An outbreak of fleas inside your home can be an unsettling experience. Typically, flea infestations occur in areas routinely occupied by pets such as cats or dogs. But that isn't necessarily always the case. It is not uncommon for fleas to be introduced on wildlife animals such as raccoons or possums, nesting in or near a structure. If you are experiencing fleas inside your home without any pets, it is likely that either the previous occupants (if you moved in within the last year) had pets, or there are flea-transporting animals in, near, or below the foundation of your home.
Because the visible population of live, adult fleas makes up only a very small percentage of the overall flea population (generally 5-10%), any effective flea treatment approach relies on two components: 1. an adulticide designed to quickly kill adult fleas in the area at the time of application; 2. an insect growth regulator (IGR) designed to prevent the flea larvae from emerging into adult fleas. Professor Pest's Flea Control Guide provides additional insights into the importance of insect growth regulators in flea control applications.
In instances where an indoor/outdoor pet is present, or where there is no pet at all, flea treatment efforts should include both the interior and exterior environments. If a pet remains exclusively indoors, flea treatment efforts may be limited to just the indoor environment. To simplify the indoor flea treatment approach, aerosol products such as Precor 2000 Plus or Pivot Ultraare ready-to-use products combining and adulticide and insect growth regulator in one can.
What Do Fleas Look Like?
Fleas are small, narrow, wingless, dark brown or reddish insects less than 1/4 inch long. They have many tiny hairs along their bodies, along with a needle-like proboscis used for piercing skin and sucking blood. Their large hind legs make them uniquely suited for jumping high distances, up to 200 times their body length, making them one of the most prolific jumpers in the universe. The complete metamorphosis life cycle of fleas takes them from egg, to larvae, to pupae, and eventually to adult. Although adult fleas feed on the blood of hosts, the larval stages of fleas feed only on organic matter such as skin or hair.
Adult fleas are readily visible to the unaided eye, but often spend most of their time at or near the surface of the skin of their hosts. Close examination of infected dogs or cats beneath their fur coat may be needed to identify an active population fleas.
Are fleas dangerous?
Fleas have been directly associated with many diseases over the years, including the bubonic plague. In addition to posing many health hazards to humans, fleas also create risks such as tape worms for pets. Most infestations of fleas are easily rectifiable by following a defined flea control program and do not get to the point of becoming hazardous. If left untreated, however, flea problems can become quite advanced and great serious health concerns.
Although fleas can sometimes give the appearance of being able to fly due to their ability to jump rather high, fleas do not have wings and are thus incapable of flight. If you are noticing insects flying around, rest assured those are not fleas.
How did fleas get into your home?
In most instances, fleas are introduced into an indoor environment on a host animal, usually the pet that lives there. Your pet may have brought fleas in from your yard, a recent walk, a trip to a vet or a kennel, or any number of places. Sometimes, a visiting pet may also bring fleas into your home and leave some behind when they leave.
In some instances, fleas may also be introduced into a home on infested wildlife such as rats, possums, or raccoons that work their way into, above, or beneath the home. Rodent or raccoons living in a crawl space beneath a home might enable fleas to work their way into the living space above, and those in an attic space might enable fleas to work their way down. Because of this, it is possible to have an outbreak of fleas even if you don't have any pets. If you recent moved into your home and are noticing fleas, it is possible that the previous occupants had a flea infestation that went untreated.
Will fleas go away on their own?
Almost certainly not anytime soon. As long as fleas have a host to perpetuate their life cycle the flea populations are likely to flourish. Treating the flea infestation with a flea adulticide and a flea larvicide is the most effective way of getting rid of a flea problem.