How do I know if I have fleas in my house?
They’re biting you. Next question.
Seriously, that’s the most likely way you’ll find out.
The “Double Edge Sword” solutions:
A quick break down of how to get rid of fleas:
(Click to jump to each topic)
- White Sock Test Method (a diagnosis confirmation tool)
- Flea Traps
- Clean Your House Thoroughly (and your cat!)
- Foggers (bombers)
- Veterinarian Intervention:
- liquid ointments
- Flea Killer For Yard
- Treating Kittens For Fleas
When I say double edge sword, I mean using the holistic route and the medicated route.
Consult your vet always before trying anything.
Either way, TEST both routes at your own risk. Tread with care when using the medicated route.
Make this journey the safest for your cat, regardless of how much WORK it will be to get rid your cat fleas.
Let’s break down the basics…
There’re hundreds or thousands of dust mites in your mattress, and perhaps millions or billions total in your house, but unless you’re allergic to them you probably are blissfully unaware of their presence.
Gives me the willies.
If fleas minded their own business and never bit or otherwise harmed us, we’d probably be similarly indifferent to them.
But you know they’re there, and we want to change that, because, “Ouch!”
So, how do I know if I have fleas?
For the record…
There’s other possible ways and evidence to know.
The quick recap of what’s below:
- you’ll see them
- your cat will be scratching like a maniac or be aggressive
- white socks test
- flea traps
What do cat fleas look like to the human eye?
Small as they are, you might actually see them.
Get down on the ground and look very closely at your carpet. If you see little dark specks, possibly moving or hopping, those are probably fleas.
Actually, even if there are specks that don’t move, they could well be evidence of fleas.
Adult fleas leave feces and dried blood behind for their larva to feed on. (Gross, I know.)
Why is my cat scratching?
The White Sock Test For Fleas:
There are also things you can do to generate evidence of whether you have fleas in the house, as well as the approximate size and range of the infestation.
One is to put on bright white socks and maneuver around your house (and yard if you want to investigate there too), moving slowly and standing still periodically.
Fleas will be attracted to the socks and jump up on them, so you can get a sense of whether you have a lot, few, or no fleas, and where.
You can also distribute flea traps around the house to see in what areas your fleas are mostly hanging out.
I’ll talk more about this below when covering possible solutions to a flea problem.
But traps are actually more effective as a tool for diagnosis than for cure.
Only if your flea problem is unusually minor are flea traps likely to rid your house of fleas, but they can be quite useful in providing information about an infestation.
Well, maybe there are fleas on my cat but only on my cat and not in the house.
Typically the fleas on your pet constitute about 5% of the total fleas in your house.
OK, so I have fleas in the house, but maybe they’re just in some small area of the house.
Well, now you’re just succumbing to wishful thinking.
Almost always once an animal brings fleas into a house, the fleas penetrate most or all of the areas of the house that the animal has access to.
Your house is crawling with fleas and you want to get rid of them.
That’s why you’re here.
So what exactly is a flea?
Glad you asked.
Fleas are wingless, dark red or brown little insects.
Like insects, in general, they advance through a “flea life cycle”:
- and adult
Adults are just a few millimeters long (about the diameter of a pinhead or the length of a grain of rice); the egg, larva, and pupa are even smaller.
They are external parasites that feed on the blood of a host (e.g., your cat).
A female can start reproducing within a day of attaching itself to a host.
Once it gets going, it’ll lay 30 to 50 eggs a day, and several hundred over its lifetime.
The eggs drop off of the host, which is how the fleas spread so readily wherever your pet goes.
The entire life cycle typically takes about a month before another generation is ready to reproduce.
In the video below: VetVid describes the life cycle of the flea so you can protect your cats!
There are thousands of species of flea.
The cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) is the most common species in North America.
They look like this: Yuck!
Contrary to their name, cat fleas are often found on dogs as well.
How harmful are flea bites?
In most cases, they’re more of a nuisance than anything.
They can cause a small mark, make you itch, and maybe cause some swelling.
Annoying, but not a huge deal.
There are exceptions, though.
Some people are allergic to flea bites, so their reactions can be more severe.
Fleas can also transmit the disease to humans, including bubonic plague.
Cat fleas specifically can only transmit some of these diseases, not including the plague.
That’s the rat flea, but in rare cases, you could indeed catch something, such as a form of typhus, from a cat flea.
OK, let’s get rid of fleas. What do I do?
The first point to keep in mind is that you want to be thorough.
As mentioned, when you have fleas in your house, they are almost always all over the house.
So whatever you do, has to address the whole house.
But even if you succeed in eradicating every single flea in your house, if your cat keeps bringing more in, you’re not really solving the problem.
So you’ll also want to deal with the fleas on your cat.
