How to Get Rid of Fleas
No one is a fan of fleas, especially not homeowners with pets. Fleas are, however, a fact of life for many dog and cat lovers. Although there are over 2,000 species of fleas, cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) are the likely culprit if you suspect fleas — even if you have a dog.
Fleas do more than make your pet itchy. They can transmit diseases, including tapeworms, and cause murine typhus and plague in human beings. Many people also develop allergies to fleas, which can cause breathing difficulties, asthma and rashes. If you suspect your pet has fleas, take steps immediately to clean both your home and your pet of these pesky plague bearers.
Recognizing Flea Infestations
Fleas are very hard to see with the naked eye, but they do leave behind their calling card: feces. Flea feces, also called flea dirt, look like tiny grains of pepper. You’ll often notice flea dirt on your pet’s bed, blanket or favorite napping spot before you realize Fido or Fluffy has fleas.
Pets will scratch themselves frequently if they have fleas. Adult fleas feed on blood, which they need to feed their eggs. Adults live on pets and can jump, run and hide among pet hairs. Their bites make your pet itch and scratch.
You can sometimes spot adult fleas on pets on their back, near the base of the tail. To check for fleas, gently push the hair up on this area and look for moving, pepper-like black dots. If the dots are moving or jumping, you’re seeing adult fleas. If a shower of pepper “flakes” fall from your pet, he may have fleas and you’re just seeing droppings or dead adults fall to the ground.
Female fleas leave their eggs on your pet, but most eggs drop to the floors, bedding and carpet in your home. There they remain for several days until they hatch into larvae. Larvae munch on dirt, hair and skin cells for about 12 to 15 days before pupating and eventually growing into adults who start the cycle all over again.
Cat fleas don’t infect people. You can, however, get bitten by fleas if your home has a severe infestation. Often adult fleas hide among carpet fibers, so if you like walking around your home barefoot, you may see tiny bites on your feet or ankles as the fleas grab a quick bite to eat. They generally don’t like human blood, however, and prefer your pets.
Rid Your Pet of Fleas
Fleas enter your home on your pets, so the first step is to get rid of the fleas living on your dog or cat. A good flea killer is diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is a powder containing the ground-up skeletons of tiny prehistoric creatures. These fossilized creatures, when ground into a fine powder, cut into the exoskeletons of insects like fleas. Humans feel only a powder, while fleas are killed when they come into contact with diatomaceous earth.
Diatomaceous Earth Uses
To use food grade diatomaceous earth for fleas on your dog or cat, you can:
- Sprinkle some of the powder on your hands. Rub it gently into your pet’s fur, making sure it gets into contact with his skin. Pay special attention to the back and area near the tail where fleas tend to congregate.
- Pour it into a clean shaker, like a salt shaker or powdered sugar shaker, and shake it on your pet’s fur and their bedding.
A flea comb is also useful to remove eggs. These special combs pick up the eggs on the tines. You just comb it through your pet’s fur. Dip the comb into a bowl of soapy water to remove and kill any eggs as you comb your pet’s fur.
Once your pet has been treated for fleas, it’s important to keep them from returning. Fleas live among brush, leaves and twigs around your home. They’re carried by wild animals, who deposit fleas in the yard. If your pets go outside, you may wish to consider preventative flea treatments such as flea collars or medication available from your pet’s veterinarian. Keeping your yard clean and free of debris, as well as using diatomaceous earth around the garden, may help limit or reduce your pet’s chances of picking up fleas.
If you bring your dog to a dog park or dog daycare, prevent him from rough housing with other dogs. This is another way that dogs transmit fleas to one another. Ask dog daycare centers and play centers how they prevent flea transmission inside the play yards.
Take Action! How to Kill Fleas in the House
The entire lifecycle of the flea takes about a month. If you don’t kill fleas at every stage of the lifecycle, some of the survivors will simply multiply and cause a new infestation. Keep this in mind as you follow this action plan to kill fleas in the house.
After treating your pets for fleas, it’s time to battle them inside your home. You may need to repeat this treatment as necessary at one week intervals for up to six weeks until all signs of fleas are gone.
Treat Cloth Items
Fleas love to hide inside cloth, whether it’s your drapes, your pet’s bed or your own bed if you let your pet sleep there. You’ll need to kill adults, pupae, larva and eggs using hot water, soap and/or bleach.
- Wash your pet’s bedding and any machine-washable bedding, blankets, drapes and comforters in hot, soapy water. Use the hottest temperature setting on your machine that your items can withstand without shrinking.
- You may need to wash your clothing, too.
- For clothing, bedding and household items that are bleach-safe, add diluted laundry bleach to the load. For items that cannot be bleached, use detergent with antimicrobial action.
- Tumble dry all items that can be dried by machine.
