All adult fleas are parasites of warm-blooded animals and birds. They are flat from side to side and have a long pair of hind legs, which are well adapted for jumping. The most common flea in the U.K. is the cat flea but they can also live on dogs, humans, etc. Their mouthparts are adapted for piercing and sucking. They are not known to spread disease, but can cause a painful bite. Because of the life cycle of the flea, controlling them is a long and difficult process. Fleas can only reproduce after having a feed of blood from their specific host.
The female flea can lay as many 800-1,000 eggs in her one year lifecycle. The eggs develop into larvae in about 5 days. After 3 weeks the larvae spin a silk cocoon in which to develop into the adult. After about 2 weeks in the cocoon the adult is now ready to leave but can only do so if a suitable host is available, if no host is available the adult flea can stay in the cocoon for up to one year. The whole process from egg to adult takes about 4 – 6 weeks. Once the adults have emerged from the cocoon they normally live for 2 – 4 months if feeding regularly. Adult fleas can survive for over a year at lower temperatures.
The adults are about 2 – 3 mm long; brown to red in colour and with a tough outer shell that makes them difficult to kill by squeezing. The adults spend some of their time on the host, but most of their time is spent in the host's bedding or regular resting-place from where they can climb or hop onto the host when they require feeding.
Why you might have fleas in your home
There are various reasons for having fleas in your home:
Animals in the home (cats, dogs, birds)
Carrying them in from another source i.e. visiting other places that might have fleas
Inheriting a flea problem. This could be the case when moving into another home or purchasing second hand furniture direct from another household
Evidence to look for
Flea movement in your pets bedding or on your pets. You will probably first become alerted to the fact that your pet may have fleas by his or her constant scratching. Your suspicion can then be confirmed either by seeing fleas or flea droppings in the coat. Flea droppings are small black specks mainly composed of dried blood, and they are usually seen in clusters lying next to the skin. They are easy to spot in light coloured animals by brushing back the hair. In dark coated breeds it may be better to comb the animal over a sheet of paper onto which any flea droppings will then fall. The identity of the black specks may be confirmed by adding a few drops of water - if they turn red, your pet has fleas.
Bites on you or family members In humans flea bites can produce an allergic reaction. The typical symptoms of a flea bite is a small red spot 5mm or so in diameter. In sensitive individuals, however, the response can be worse and the bite intensely itchy.
If you have fleas it is recommended that you have the problem dealt with professionally by a pest control operative.
Guide to Treatment
The following is a guide to what you can do before, during and after the treatment takes place:
Have your pet treated by a vet. Never treat your pet with any product not specifically labelled and cleared for such use.
Groom your pet outdoors. Fleas will fall off while pets are being groomed.
Hoover the entire house including the furniture. Throw out the hoover bag.
Wash the pet's bedding in a hot wash using a mild detergent.
Clear as much floor space as possible (not the furniture).
Cover any aquariums or fish tanks
Be out of the house for 2-3 hours after treatment to allow sprays to dry.
Do not hoover for at least 7 days.
Be prepared to see fleas for some weeks after the treatment as the insecticide will kill only the larvae and adult fleas. The insecticides do not affect flea eggs and pupae, but they will last for 6-8 weeks, giving enough protection so that when the eggs /pupae develop into adults, there is insecticide down to kill them.
If you require the service of the Pest Control Officer there may be a charge.