It’s also advisable to think in terms of prevention.
So not just how to get rid of fleas from your house and your pet, but how to lessen the likelihood of fleas taking up residence in your house and on your pet in the future.
Let’s start with how to de-flea your house.
I’ll assume you’ve already sat your fleas down and attempted to reason with them, explaining to them the error of their ways and respectfully requesting that they vacate the premises.
I’ll also assume since you’re still reading, that that hasn’t worked.
#1. Flea Traps
You can also distribute low tech flea traps around the house.
- Fill small dishes or bowls with dish liquid mixed with a little water.
- Place a candle in the center of each, or shine a light onto it, like a desk lamp.
- Fleas will be attracted to the light and jump into the soapy water, which will kill them.
If your flea problem is unusually minor, you might even eradicate the fleas this way, though more likely this will be a diagnosis rather than cure.
I mentioned this above as a diagnosis tool only!
As far as solving your flea problem, traps should certainly help – every flea you trap and get rid of reduces your flea population after all – but you’ll probably need to use additional methods to thoroughly eliminate the fleas in your house.
By the way, the main reason flea traps aren’t even more effective is that they only target a small minority of the fleas.
A flea which is in the egg, larva, or cocoon stage won’t be affected by the trap, and an adult flea that has already attached itself to a host animal will not either.
So really, the only fleas vulnerable to the trap method are adults who are actively looking for their next meal.
That’s probably not even 5% of the fleas in your house.
The simplest flea traps are easy to make yourself as I stated above.
But if you want to go hardcore:
There are plenty of versions of flea traps available commercially.
These can be more effective than the typical homemade trap because they are more sophisticated in the stimuli they use to attract fleas. (They’re still only targeting that tiny percentage of fleas that are in the adult stage and are not currently feeding on a host animal, though, so they don’t overcome that limitation.)
Are fleas attracted to light?
Fleas are attracted to light, yes, but not to all light equally.
- Light of some wavelengths draws them more than light of other wavelengths. (Green-yellow light scores highest.)
- An intermittent light that is mostly on but occasionally turns off briefly draws them more than light that is continuously on.
Fleas can respond to heat too since the animal hosts they seek are warm-blooded.
But this actually affects them less than you might expect.
Studies have shown that it’s a quite minor factor, that combined with other attractants it can make a trap very modestly more successful, but on its own, it appears to have zero effectiveness in drawing fleas to a trap.
It should be able to catch several times as many fleas as a simple homemade trap.
There are various other commercial flea trap options for a smaller reasonable cost that’ll probably catch fewer fleas than the Hi-Tech Ecological Flea Trap and more than the simple dish liquid in a saucer homemade trap:
Including these 3 below:
Another option to keep your costs down is to modify a homemade trap instead of buying a commercial one.
#2. Professional Exterminator
Turning things over to a professional is a lot easier than figuring out what to do yourself and doing it, but of course, you pay for that convenience.
Expect to pay $100 or close to it to have an exterminator come to your house and provide flea removal service.
You’ll also likely need at least one follow up visit for maybe another $70-$75 since fleas are less vulnerable to eradication at certain stages of their life cycle, and so it’s typically necessary to treat the problem more than once.
But at least it should be as effective as anything else you might choose.
Another potential drawback to having your fleas nuked by a professional exterminator is that clearly, it’s not the most conservative, environmentally conscious, safe option.
But modern pest control companies aren’t clueless about people’s concerns in this area.
In choosing what chemicals to use and in what quantities and such, they’re conscious of the environmental impact and of the importance of keeping people and their pets safe in their home.
Some companies, in fact, put special emphasis on finding eco-friendly solutions to pest problems—Eco-Wise, for instance.
If you spread boric acid in and around the areas where fleas are most likely to congregate – carpeting, pet bedding, etc. – it can dry out flea eggs and kill them.
It’ll also kill any flea larvae that eat it.
Is boric acid toxic to cats?
By the way, I know “acid” sounds scary, but boric acid is only mildly toxic to people and pets.
That is, it’s not completely harmless, but you or your pet would likely have to consume quite a lot of it before showing any adverse effects.
Again the problem is that this usually reduces your flea population, but doesn’t get all of them.
So maybe try it, but understand there is a good chance you’ll need to escalate.
Some people have tried common salt as a desiccant (causes dehydration) instead of boric acid.
#4. Thoroughly Clean the House
It’s a lot of work, but it’s something you should be doing independent of a flea problem anyway.
You especially want to be meticulous about vacuuming.
Use attachments where necessary, and vacuum not just carpeting, but curtains, under the furniture, all accessible cracks, and crevices, etc.
Be sure to vacuum well in the areas of your home where your pets spend the most time, such as in and around where they like to sleep.
That’s where there are likely the most fleas.
