Fleas are small pests that live on the blood of their hosts. They often infest pets, which they bite for blood, causing discomfort and irritation. Worse still, fleas can become a pest in your own home if you don’t take the right measures.
Even if you don’t have pets, fleas can be a problem. Gardens with tall grass, other people’s pets, storage areas and hardwood floors can all be places where fleas are waiting for their next victim.
As with many other problems, prevention is far better than having to deal with a flea infestation at home. As you can imagine, it is easier to cure an incipient flea infestation than to get rid of one that is already well established.
In this article we’ll show you how to identify the signs that you have fleas at home. By knowing where fleas live and locating areas of infestation, you can make sure you apply the right treatments by concentrating on the right areas.
How do you spot a flea?
Fleas are tiny. Seriously, they’re really tiny and, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, they can easily go unnoticed. Generally, the most common way to spot fleas is when they crawl on the fur of a dog or cat that has a white coat.
Fleas are yellow, red or dark brown in colour and have an oval shape that is clearly visible on even, light-coloured backgrounds. But be careful, as they only grow to a maximum of 3 mm in length. And that is when they are adults.
When they have eaten (or rather drunk), their body volume may increase a little, making them easier to distinguish. But spotting them on a dark carpet, or among the weeds in a garden is really hard to do.
Where do fleas hide?
Fleas need warm, moist environments, and you’re most likely to find them in the places where their hosts spend the most time. If your pet has fleas, that means the place where it sleeps or lies down are likely to be hiding places for flea eggs, larvae and pupae.
You can also find fleas in dark, damp places, such as garden soil, and in carpet fibres, under furniture and beds. That’s why it’s so important to vacuum and wash bedding regularly, to interrupt their life cycle and prevent future fleas.
Check your pet
Dogs and cats are good indicators of flea infestation. Fleas are not flying insects, so they can only move long distances, aided by pets. So checking our pets should be the first step.
If your dog or cat scratches continuously, it may be a sign that it has fleas. To determine this, inspect the skin by shaking the fur. If fleas are present, you will most likely see some fleas, especially around the neck or near the base of the tail.
Bites may be the first thing you see, in the form of red lesions. Flea faeces may also be present, in the form of red or black spots.
If the dog has dark skin and coat place a piece of white paper or pillowcase on the floor and have your pet stand on it. With a fine-toothed comb, you will most likely be able to distinguish fleas (or their faeces) on the paper or cloth.
Inspect pet bedding
Although fleas prefer to be on animals, flea eggs don’t stick to fur as firmly. So eggs tend to fall off in places your pet frequents, where you can spot them if you know what to look for.
Places where your pet sleeps or spends a lot of time are good places to start looking for flea eggs. Flea eggs are small, whitish-white ovals about half a millimetre long.
Unlike the adults, the eggs are best seen on dark backgrounds and are difficult to see on light-coloured upholstery and carpets. You may need to use a magnifying tool, such as a magnifying glass or the macro camera on your mobile phone, to see them better.
Carpets can be a flea hideout
Fleas hide inside the fibres of carpets and rugs, even if you don’t notice them at first. Flea eggs can also be a common find in carpets, especially where the dog spends the most time.
The sock test can be used to detect fleas on carpet. Walk for a while on the carpet with high, light-coloured or white socks. If fleas are present, it is likely that some will jump into the socks, where you will identify them using magnifying tools.
Eggs are harder to see, but you may be able to distinguish them in the fibres of a dark carpet if you check carefully using a magnifying glass.
Don’t forget wooden floors
Unfortunately wooden floors are no better than carpets in most cases. Determined fleas can lay their eggs in the crevices between wooden boards. This will become the hiding place where they will wait for their next victim.
Flea traps are available that use light and heat to attract adult fleas and trap them, usually with the help of a liquid or adhesive. It is possible to use flea traps as a very effective flea detector, so you will know for sure if you have a flea problem at home.