Anyone who has lived through a flea infestation knows how miserable it can become. When they invade, your pets won’t be the only ones scratching. You will be itching too, as the tiny pests find you just as tasty as Fluffy and Mr. Bones.
The best flea defense calls for a multipronged attack, and it begins with understanding the biology and lifecycle of fleas. Knowledge better equips you in successfully eliminating your flea problem and returning your pet, home, and yard to a flea-free environment. Think of it as getting to know your enemy so you can lead a victorious attack.
Fleas are tiny (1/16 inch), wingless insects that suck blood and are considered external parasites of cats and dogs. Their flattened bodies allow them to move easily through the host’s hairs, causing discomfort and irritation with their bites. Adult fleas are voracious blood-feeders, able to consume around 15 times their body weight daily. Additionally, infected fleas can transmit parasitic tapeworms in dogs and plague in humans.
Although there are more than 2,000 species of fleas, the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) and dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis) are the most common type you are most likely to find on your dog or cat — as well as wild animals, including raccoons and squirrels. Fleas aren’t particularly picky. The cat flea can bite dogs. Dog fleas bite cats. Both fleas bite humans.
Fleas are active year-round although extremely hot summers or cold winters can send them into hibernation.
Americans spend $9 billion a year on flea control, according to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension office — one of pet owners’ largest expenditures.
Fleas are opportunistic and persistent. They can live either outdoors or inside.
The lifecycle of fleas consists of four stages:
The adults attempt to start the cycle over by laying up to 50 eggs on an animal per day. The flea eggs fall off the pet and land wherever it spends its time. That could be your pet’s bed, the carpet — or your bed. The eggs take two to five days to hatch.
The hatchlings, worm-like flea larvae, remain hidden in carpet or bedding fibers, under furniture or a protected location. Larvae develop by eating adult flea feces, which consists of dried blood and flea eggs.
Next, the flea larvae develop into pupae, spinning a silken cocoon they remain in for two to four weeks and sometimes longer. Fleas in the pupal stage are somewhat resistant to insecticidal flea treatments and this is why you might once again see adult fleas after you think you’ve successfully treated your flea problem.
The last stage of development is the adult flea stage, also called the biting stage. It’s not unusual for an adult flea to spend its whole life on an animal, so if you want to effectively eliminate your flea problem and have your pest-control techniques work, it’s important to treat the pet along with the premises.
Flea Control in the Yard
According to the University of Florida, unless you have a large flea infestation in your yard, treatment isn’t necessary.
If the outdoor flea infestation is large, the university suggests applying yard sprays designed to kill fleas or an IGR (insect growth regulator), used only in the dry and shady areas where your pets frequent. Since fleas don’t hang out in sunny or wet locations, treating the entire lawn wouldn’t be necessary and you’d only end up wasting product. They also suggest that by regularly watering your lawn can help reduce flea populations.
Additionally, maintaining good lawn care by keeping weeds at bay and regularly mowing the entire yard, also goes a long way in insect control. This is especially true in the dry, shaded areas your pets frequent. Disturb areas where fleas hide by raking up debris and fallen leaves, keeping areas clean.
Fleas move in due to flea-infested pets, strays and wild animals frequenting your lawn. Although there’s not much you can do about wild animals other than try to block them out, treating your pet and keeping it on a flea preventive treatment is necessary to keep your yard flea-free.
Fleas, Ticks Are Different
People sometimes ask whether flea and tick control is the same. They are not; fleas are jumping insects with six legs. Ticks are arachnids, related to spiders.
Products for Flea Control in Yards: Forget Dawn
If the outdoor flea problem is large and requires treatment, you have various options to restore a flea-free yard.
When searching the internet for natural home remedies to solve your flea problem you’re likely to come across various recommendations to use in your yard to kill fleas. One widespread suggestion is to use Dawn dishwashing soap in a spray bottle or yard sprayer. No scientific data substantiates that using Dawn or any dishwashing soap in your lawn kills fleas. Bathing an animal, using any soap, will knock down the flea population that reside on the animal. But since most fleas live in the environment, not on the animal, they’ll jump right back on, starting the infestation over again. There are better, proven choices.
