Constant scratching, biting at the skin, hair loss – if these symptoms are checking all the boxes, your pet has likely contracted fleas. Although these tiny insects are common amongst cats and dogs, fleas can be a pet owner’s worst nightmare due to their long lifecycle, and thus, challenging process to get rid of.
Before you give in to the flea frustration, it’s important to get a good understanding of how the flea life cycle works. The main reason fleas are such a challenge to get rid of is because their life cycle works in four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
Fleas begin their lives as eggs, laid by adult female fleas following a meal – ie: a taste of your pet’s blood – which is necessary for the adult fleas to reproduce and lay these eggs (about 40 per day!) in your pet’s fur, and around your home.
Flea eggs develop into flea larva, which accounts for about 35% of a household’s flea population. Larvae survive on pre-digested blood, known as flea “dirt,” which adult fleas pass (gross, right?).
This stage, also known as the “cocoon stage,” is the trickiest to get rid of, since the cocoon can serve as a shell of protection for the developing flea for months (in some cases, years!), until environmental conditions, like temperature and humidity, are right for hatching. This means pupae can survive laying dormant in the colder winter months while waiting for warmer weather to “hatch.”
Cocoons have a sticky outer coating that allows them to burrow deep in the carpets and furniture of your home, and are not easily removed by light vacuuming or sweeping, and also protect developing fleas from chemicals, so popular remedies like flea bombs don’t necessarily kill pupae.
Adult fleas account for less than 5% of the entire flea population in a home. They spend the majority of their lives, which can range from a few weeks to several months, feeding on the host (your pet) while breeding and laying more eggs. And then the cycle continues…
Now that you understand the flea life cycle, you can see why, through temperature changes, resistance to chemicals, and the ability to survive before hatching for months on end, eliminating these pests from your pet and home can be such a challenge. Fortunately, with a bit of patience and a lot of persistence, it is possible to rid your pets (and homes!) of fleas once and for all.
Step 1: Clean and treat your pet
The first step to eliminating a flea infestation is to treat the source – ie: your pet. Start with a warm bath and scrub your pet with a flea shampoo, or suds them up in dawn dish soap, which, when the suds are left to sit on your pet for a few minutes, suffocates fleas and brings them to the surface of the fur.
After a few rounds of sudsing up, use a flea comb to comb out excess fleas and flea dirt. Follow up the bath with a flea treatment, which works to repel fleas from biting your pet.
Step 2: Flea Bomb
Just because you’ve eliminated adult fleas from your pet doesn’t mean they’re gone from your home. Flea eggs, larvae, and pupae are likely living in your furniture and carpets, so either call in an exterminator, or purchase a few household flea foggers (also called flea bomb) from Amazon or your local hardware store.
Just note you and your pets will need to stay out of your home for about four hours while the bombs run their course.
Step 3: Deep Clean Your Home
After flea bombing, you’ll need to thoroughly clean your home to get rid of dead fleas as well as their eggs. Work room by room, washing all fabric (curtains, blankets, pillows, couch cushions) at high temperatures, and vacuuming thoroughly. Don’t forget to wash all of your pets toys, bedding, and blankets, too!
Pro Tip: Empty your vacuum bag in a trash bin outside the home, since live fleas are known to jump out of vacuum bags and back into your newly cleaned home!
Step 4: Repeat
Like we mentioned earlier, a flea’s long lifecycle and tough resistance to chemicals mean you’ll have to repeat the cycle of treating, bombing, and deep cleaning a few times to stay ahead of the cycle. Try to repeat the process every 4 weeks or so until you’re sure the infestation is gone.
Finally, the best way to keep fleas at bay is to prevent them altogether. If you haven’t already, schedule a vet visit for a flea treatment pill or prescription (like Frontline) that works to repel fleas from your pet should they happen to pick them up from outside or at the dog park. Your pet, and your home, will thank you!