- Fleas are parasites that depend on their hosts for survival.
- Vacuuming daily and machine-washing pet bedding can help eliminate flea larvae.
- You can make a flea spray out of vinegar, water, lemon juice, and witch hazel.
- Get flea larvae off your dog with a bath with shampoo and apple cider vinegar rinse.
- Pest control professionals can help with flea infestations in the home.
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Reviewed for accuracy on October 16, 2022 by Brittany Kleszynski, DVM
Tiny bloodsuckers that pack a big punch, fleas have been a blight on humans and animals for millions of years. Like all parasites, these pint-sized pests depend on their hosts for survival. When the host is your pet, you’ll do anything to get rid of them. Having a good grasp of flea biology and a few tricks up your sleeve to effectively kill flea larvae will help you win the battle.
The dark side of fleas
Fleas are in the order Siphonaptera and are distributed worldwide. While most species prefer feeding on animals, many readily feed on humans, especially during a heavy infestation or when animal hosts are not available. It’s estimated that over 2,500 species of fleas exist, including human fleas, rat fleas, mouse fleas, poultry fleas, and even beaver fleas, but the vast majority found in American homes are cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) and, less often, dog fleas (C. canis).
Throughout the ages, fleas have been responsible for devastating epidemics of the plague in various places around the world. Still today, the Oriental rat flea (Xenopyslla cheopis), a parasite of rats in the genus Rattus, poses the most significant health risk to humans worldwide. Fleas cause a number of problems for our four-legged friends too, such as itchiness and discomfort. If your pet is hypersensitive to flea bites, persistent allergies may develop. Both cat and dog fleas are intermediate hosts of the tapeworm, which can cause gastrointestinal issues. In young animals with immature immune systems, fleas can potentially be fatal.
While ticks are more often associated with disease, fleas can also carry infectious bacteria that affect both animals and humans according to PetMD. These include Bartonella henselae (which causes cat scratch disease), Mycoplasma haemofelis, and Rickettsia typhi (which causes murine typhus).
Flea life cycle — egg to larva
Fleas have a complete metamorphosis, also known as holometabolism, which is a form of insect development that includes four distinct life stages— egg, larva, pupa, and imago or adult. This life cycle contributes to the survival of an insect species since the adults and larvae have different predators and do not compete for the same food sources. The female adult flea sheds eggs in the environment that hatch into larvae after several days. Round or oval in shape, flea eggs are white and are not easily observed by the naked eye.
Flea life cycle — larva to pupa
Cat fleas have three larval stages, none of which live or feed on a host. Instead, they eat the feces of mature fleas and other organic debris in the environment. The three larval stages can be completed in about seven to fourteen days depending on the temperature, humidity, and food availability.
While larvae can survive without food for a few weeks, the last larval stage does require food before molting into the nonfeeding pupal stage. Fleas in the pupal stage can survive for several months inside your home and quickly emerge into adults when they feel the vibration of an approaching person or pet. Pupae are barely recognizable without a microscope because they are encased in a sticky cocoon that is covered with debris. Cat flea pupae usually develop into adults in about one to two weeks.
Flea life cycle — adult
According to the Purdue University Medical Entomology page, adult fleas are wingless and typically about 1/8 inch long, oval, and reddish-brown. Adult female fleas are larger than males. Fleas are prolific, and a single female flea can lay 25 to 40 eggs per day. Once adult fleas emerge from their puparia, they have just a few days to find a blood meal, or they die.
Controlling flea larvae in your home
Killing flea larvae helps in eliminating an active flea infestation in your home. To focus on getting rid of flea larvae, you should vacuum every day. Be sure to vacuum the dark nooks and crannies of carpets, loose rugs, sofas, cracks between hardwood flooring, and where walls meet floors. Put dog beds, towels, pillows, blankets, and stuffed dog toys into the washing machine on hot and then into the dryer for at least 20 minutes on high. Machine washing everything you can as often as possible kills flea larvae, thus controlling the flea population. A steam cleaner is also an extremely effective tool.
Many swear by their natural flea eliminators, and one of the most popular concoctions is a flea spray consisting of four liters of vinegar, two liters of water, two cups of lemon juice, and one cup of witch hazel mixed together in a large spray bottle and then applied in a heavy spray to furnishings, pet beds, carpets, floors, and other areas where fleas congregate.
Fleas and your pet
In a nutshell, flea larvae, pupae, and eggs make up the majority of the flea population in an infested home. Keep in mind that only adult fleas take blood meals. They can consume 15 times their body weight throughout the day!
Several environmental flea sprays are available at pet stores to help eliminate flea infestations as well. Bathing an infested dog in flea shampoo can also be helpful.
Should you call in the big guns?
When you’re battling a flea infestation on your own, it sometimes may feel like you’re getting nowhere. After all, it only takes a few weeks for a flea population to reach astronomic proportions. Don’t dismay. Like all pest issues, elimination is a process, and it takes some time to become flea-free.
However, if you feel overwhelmed and think your flea infestation may have grown unmanageable, consider calling in a licensed pest control professional who should be able to guarantee the successful elimination of the fleas.
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