Are these fleas?
A guide to prevention, detection, and treatment of fleas
What are fleas?
Fleas are small, hearty insects, varying from 1/16 inch to 1/8 inch in size. They are known for their impressive jumping abilities and their ability to reproduce rapidly; an adult flea can jump seven inches high or 13 inches horizontally, and can jump several thousand times in a row!
Fleas have an exceptionally long life cycle which can last as few as 14 days to as many as 21 months depending on environmental conditions (unfortunately for those of us living on in BC’s lower mainland, the conditions are often pretty favourable for these little pests!)
Fleas go through four developmental stages: egg, larva, cocoon, and adult.
An adult female flea can lay up to 30 eggs a day for up to two weeks before she dies. Eggs will fall off the host, usually a household pet, and lay dormant in carpet fibres, bedding, long grass, or even in cracks in the floor. Eggs develop into larvae which feed on organic matter and then pupate and await a host. While in the cocoon fleas can detect amazing environmental changes such as a rise in temperature, exhaled CO2, and vibrations which trigger them to hatch. Newly hatched fleas can latch onto a host immediately and the cycle repeats.
With such an adept survival plan, it’s easy to see how these little guys can quickly infest even a large home or building!
How do you find them?
If you’re starting to suspect that your pet may be hosting fleas there are several tests you can do to quickly determine whether or not fleas are the culprit.
Start with a visual exam
Scan your dog for red bumps or flecks of black dirt. This is called ‘flea dirt’ and is actually faeces which are essentially dried blood. When dropped into warm water flea dirt will rehydrate and turn a bright red. Keep your eyes peeled for small, quick moving, black insects with bulbous bodies!
White towel test
Get a white or light coloured towel and have your pet stand over it. Have a bucket of warm soapy water at the ready, just in case you find some adult fleas. They breathe through pores in their abdomen, so dunking them in the water will drown them and prevent them from escaping into the house or jumping back on your pet.
Give your pet a good scratch. Fleas do not like light, and prefer warm, blood-rich areas, like behind the ears, in armpits and the groin, and around the anus. If after scratching your pet you notice black flecks of flea dirt or adult fleas roaming around on the towel, your pet has fleas.
A flea comb is a cheap and reliable tool. With fine, metal teeth, this comb is able to grab flea dirt and adult fleas and pinch them between the comb’s teeth.
Make sure you check several different areas on your pet. If the fleas are a new problem, they may not be widespread, so make sure to pick through those warm, dark areas like the groin and armpits.
If you have a pet with a long or thick coat, give your pet a good brushing outside to get rid of any mats or knots before using the comb.
Try to keep the comb as close to the skin as possible, and check the comb each time you brush it through the fur.
Again, have warm soapy water nearby to drown any adult fleas you may find.
I’ve found fleas, now what?
So your pet has fleas, don’t panic! While removing fleas from your home and garden can be quite an ordeal, there are many paths, both natural and chemical, that you can take to eliminate a flea problem.
Begin by doing a deep clean of all bedding, carpet, and furniture. Steam cleaning is often a good option, but make sure the carpets are getting adequate time to dry, moisture attracts fleas!
Don’t forget about the car. Anywhere your pet spends an extended amount of time needs to be cleaned, flea eggs are resilient!
Homemade flea collar
Combine 3-5 drops of cedar or lavender essential oil 2-3 tablespoons of water. Using an eyedropper or spray bottle, apply a few drops this solution to your pet’s collar or bandana. Reapply oil mixture every 7-10 days for maximum protection. You can also replace the water with olive oil and apply the mixture directly to your pet by placing a few drops at the base of his/her tail.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is an amazing product. Adding a little to your pet’s food or water dish will help keep fleas away and add extra shine and moisture to a dry or dull coat! You can also spritz your dog’s bedding and sleep area with diluted vinegar to deter fleas. Reapply often and if you really want some extra edge, you can add a few drops of the essential oils recommended above.
Flea deterring pouch
This is a fun and effective project for all you creatives! Cut a few squares of breathable fabric and sew them together to create a pouch. Fill with fragrant cedar chips, dried lavender and lemon peels. Seal the pouch and place amongst your pet’s bedding. Make as many pouches as you like and place them around the house in corners and places a flea might like to hide. Replace every few months or when they are no longer fragrant.
Diatomaceous earth is a fine powder made of ground up diatoms, microorganisms with tiny calcified shells. This ground powder is a natural flea killer as the tiny sharp bits of shell get breathed in by the fleas and attach their respiratory system. Understandably this is not something that we want our pets or even ourselves to be breathing in, so this product should be applied before you begin your deep clean. Sprinkle the powder throughout your carpets and upholstery (you can even dump in in the laundry hamper before putting a load in the wash) and let it sit for an hour before vacuuming it up. Keep your pet away from the powder while it sits, so think about getting your pup a nice bone to chew on while the powder rests, or going for a nice stroll.
Natural flea bath
There are tons of natural soaps and home remedies you can try to get rid of fleas and their eggs at home, hot water and lemon mixed with your regular pet shampoo is a common practice.
These natural remedies are usually tried and tested, but you may need to cycle through a few methods or even combine several for best results.
Over the counter or vet prescribed medications
Products like Advantage, Revolution or Frontline can be purchased from most vets or pet goods stores. These will be applied directly to the dog and repeated monthly. We carry Zodiac, which has the same active ingredient as Advantage. We suggest using this topical treatment when there is an infestation, but not as monthly maintenance.
Orally applied treatments are also available from the vet, although they are less popular here in Canada and we don’t recommend them.
Sprays, dips, and collars will have a combination of chemical and natural components to deter and kill fleas. These can be purchased at many pet stores. Pay attention to whether you are buying products for a dog or a cat! Amitraz, permethrin, or organophosphates can be fatal if used on cats, but can be used safely on dogs.
Household sprays or cleaning agents
There are several recommended chemical agents such as Nylar or methoprene which are available as carpet cleaners, foggers or sprays and can be used throughout the house. These should be used cautiously as they can be harmful to humans and pets who come into contact with the product.
Depending on the severity of your infestation, treating your yard and lawn may also be necessary. Remove any organic debris that fleas may like to live in (eg. piles of leaves, rotting wood, long shady grass or straw.) And discourage rodents and other possible carriers like raccoons from entering your yard.