Yard treatment products designed to get rid of fleas in your yard either come in granules or sprays you can attach to a garden hose to saturate the product over the flea-infested areas.
Mississippi State University Extension notes that although the application of flea control granules is easier than applying sprays, they don’t work as well. Additionally, flea control sprays work best used in areas where the pets rest, under shrubbery and under and around porches. If the flea infestation is large, you’ll need to retreat the area in another seven to 10 days after the initial treatment.
All products listed below are based on treating 1,000 square feet of outdoor space and safe for areas with pets, as long as all the product directions are followed.
Flea Treatment Sprays
Ortho Bug-B-Gone Killer Concentrate: Active ingredient is bifenthrin (0.3% concentrate), with 12 ounces treating 1,000 square feet. Apply as a broadcast spray using a garden hose-end sprayer or other type of appropriate spray device.
Hi-Yield 38 Plus Turf, Termite, & Ornamental Insect Concentrate: Active ingredient is permethrin (38 % concentrate), with 0.4 to 0.8 ounces per gallon treating 1,000 square feet. Apply as a broadcast spray using a garden hose-end sprayer or other type of appropriate spray device.
Hi-Yield Indoor/Outdoor Broad Use Insecticide: Active ingredient is permethrin (10%), with 1.5 ounces per 10 gallons treating 1,000 square feet. Apply as a broadcast spray.
Sevin Concentrate Bug Killer: Active ingredient is carbaryl (22.5% concentrate), with 3 ounces per gallon treating 1,000 square feet. Not for broadcast lawn treatment, however, carbaryl is a suitable alternative when controlling fleas that are pyrethroid-resistant. Follow the product label instructions for spot treatments and other outdoor areas with flea infestations.
Flea Treatment Granules
GardenTech Sevin Lawn Insect Granules: Active ingredient is carbaryl (2% granules). Seven to nine pounds treat 1,000 square feet. Water the product into the area after applying.
Ortho Bug-B-Gon Max Insect Killer for Lawns: Active ingredient is bifenthrin (0.115% granules). Two to four pounds treat 1,000 square feet. Water the product into the area after applying.
Hi-Yield Kill-A-Bug II Lawn Granules: Active ingredient is permethrin (0.5% granules), with two to 3 pounds treat 1,000 square feet. Water the product into the area after applying.
Another home remedy to kill fleas in the yard is the use of diatomaceous earth. However, the University of Florida cautions against its use. In areas of high humidity, the product doesn’t work and it contains silica, which is harmful to both humans and pets if inhaled in large quantities.
Expert Tip: When using any flea treatment product, be sure to read and follow the product label and keep out of the area until the yard treatment completely dries. For successful insect control, be sure to treat areas where pets frequent like outdoor kennels, doghouses, sheds, under porches and crawlspaces, resting areas and protected areas such as under shrubbery.
Flea Control for Pets
One sure sign your pet is suffering through a flea problem is they are constantly biting, scratching and licking their skin. Many pets have an allergic reaction to their bites, creating even more biting, scratching and licking. Don’t be fooled into thinking your pet doesn’t have a flea problem if you only locate one flea on them. There’s more where that one came from and they are ready to strike at any moment.
Quick flea treatment action is necessary to control these pests in all places they reside — your pet, in your home and in your yard. No plan works overnight; patience and continuous action are the keys to keeping your pet and home flea-free.
Dr. Adam Patterson, clinical assistant professor and chief of dermatology at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, notes why it’s important to continue a flea treatment and prevention routine on both your pets and their environment, “The adult fleas owners see on their pet is just the tip of the iceberg, as those fleas come from immature and unseen flea life stages in the carpet, area rugs, upholstery, dog beds and shady places outdoors. Depending on environmental conditions, it may take a couple of weeks to months for all of the eggs to hatch, so if you don’t keep regularly administering flea prevention to all fur-bearing animals in your home, you are giving fleas an opportunity to come right back on your pet.”
Dr. Patterson also says flea prevention on your pet and keeping them flea free is the most important step. When it comes to selecting the best product for your pet and home, Dr. Patterson states, “There are many products to treat your house and yard with, but this should be something you discuss with your veterinarian. Some products may be harmful to some animals in your household so a veterinarian can recommend the best product for you.”
