How To Get Rid of Fleas (Complete Flea Removal Guide)
The bane of every pet owner's existence is an insect so small, you have to strain your eyes to see it.
Fleas are everywhere, and it's almost inevitable that your dog or cat will pick up a few in their lifetime, regardless of how often you bathe your pet or clean your house.
But why is that?
Where do fleas come from, and how do they get in your pets' fur?
And better yet, when you find fleas in the house how do you kill them?
You've got questions, and we've got answers.
Keep on reading for our definitive guide on how to get rid of fleas and banish those bloodsuckers from your pet, your house, and your life.
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The Flea Life Cycle
In order to understand where a flea comes from, it's crucial to know the life cycle of the flea.
Armed with this knowledge, you'll be prepared to eradicate fleas in all stages of life, as well as work to prevent new infestations.
Below is a great diagram curtesy of the Center for Disease control, which shows you the lifecycle of a flea.
It All Begins With a Bite
Which came first--the flea or the egg?
A little-known fact: female fleas can only lay eggs after they've had their first blood meal. Adult fleas hop onto a host (otherwise known as your dog or cat), and take a bite from the skin, collecting blood.
Once they have gotten nice and full from your pet's blood, the female fleas begin to lay eggs, which can either remain in the fur or (much more likely), fall off and lodge somewhere in your home.
Then Comes The Buried Eggs
Think about every time your dog shakes its coat, and imagine all the miniature eggs that can fall right into the hidden fibers of the carpets, or into the nooks of the couch cushions.
These are optimal nesting places for eggs, and the primary method that fleas get inside a home.
Next Is The Larval/Cocoon Stage (this is a tricky stage)
The eggs that are dropped into the carpet will lay dormant for a few days, and then hatch within a dark and cozy space.
What emerges from the eggs are called larvae: small blind blobs that are the beginnings of future fleas. The larvae feed on pre-digested blood packs from the mother flea and focus on growing into adult fleas.
These larvae will remain in the dark spaces where their eggs landed, and will wrap themselves in a webbing called a cocoon. This is where the rest of their development will take place; their metabolisms slow to a point where feeding is unnecessary.
Don't forget to vacuum!
Even before you get a flea infestation, you should actively be keeping a clean, well vacuumed home. If you still get infested, vacuuming becomes doubly important due to the fact that the "pre-adult" fleas that are wrapped in a cocoon are immune to most flea killing products. These "pre-adult" fleas will wait around for up to 6 months before dying as they wait for a nearby host.
Jumping to a Host
After the fleas develop fully within the cocoon, they are able to sense thermal changes in the environment around them.
This means that when your dog or cat comes into the vicinity, these fully-formed adult fleas actually note the changes in the energy of the area, and break out of the cocoon.
Once the fleas emerge from the cocoon, the race is on to take their first blood meal. Fleas can't survive very long without a host, so it's imperative that they hop with a sense of urgency onto whatever animal has just come their way.
The fleas literally leap into the fur of your dog or cat, and remain there for the duration of their lifetime.
After chomping down on your pet's skin and filling up with blood, female fleas begin the life cycle all over again.
A Note About Flying Fleas
It's important to note also, that fleas can't fly. Their hind legs are the force that gives them the ability to jump onto your pet, which makes it LOOK like they can fly (but actually can't).
Home Remedies to Get Rid of Fleas
So fleas got into your house...
...how do you get rid of them?
Better yet, how do you get rid of them with the stuff you already have in your house?
With such a popular DIY culture present in this day and age, it's no surprise that most people will want to more naturally way to get rid of fleas rather than spreading chemicals all over.
Whether they're eggs embedded in your carpet fibers or fully-grown parasites on your cat or dog what are your options?
Bet you didn't know that rosemary had uses beyond the kitchen! This herb repels fleas with its strong scent and antiseptic features. For fleas on dogs, try this super-simple rosemary bath:
- Boil around one liter of water with about 5 sprigs of fresh rosemary leaves
- Once the mixture has been boiling for about 5 minutes, let it cool to room temperature
- Strain the mixture. Save the water, and throw out the leaves.
- Transfer the water to a sealable bottle and refrigerate overnight.
- After bathing your dog, pour this rosemary water over the fur and let it dry naturally, without rinsing afterward.
Here's quick video to show you what we mean...
Warning: DO NOT use this solution for cats. This herb can upset your cat's stomach, or cause a volatile reaction.
Herbal Mixture Spray
If you want to take herbal remedies to the next level, you can mix your own spray. Natural remedies like vinegar, lemon juice, and witch hazel have high acidity, which can act as a repellent to these parasites.
How to do it?
- First, buy hazel, vinegar, and some lemon juice if you don't already have these ingredients.
- Then mix each in equal parts
- Deposit the contents into a spray bottle
- Last, spray this solution throughout your home, especially in areas like carpets, laundry, closets, and sofas.
Vacuuming With Baking Soda or Salt
There's really no better way to grab fleas from the depths of your carpet than to suck them up with pure airpower.
The vacuum will be your best friend while you're on your mission to eradicate fleas from your home, and while you're at it, consider these other secret weapons: salt and baking soda.
Both of these substances act to dehydrate fleas in either the egg or the cocoon stage. By brushing fine granules of either baking soda or salt into your carpets, you're increasing your success rate of eliminating all the fleas hiding out in places you can't see within your home.
