taken steps to make sure that fleas are gone from your dog and have cleaned every square inch of your house, you may STILL wind up with a flea problem next year because of the various lifecycle stages they go through.
Fleas have four distinct lifecycle stages: the egg, the larvae, the pupae and the adult. By the time you notice that you have a flea problem on your hands, they’ve reached the adult stage. This is what the majority of pest control solutions you might invest in are targeted towards. However, just because you’ve gotten rid of the adults doesn’t mean that the eggs aren’t still around, laying in wait. Even the pupae stage of the flea can wait patiently in your home for weeks or even months if you’re ONLY using pesticides to get rid of your problem.
This is why if you TRULY want to get rid of your flea problem, you’re going to have to go deep.
The first thing to understand about flea control is that you have to be very, very careful with regards to HOW you choose to rid your home of your problem – or your pets may suffer the consequences. You should check the active ingredients on everything from powders to flea collars to insect sprays and more for the following chemicals:
All of these ingredients have been known to cause adverse reactions in pets, and indeed “adverse reactions” is the reason why the Environmental Protection Agency received over 44,000 complaints about these products in 2008 alone according to PETA.
There are a number of natural remedies that are great for getting rid of fleas in a way that won’t harm your pet OR the environment. Black walnut works wonders, according to PETA. Flea treats, flea combs and others can be used to catch fleas on a daily basis.
If you ARE going to use any flea removal products with the aforementioned ingredients, always keep your pets OUT of these areas for several hours afterwards.
Another great way to combat fleas in all stages is a good, old-fashioned vacuum cleaner. According to pest expert Dr. Foster Smith, vacuuming alone can remove as many as 50% of the flea eggs in an infected area, which is absolutely not a bad start. However, if you’re going to do this, make sure you throw away the vacuum bag OUTSIDE as soon as you can. The vacuum doesn’t KILL the eggs – it just moves them from one area to another. If they’re going to hatch, let them hatch in a landfill where they belong.
A large part of getting rid of fleas in your home involves a little elbow grease and a lot of hard work. Always make every infected area accessible, meaning remove all toys, clothes and other items from the area. Wash and clean EVERYTHING – including pet bedding – during this process. If you can’t get fleas out of a particular item, unfortunately the safest thing to do is probably to throw it away.
Only once the area has been cleaned is it safe to apply any other methods like insecticides, but even then you’re going to want to clean again once the problem has been taken care of.
Once you’ve taken the time to learn a little bit more about what fleas are, where they come from and what they can do, you’ll find that they aren’t nearly as scary as they once were. They can be a pain, sure – but even the worst flea problem is ultimately no match for a homeowner who knows what they’re doing.