Vacuum up Survivors
The vacuum cleaner is your best weapon in the battle against fleas.
- Use the upholstery attachment if you have one and vacuum all of the upholstered furniture in your home. Don’t forget to take out the cushions and vacuum all of the cracks, crevices and corners, inside and outside, top and bottom, for all your cloth-covered furniture.
- If your home has rugs, you may also need to vacuum the rugs. Shampooing rugs helps, as does using simple table salt sprinkled on rugs. Don’t leave salt on the rug for very long and test a small spot first. Vacuum it up right away.
- Salt and boric acid powder can also be used together to kill fleas in rugs. Be sure to test a spot on your rug with this mixture. Sprinkle a bit under the couch or in an unobtrusive spot first to make sure it doesn’t stain your carpets. Vacuum it up.
- Vacuum hardwood floors and mop them with a pine-based disinfectant cleaner.
When you’re finished vacuuming, remove the vacuum cleaner bag and seal it inside a plastic bag. Throw the entire thing into the trash so that the fleas can’t return.
There are several flea repellents you can use around your home. Essential oils such as eucalyptus, lemon grass, cedar and lavender, mixed with apple cider vinegar or water, can be sprayed around your living area to keep fleas away. Do not use this mixture on your pets and test any surfaces before spraying.
Another great flea killer is a flea trap. Flea traps attract fleas and use glue-covered disks or papers to hold them in place. You simply pick up the trap and throw the entire thing away, fleas and all. It’s simple and easy way to kill fleas without using chemicals or pesticides inside your home.
Add a Dehumidifier to Your Home
Fleas need at least 50 percent humidity to survive. One method to kill fleas naturally is to use dehumidifiers to remove moisture from the area. If you can keep the average room humidity down around 50 percent for at least two days or more, you’ll kill most of the adults, pupa and larva. It will also prevent the eggs from hatching, although they will still be around the house. You will need to vacuum, mop or clean as suggested above to get rid of the eggs.
Fleas are tenacious critters, and no matter how hard you scrub, you may miss a few. It’s a good idea to repeat your cleaning regimen at least once, if not twice, after you first try to get rid of fleas in the house. Flea traps placed around your home can help you monitor flea levels. Once they’re empty for a month or more, you know you’ve managed to kill all the fleas.
Natural Remedies That Do NOT Work
There are a lot of natural remedies that work, but some don’t work at all. The University of Florida states that brewer’s yeast, vitamin B and garlic — all popular folk remedies against fleas — do not work at all. Ultrasonic flea collars that claim to use sound waves against fleas don’t work either. Stick with known natural products and remedies, and use what works safely around your home.
An ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure. Today’s Homeowner suggests mixing three to four drops of either cedar or lavender essential oil to one or two tablespoons of water. Mix it well, then place five to 10 drops of this mixture on your pet’s bandana or cloth collar to keep fleas at bay.
Outside your home, get rid of any areas that harbor fleas. Fleas love shady, moist spots, so raking up garden leaves and throwing away dead plants can help. Cedar repels fleas, so adding cedar chips or mulch around your plants may keep fleas away.
Consider keeping cats as indoor-only pets. Not only will this prevent your cat from bringing fleas into your home, but it may also help her live longer. Cats who are indoor-only cats can live to be 17 years or older, while outdoor-only cats live on average two to five years. Indoor life is fine for felines and prevents them from picking up fleas, feline leukemia and infections from fights with wildlife. Think about keeping your cat indoors if fleas are a big concern in your area.
Flea Repellent Products
Making your own home remedies is great, but sometimes you need more help. Safer® Brand products offer homeowners and pet lovers some great alternatives to other conventional flea control products.
Victor® The Ultimate Flea Trap™ offers a convenient trap to catch those pesky fleas. It’s a clean, simple way to catch fleas and dispose of them without mess, smell or harmful chemicals. Glue discs inside the trap capture fleas, which then die and can be easily thrown out in the trash.
If you’re looking for a good source of diatomaceous earth, Victor® Insectigone Flea Killer 7oz. can be used indoors. It comes in a “puffer” bottle to puff it out into cracks and crevices within your home to kill fleas within 48 hours. Not only does it cut into their exoskeletons, but it also dries them out by reducing the humidity levels around the areas where it’s applied.
For those who wish to use diatomaceous earth in the garden as well as in the home, Safer® Brand Diatomaceous Earth – Bed Bug, Ant, Crawling Insect Killer 4 lb offers a larger bag so that you have plenty to use against all types of insects. This OMRI Listed® product is compliant for use in organic production and can be used around vegetable plants and wildlife.
Fleas are unpleasant, and finding fleas on your beloved pet or inside your home is upsetting. Fortunately, with a lot of elbow grease, some flea treatments and repellents and Safer® Brand products, you can kill fleas naturally.