Here's something you might not know about fleas: they can't sink or swim!
This is because of their sheer lightness; their bodies don't weigh enough to break the surface tension of the water. This means that fleas are perpetually suspended in water, unable to jump out and onto a host to feed.
If trapped in water, fleas will eventually just die on their own.
However, to expedite the process, you can add a few drops of dish soap to a homemade flea trap. This will act as glue and get rid of fleas that hop into the trap.
How to make it?
- First, take a saucer or a small plate
- Fill a small amount of water in the basin section
- Add a few droplets of dish soap and stir it around
- Place a tea light candle in the middle of the thin layer of soapy water
The fire from the candle will provide the thermal energy that larvae must sense in order to emerge from the cocoon. Place a few of these homemade traps around your home and watch the fleas congregate!
WARNING: These flea traps must be guarded, as the open flame can be harmful to roaming pets and babies/small kids.
How to Get Rid of Fleas on Your Pet
Okay, so you understand how to get rid of fleas in and around your home, but what about fleas that are on your pet (the source of most of the problem)?
If your pet trails fleas in from outside, and the fleas constantly reproduce, isn't there a way to protect your pet from attracting fleas in the first place?
There's not just one way, there's several.
Check out some of the most popular methods down below.
Flea-Killing Drops and Serums
When most people realize that their dog or cat has picked up fleas, their minds immediately drift to one of the top names in the flea drop business, such as K9 Advantix 2 or Frontline Plus. While these two certainly aren't the only products on the market, they are the name-brand products which vets normally recommend.
How do they (and the other flea serums like them) work? It's simple.
- Once per month, the owner of the pet must part the hairs along their animal's back, exposing the skin of the spine
- The serum is stored in a pipette and dribbled along the exposed skin, where it then spreads along the entire body of the animal
- The active ingredient will work to kill fleas and keep them away for 30 days
- This process should be repeated each month to prevent new fleas from infesting the animal
This method of getting rid of the fleas on dogs and cats is a little less invasive, and generally has a longer efficacy than flea drops.
The active ingredients are often the same, but the delivery is different: instead of a concentrated burst of flea poison over a month's time, the collars work to disburse the active ingredient in intervals over the course of several months.
Many dog and cat owners will put a collar on their pets anyway with identification and contact information, so the idea of a collar that will prevent fleas is convenient to many users.
Also, this is a pretty cost-effective option when compared with other flea-killing methods, when you take into account the price upfront as well as the long usage span of the collar.
If you've noticed a recent outbreak of fleas all over your poor dog or cat, you can invest in some pills that will zap them out fast.
These pills are designed to act sort of like guerrilla warfare in a pet's bloodstream; spreading through and poisoning fleas with every bite they take. These pills are incredibly fast-acting, as most begin working in a matter of half an hour.
However, pills like these are NOT made to act as a preventative measure for fleas, and should be used in conjunction with another type of flea repellent or killer. The point of these pills is really to give your pet some rapid relief from the pain of a huge flea infestation.
So, you've got to give your pet a bath anyway. Why not kill two birds (or rather, fleas) with one stone and use a shampoo that's targeted toward flea elimination?
These shampoos not only disinfect your pet and wash away the grime, but they also work to kill fleas on contact.
These types of shampoos, however, are like the flea-killing pills: they work to stamp out a multitude of painful fleas on your pet, but they don't do much in the way of preventing new colonies from infesting.
Nematodes for Fleas
While this may sound like a solution straight from a science-fiction book, hear us out! Nematodes are an often-overlooked way to nip those fleas right in the bud. Below is a quick excerpt on them. If you're looking for a full guide on nematodes for fleas click here!
What the Heck is a Nematode?
This underrated species is a microscopic roundworm found naturally in soils all over the world. Simply put, nematodes are parasites for parasites. They are naturally-occurring macro-organisms which target fleas in particular.
How Do Nematodes Work?
These roundworms are naturally drawn towards fleas, which means that they will slither through the soil in search of a flea to take as a host. Once fleas are found, the nematodes will simply be absorbed by the host, and begin to feed from the inside-out. The nematode kills fleas this way, and then survives on the body.
Won't This Contribute to My Parasite Problem?!
The beautiful answer is: no. Nematodes will continue to drift in soil and on surfaces in homes until they cannot find anymore fleas to take as hosts. After a period of time with no feeding (for example: when they've successfully eradicated the fleas from your home), nematodes will die and their bodies will swiftly biodegrade. It's as if they simply vanish into thin air.
The Bottom Line
Fleas happen to almost everyone with a pet.
Sometimes, you can even get fleas in your carpet without even having pet!
Whatever your situation, the best way to handle it is to be prepared and take back your home with a multi-pronged approach. See below for a quick recap:
- First identify the source of the fleas whether it be your pet's bedding or somewhere else in your home.
- Vacuum the area and clean everything thoroughly
- Apply treatments to your home's surrounding area in case your fleas were harboring in outdoor locations
- Treat your pet with a shampoo, collar, pills, or a home remedy to give them relief
- Repeat the process and continue keeping your home clean to prevent and re-infestations
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Other Flea Guides
Curious about other flea related articles? Check out our other detailed guides to help you deal with your pest problems.