These small, external parasites can transmit several serious diseases, including the bubonic plague. Here’s how to control fleas naturally without resorting to harmful chemicals.
While there are more than 200 species of fleas in this country, the primary troublemaker is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). Happy to feed on anyone in the household (cat, dog or human), these wingless insects will most likely choose a pet, whose fur provides warmth and shelter for their breeding ground. Flea bites make some animals, who are allergic to the insects saliva, so miserable that they bite and scratch themselves raw. Human bites show up as small, red, itchy bumps most commonly observed on the wrists and ankles.
Adults are small (1/16 inch long), dark, reddish-brown, blood-sucking insects. The body is vertically flat (like a fish), hard and covered with many hairs and short spines that point backward. Legs are long and well adapted for jumping. The mouthparts of an adult flea are adapted for sucking blood from a host. Immature or larval stages are small (1/4 inch long) white worms with dark heads. They avoid light and are often found around pet sleeping areas, along baseboards, in carpets, or on furniture.
Female fleas lay as many as 50 eggs a day, starting a life-cycle that can be completed in as little as three weeks, depending on temperature and humidity. The eggs hatch into larvae, which feed on “flea dirt,” excrement of partially digested blood. Larvae grow and molt twice, then spin cocoons, where they grow to pupae and then adults. The adult remains in the cocoon until vibrations indicate a host is nearby. This waiting can extend the life-cycle. It also explains why large numbers of fleas often are seen when an empty building is reoccupied. Six-legged adults emerge and attach to a host to feed and breed, beginning the cycle all over again.
Getting rid of fleas requires establishing a single pet sleeping area that can be cleaned easily and regularly. Limit your pet from accessing bedrooms, attics, basements or wherever the flea population may be particularly annoying or where cleaning is difficult. Vacuum areas frequented by your pet on a regular basis, and consider using Flea Stoppers Carpet Powder. Regularly remove and wash all bedding and rugs that your pet comes into contact with. Flea comb your pet often and use natural flea shampoos. The Ultimate Flea Trap can be used to capture adult fleas. Spot treat cracks and crevices around pet resting areas with diatomaceous earth. Beneficial nematodes work well to kill flea larvae outdoors. Botanical insecticides should only be used as a last resort.
Tip: Frequent vacuuming will remove up to 95 percent of all flea eggs, some larvae and adults. After vacuuming, remove the bag and place it in a sealed outdoor trash container.