You don’t have to be a pet owner to find yourself wondering how to get rid of fleas naturally. These blood-sucking parasites aren’t picky: they’ll hitch a ride on humans as well as pets.
If you’ve had a mouse problem, it’s not unheard of to find yourself facing a flea infestation after finally figuring out how to get rid of mice.
Do You Have Fleas in Your Home?
You can get fleas in your home even if you don’t own pets. Surprised? Many people are, especially after suffering through itchy nights and unexplained rashes.
What Do Fleas Look Like?
Fleas are wingless parasitic insects that are a few millimeters long. (2-3 mm) Their colors range from reddish to dark brown. They have flat bodies with six legs. Their flat bodies enable them to move more easily through animal hair (and carpet fibers).
Flea legs feature tiny hairs on their legs that help them hang onto their hosts. Their back legs are longer and stronger, which enables them to jump surprisingly long distances in search of hosts.
What Do Flea Eggs Look Like?
Fleas are tiny and their eggs are even smaller — they’re less than 0.5 mm in size! When first laid, flea eggs are transparent though shortly before hatching they become white. To many people, they look like grains of sugar or salt. This tiny size makes them very difficult to see.
Flea eggs shouldn’t be confused with “flea dirt” — those patches of black, dusty looking matter you may see in your pet’s fur. Plainly put, those clumps are flea poop — the digested remnants of blood that makes up the flea’s diet.
What Do Flea Bites Look Like?
On dogs and cats, flea bites look like tiny red bumps, often surrounded by the “flea dirt” described above. One of the first indications your pet has fleas is, of course, scratching. Although fleas often hitch a ride by jumping onto your pet’s legs, they typically travel to the fur on their stomach or around their ears — places where they’re less likely to be disturbed.
On humans, flea bites are typically raised, red dots with a paler halo. Bites often appear in lines — a sign the flea has been feasting as it travels on your skin. Most often, flea bites appear on feet, ankles and legs as fleas jump from the ground or carpet onto their human host. For hairier individuals, though, they can show up anywhere.
How Long Do Fleas Live?
Fleas go through four stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. This cycle typically lasts 60-90 days, but fleas can go dormant and live without blood for as long as three months.
Understanding the flea life cycle makes it clear why efforts to get rid of fleas in your home needs to be an ongoing effort once you’ve found them.
The Flea Life Cycle
Flea eggs are laid by adult females after eating, and can take two days to two weeks to hatch. Warmer, more humid conditions make this cycle much faster. That’s why fleas appear more often in the summer, though they’re really a year-round problem.
When the flea eggs hatch, they become larvae. Around one-third of the fleas in a home are in the larval stage, meaning they’re preparing to spin cocoons and become pupae.
When a flea larva spins a cocoon, it becomes a pupa. Pupae survive in their cocoon for several months while it waits for optimal conditions (75-80° F temperatures) to emerge. These cocoons are made of sticky strands which hold onto carpet and fabric fibers that even light vacuuming doesn’t dislodge.
Adult fleas emerge from pupal cocoons and feed on a host’s blood then begin breeding and laying eggs within a couple of days. A single adult female flea lays around 40 eggs per day and lives up to a couple of months. In other words, that female flea can lay a couple of thousand eggs in her life and the females of those, in turn, can lay thousands more.
Fleas Can Cause Health Problems
Fleas aren’t just a nuisance that causes extreme itching and discomfort for you and your pets. They can also pose serious health risks.
People with compromised immune systems due to cancer, HIV, certain medications, or pregnant women and infants, are highly susceptible to such complications.
Flea Bite Allergies
For some pets and humans, there’s also a risk of flea allergy dermatitis. In pets, this can lead to “hotspots” and hair loss from incessant scratching. It can also lead to other health complications.
Even without an allergic reaction, flea bites increase the risk of secondary bacterial skin infections from scratching. These infections require medical treatment to avoid sepsis (blood poisoning).
Fleas are more than just an irritant: they can carry some serious diseases, too.
- Bubonic Plague — yes, THAT one. Although rare, this disease spreads when fleas bite an infected wild animal. Once your pet comes indoors, those fleas will look to other residents in the home as blood sources. The result is an infection which causes large sores and abscesses. As the bacteria multiply in the host’s lymph glands, the disease spreads elsewhere in the body, leading to organ failure and eventual death.
- Cat-Scratch Disease is a bacterial infection caused by Bartonella henselae, which is transmitted between cats by fleas. If one neighborhood cat has it, other unprotected indoor/outdoor cats in the area will get it, too. Then they go indoors where their fleas infect people.
- Typhus is transmitted by fleas, too. This potentially fatal disease can also cause hepatitis, gastrointestinal bleeding, and a decrease in blood volume. Although most infants and children receive vaccinations to protect them from typhus, many do not get the recommended booster shots and lose their protection.