When it comes to selecting the best product to kill fleas on your pet and prevent future outbreaks, there are quite a few products on the market promising great results. You will find everything from flea collars, spot treatments and oral tablets, but it’s best to discuss with your veterinarian what’s best for your pet. The last thing you want to do is use something that makes your pet sick or doesn’t work.
Best Flea Control Products
The University of Florida notes that flea collars, whether containing an insecticide or insect growth regulator (IGR) should be used on the pet for only five days and then removed and placed in a glass jar until next use. They are considered a short-term flea treatment.
Another natural flea home remedy you might hear promoted to kill fleas on your pet is brewer’s yeast, vitamin B or garlic. However, the University of Florida says there’s no scientific evidence that these products actually work to repel or kill fleas.
If you notice fleas on your pet and in your home, it’s best to provide flea treatment to both at the same time for the greatest success. The first step in treating your pet is giving it a good bath. When it comes to washing your pet, it’s best to use a product designed for use on either dogs or cats, as human products can be too harsh and promote skin irritations.
According to Pet MD, another natural flea home remedy is using Dawn dishwashing soap to wash the pet and kill fleas, but as noted above, the product might be too harsh for the skin on some pets. Additionally, the science behind Dawn killing fleas is the same for any grease reducing soap product. The exoskeletons on fleas allow them to float and soaps like Dawn create a surfactant, or surface tension, that compromises the adult flea’s exoskeleton. The adult flea then sinks and drowns, so the Dawn will kill fleas by drowning them, but so will any like soap.
Home Flea Control
The next important step in controlling a flea problem is providing a flea treatment inside the home. As noted in the above section, be sure to treat your pet at the same time you plan to kill fleas inside the house. Otherwise, the vicious cycle of your flea problem continues.
To promote the best success and once again experience a flea-free indoor environment, there are several pretreatment actions before you actual treat:
Remove pet food and water dishes, cover any aquariums and disconnect their air pumps.
Pick up all items from the floor and under beds like clothing and toys.
Wash or discard pet bedding.
Vacuum or wash all areas of the carpet, rugs, upholstery and other flooring, especially in locations where the pet frequents.
Thoroughly vacuuming eliminates many of the flea eggs, pupae and flea larvae. Once finished, discard the vacuum bag or empty the canister’s contents in a bag, seal it and then throw in the trash.
Products for Flea Control in the Home
Numerous products kill fleas inside the home. All are safe if you follow the product label. Many of the active ingredients are manmade synthesized versions of pyrethrin, a natural insect repellent found in chrysanthemums. The most important precaution: Keep people and pets out of the treated area until the product dries. Depending on the environment and items treated, drying can take several hours. You can speed drying and reduce insecticidal odors by opening windows, and running fans and the air conditioner.
Pre-mixed and Ready-to-use Flea Sprays
Ortho Home Defense Max Insect Killer: Contains bifenthrin, zeta-cypermethrin.
Enforcer Flea Spray for Homes: Contains nylar, permethrin.
After completing your home flea treatment, don’t be shocked if you still see adult fleas for two weeks or a bit longer. If the home was thoroughly treated, these are likely newly hatched adult fleas that haven’t yet been killed by the insecticide. However, if you continue to see adult fleas for longer periods, the area requires another treatment.
Continue vacuuming. It not only removes fleas, but it also prompts the pupae, to hatch, according to the University of Kentucky. Once out of its protective cocoon, the flea hatchlings more easily come into contact with the insecticide and die. You may have to treat your pet again if not on a vet-approved flea prevention program.
Keeping It Flea-Free
Whether it’s your yard, home or pet suffering a flea problem, it’s important to treat all three. Your yard is the least vulnerable to a rise in flea populations. However, you can keep those populations in check by keeping your pet and home flea-free by maintaining preventive measures. A scratch-free Fluffy and Mr. Bones won’t be the only ones thanking you because your ankles will be thanking you, too.
Joyce Starr has been writing on horticultural and landscaping topics for over 15 years. In addition, for the past 20 years she’s owned and operated a landscaping and design business. She shares her experience and passion for all things green through her writing.