There are over 2500 species of fleas, most of which exclusively live, breed and die on their host mammal or bird and cannot survive away from it.
In the UK, the fleas that are of most concern to us are cat fleas and dog fleas, which can cause irritating bites, allergic reactions and can spread a number of bacterial and viral diseases as well as parasites such as tapeworms.
While fleas can live on humans, they’re much more likely to be found on our pets. Flea related diseases cause severe discomfort for our furry friends and can leave owners with expensive vet bills for treatment.
Just be thankful we don’t have jigger fleas (also known as sand fleas), a microscopic flea which burrows under the skin! Just be careful if you’re in Africa or South or Central America.
In this a blog I’ll share with you how to tell if you have a flea infestation, along with other common questions about fleas.
Thanks to their flat bodies, instinct to burrow into fur and their microscopic eggs and larvae, most people only notice they have a flea infestation once they start seeing symptoms on themselves or their pets.
For pets, a flea infestation is first spotted through regular scratching, which can lead to hair loss and skin irritation. Many pets are allergic to flea bites, in which case their skin well become flakey, enflamed and may even bleed.
On people, flea bites usually cause tiny red bumps that are in lines or clustered together. You may also develop a rash if you are allergic. While flying insects bite exposed skin, fleas will attack skin that is concealed or covered by clothing. Common bite sites are your armpits, groin and the inner side of elbows and knees.
The other thing to look for is “flea dirt” which is, disgustingly, dried blood that has been excreted by fleas. At a glance, this looks like ordinary dirt but will turn red when placed on a wet paper towel.
You should regularly use a flea comb on your pets to check for adult fleas or their excrement.
If flea infestations keep coming back and flea treatment has become a normal part of your pet care routine, then there’s a very high chance you have an established flea infestation in your home. Treating your pets alone doesn’t get rid of the infestation, it just buys you time until the adults are biting again.
You simply may not be noticing fleas because you are treating the adults, which are the only part of the lifecycle which can easily be seen with the naked eye, and the only stage which does the biting.
Only around 5% of the flea population is comprised of adults. If you only treat your pets, it is guaranteed that there are still flea eggs, larvae and pupae elsewhere in the environment, especially in your clothes and soft furnishings.
Flea eggs are so small that they can easily be mistaken for general household dirt; flea larvae are only 1-2mm long and hide from the light; flea pupae have cocoons with a sticky surface which becomes covered in hair and dust, forming the perfect camouflage.
When we treat a home or business for fleas, we assume the entire building is infested. This is the safest way to approach flea extermination, as it only takes a tiny population of fleas to grow into a fresh infestation.
There are a number of misconceptions about cat and dog fleas.
First of all, you can’t tell the difference between cat and dog fleas with the naked eye, at any stage of their lifecycle. People often think that dog fleas are the bigger of the two, but the differences can only be spotted with a magnifying glass.
The second myth is that cat fleas and dog fleas only live on their respective hosts, but both are capable of completing their lifecycle on either animal. However, of the two, it is the cat flea which is more likely to hop species. In fact, if your dog has fleas, it’s more likely that they are cat fleas than dog fleas.
But unless you’re an entomologist, it’s not worth knowing whether you have a dog flea infestation or a cat flea infestation as their lifecycle and the methods of prevention and extermination are identical across both species.
Mice, rats and squirrels all carry fleas, but they are host-specific species that cannot breed away from their host and will only bite people or pets if no other food source is available.
Rat fleas are known to bite humans, which is how the bubonic plague has spread throughout history, but this isn’t worth worrying about in modern housing conditions.
The concern with rodent infestations is not their own fleas, but cat fleas. Cat fleas can not only feed but live and breed on a wide variety of host animals, including humans, which is how they have become a worldwide pest.
There’s always a risk that a rodent infestation will result in a secondary cat flea infestation, especially if the rodents have become established in your home or business, or if you own a cat that regularly brings mice inside the property.
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