- Flea Tapeworm is transmitted when children accidentally come in contact with an infected flea or ingest one.
In other words, those tiny little fleas are big deals. Still, with attention to detail and some hard work on your part, you CAN get rid of fleas naturally.
How to Get Rid of Fleas in Your Home
1. Isolate Your Pet to Start
Bathing your pet before performing the following steps won’t solve the problem — indoor fleas will jump right back on. Put your pet in a crate or bathroom while you work, or plan on bathing it both before and after the first five steps below.
You can let your pet out after Step 4, of course, but might want to put them away while you spray the Natural Flea Killer Spray daily.
2. Wash Your Pet’s Bedding
Launder pet beds, toys, and blankets using your machine’s hottest, longest setting. Add 2 cups of white vinegar with your preferred detergent. Do not use fabric softener, which can help flea eggs cling to fibers. Use the dryer’s hottest setting. Do not air-dry indoors or fleas may just jump back on it.
If you can’t machine wash and dry your pet’s bedding or toy, it needs to be thrown out. Otherwise, flea larvae and eggs living in the stuffing will reinfest your home.
3. Clean Your Bedding and Mattress, Too
Even if Fido or Fluffy don’t sleep on your bed, it’s possible fleas have hitched a ride on you and are now settling into your bedding.
- Strip your bed and wash your mattress pad, sheets, pillowcases, and bed cover in the hottest setting allowed on the manufacturer’s label.
- While your bed is bare, give your mattress a deep-cleaning.
- You should also wash your pillows, including any decorative ones.
4. Vacuum All Floors and Upholstery
Light or improper vacuuming won’t separate the flea larvae in their sticky cocoons from carpet fibers. So, before you start, review how to vacuum properly. Also, plan to move furniture so you can clean all sides of it as well as the floor beneath it.
Vacuuming to kill fleas is even more effective if you first sprinkle soft furnishings and carpets with diatomaceous earth (DE) then wait at least 8 hours, and overnight if possible. DE works by dehydrating flea eggs, larvae, and pupae and cuts through adult flea exoskeletons before drying them, so the fleas come right up.
Either way, clean your vacuum afterward thoroughly.
5. Spray Daily for Three Weeks
The Natural Flea Killer Spray below combines salt to dehydrate any remaining flea larvae or pupae, vinegar to kill any remaining adults and eggs, and essential oils that control and deter fleas. The oils also counteract the vinegar smell, for those of you who dislike it.
Use this liberally on soft surfaces throughout your home for three weeks. Do not use it on fabrics like silk, suede, or other materials that might be damaged by water. If in doubt, spot test fabric in an inconspicuous area to find out if it’s water-safe.
Natural Flea Killer Spray
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 cup table salt
- 5 drops each rosemary, peppermint, and eucalyptus essential oils
- Combine the water, vinegar, and salt in a large bowl. Stir until the salt dissolves.
- Transfer the mixture to a spray bottle, add the oils and shake well.
- Spray carpets, sofas, pet bedding, and soft surfaces daily for three weeks, shaking well each time before use.
- Store any unused Natural Flea Killer Spray in a dark, cool spot.
How to Get Rid of Fleas On Your Pet
In addition to getting rid of fleas in your home, you also need to get rid of fleas on your pet. Treat your dog or cat for fleas before releasing it from isolation but after you’ve completed Steps 1 through 4 above.
1. Comb Well
A fine-toothed flea comb helps remove most fleas and their eggs. Do this in the bathroom over a sheet, repeatedly dipping the comb in a bowl of water to dislodge fleas and their eggs.
Put the sheet into a plastic trash bag before you release your pet into the rest of your home. Immediately carry the plastic bag to your laundry room and dump its contents into your washing machine. Right away, launder the sheet using hot water then run it through the dryer for at least 40 minutes when you’ve finished.
2. Bathe Your Pet
Give your pet a bath with your preferred pet shampoo, then soak their hair well with the Pet Flea Control Rinse below. Let this dry in your pet’s hair — the oils used are safe for both dogs and cats and will continue to repel fleas for several days.
Pet Flea Control Rinse
- 3 cups of water
- 5 drops each rosemary, peppermint, and eucalyptus essential oils
- Combine all ingredients in a pitcher and pour it over your pet. Use your fingers to work the liquid into the hair.
- Don’t rinse this scented water — the oils are nontoxic for both dogs and cats, but their scent will repel fleas.
You can also use this mixture as a flea spray between baths to continue providing protection. Reapply lightly every 2 days.
3. Use an Ongoing Flea Treatment
If your pet has flea allergies or you live in an area with mild winters, you should consult your veterinarian about prescription flea treatments. There are a number of flea medications that last for an entire month and which also repel ticks, too. Be careful about combining over-the-counter flea and tick medications, though!
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