If you have pets that enjoy the great outdoors, chances are you’ve dealt with fleas at some point or another. Though the bane of every pet owners’ existence, fleas are par for the course of owning indoor/outdoor pets. Unfortunately, knowing that they’re “normal” does not make dealing with the little pests any easier.
Fleas do not just make your pet uncomfortable — they can wreak havoc on your entire household. Once fleas attach to your pets, several things happen. First, they start laying eggs on your cat or dog. A single flea can lay hundreds of eggs over the course of a single day. In just 30 days, 10 adult females can lay as many as 10,000 eggs. Next, the fleas themselves or the flea egg larvae begin to fall off your pet. If this occurs in your home — as it often does — an infestation is inevitable. Flea eggs can lie dormant for weeks at a time in fibrous furniture, blankets, carpets and other materials until they hatch as adults. Once hatched, fleas can live for up to 113 days, during which time they lay tens of thousands more eggs.
Given this information, it’s easy to understand why preventative measures are so important. The good news is, there are dozens of safe and effective products for keeping fleas off of your pets and out of your home. And, if they’re already pestering your furry friends, there are efficient ways to remove them before they cause any more damage.
When it comes to fleas, prevention is best. Fleas are resilient, and once an infestation occurs, eradicating it can become costly and time-consuming. Prevention is easier — and cheaper — in the long run and can save you significant hassle in the future.
Preventing a flea infestation requires three simple steps. First and foremost, invest in a quality flea and tick medication that is designed for your pets (don’t use cat treatment on a dog or vice versa). Ideally, you should apply or administer this treatment monthly, regardless of the weather. You may have heard that animals do not need flea treatment during the colder months, but there is always the possibility that a dormant flea egg can warm up and hatch while your pet is unprotected.
Next, troubleshoot your backyard. Fleas love brush and overgrowth, so a good rule of thumb is to keep your yard presentable. Mow your lawn regularly, trim back the bushes and keep your yard clear of objects or places in which wild animals may like to hide. Raccoons, opossums and feral cats are often the sources of residential flea infestations, so do what you can to discourage their presence as much as possible. In addition to cleaning up your yard, you should store dog and cat food indoors and/or in airtight containers, seal off any openings or crawl spaces, and plant shrubs away from your home and away from each other.
Finally, keep your home clean. While a dirty home doesn’t necessarily attract fleas, it does give adults and eggs more places to hide. Vacuum regularly, especially if you have animals that come in and out daily. Don’t just vacuum high-traffic areas, though, as fleas avoid these areas as much as possible. Get under the furniture, along the baseboards, under cushions and around pet beds. Experts say that vacuuming around these favored hiding spots can eliminate up to 30% of flea larvae and as much as 60% of eggs. If you suspect your pet already tracked fleas and/or larvae eggs into your home, change the vacuum bags frequently.
Other house maintenance tasks you can do to prevent a flea infestation include dusting up cobwebs, capturing dust bunnies and cleaning your pet’s toys, clothes, bedding, blankets and other possessions regularly. If you let your pets ride in your vehicle, don’t forget to vacuum that, too.
If you’re reading this after the fact — meaning, your pet has already tracked fleas and eggs into your home — the first thing you need to do is treat your pet and home. Give your pet a bath using a vet-approved flea and tick treatment shampoo. A flea bath kills the majority of adult fleas on your pet, but it won’t eliminate the eggs or larvae. For that, you will need to take a fine-toothed comb after your pet gets out of the bath and pick through his or her fur. This step can help you capture any surviving adults, pull out larvae and eggs, and remove “flea dirt” — which is really flea poop — from your pet’s skin. If you haven’t already done so, start your pet on flea and tick preventative medication as soon after the bath as possible.
Once your pet is clean, tackle your home. Wash your pet’s bedding all his or her toys. Shake out your couch cushions, vacuum your carpets (don’t forget the corners and baseboards) and clean your upholstery. If you have the means, steam clean your carpets, curtains and other fabrics.
Throw your own bedding into the wash on the hottest setting possible. If you have children, toss their bedding into the wash as well. Next, do a load of towels and blankets, two places fleas love to hide.
Remember, it can take days to remove all adult fleas, larvae and eggs for your home, and you may have to repeat each of the above steps several times. If the infestation is extensive, you may have to take more drastic measures, such as fogging your home.
Dealing with fleas can be a huge pain, but the good news is, it’s almost always a pain you can avoid. Invest in proper prevention to save your pet the discomfort — and you the hassle — of an infestation.