Killing Flea Pupae:
Of all the life stages of the flea, the pupa (cocoon) is the hardest to kill.
Insecticides and most of the methods used to deal with fleas generally aren’t effective against the pupa.
That’s why even when you call in a professional your house needs to be treated more than once…
The fleas in their cocoons are hiding from you, so the first time through you’re trying to get the fleas before and after that stage, and then you treat again to get the fleas that were in their cocoons the first time.
But this is one of the advantages of vacuuming as a flea control method.
In order to know when it is a good time to emerge from the cocoon, fleas sense when there is vibration around them.
They hope this is the vibration of people and animals walking around where the fleas are lurking, as that means the adult fleas will have something to eat.
The video below by essortment has great tips for cleaning your home:
But they’ll respond to the vibration of a vacuum cleaner as well.
So when you vacuum back over a recently vacuumed area, not only can you get fleas at other stages of the life cycle (and the dried blood and feces the larva like to eat), but there’s a good chance you’ll get some adult fleas that were encouraged to break out of their cocoon.
When you vacuum for fleas, make sure to dispose of any vacuum cleaner bags immediately when you’re done.
Get them out of the house.
The vacuuming will likely suck up some flea cocoons and leave others.
As noted, the ones it leaves it may encourage to hatch for the vacuum to get the next time it passes over them.
But for the ones it sucks up now, they can hatch in the bags from the vibration.
In order to keep the adult fleas from creeping out of the bag back into your house, you need to seal up that bag and get it out of there.
Beyond vacuuming, mop and scrub all over.
Thoroughly wash pet bowls, toys, bedding, etc.
Or any of that stuff that’s old, not in great shape, and not too expensive to replace, just dispose of it entirely.
Then repeat all this cleaning, especially the vacuuming, every few days to catch each new generation of fleas when it is most vulnerable in its life cycle.
This is more likely to solve your problem than, say, the makeshift flea traps or the boric acid, but there’s a chance you’ll need to combine it with at least one other method to get all the fleas.
#5. Flea Sprays and Powders
These tend to be among the most effective methods.
Spray or spread them all over – carpeting, furniture, bedding, everywhere.
There are many choices, including:
- Vet’s Best
- Even Raid
Some use toxic chemicals; some are natural products.
Some kill on contact; some (“insect growth regulators”) confuse the flea reproductive system by suppressing certain enzymes.
- There are also combinations of insecticides and insect growth regulators.
- The insect growth regulators and the combination products are usually more expensive than straight insecticide. Research all these possibilities, and use the one that best fits your preferences.
Maybe the most likely of all – short of using a professional exterminator – to eradicate all your fleas, as the cloud of insecticide permeates the whole house, including otherwise hard-to-reach areas.
Typically about $10 for a package of three foggers.
How many you’ll need depends on the size of your house.
Figure one per large room.
Of course, there are drawbacks to this option, as it requires you to be especially meticulous so as to safeguard your health and safety.
When I bombed my house when one of my cats got fleas I had a list of things to do:
- unplug everything, including the refrigerator
- close all the windows
- close all cupboards
- turn off the gas
- among other things…
Read and follow the directions to the letter as far as everything you have to cover, turning off any pilot lights or other flames, how long you and your pets have to be out of the house, etc.
As with other methods, you’ll probably need to repeat the treatment at least once to get the fleas that were at a less vulnerable stage of their life cycle when you fogged.
By the way, to be thorough, you might also want to treat your yard.
If you want to diagnose your outdoor flea situation, you can use the aforementioned “white sock” test.
There are products designed specifically for outdoor flea removal.
With most of these products, you use an attachment to spray them around your yard with a hose.
Better yet, try what a pest control tech recommends (begin with killing all stages of the flea)
Some simple steps to help with fleas in your yard:
- Clean your yard! Make your yard unappealing for them.
- Hit all areas first with Masterline Bifenthrine which will immediately knockdown flea infestations.
- Apply everywhere after, Permethrin Granules (lasts for 90 days)
- Reapply after 2 weeks or so…
How long can fleas live without a host animal?
How long can flea eggs lay dormant?
If you’re going to be away from your home for an extended period and there won’t be anyone there, including pets, that must mean there won’t be anything for fleas to eat.
So should I just wait and let that take care of the problem by itself?
Fleas have the ability to slow down their development when conditions are unpromising.
Remember I mentioned that the flea when it’s inside its cocoon senses movement – vibration – around it, and bases the timing of its emergence from the cocoon on that.
If your house instead is empty and still, the flea will just hang out in its cocoon.
Well, a house can sit unoccupied for up to several months or a year, and then the flea infestation will restart once people and their pets arrive and start moving around.
What about getting the fleas off my cat?
Yeah, as I mentioned, you don’t want to go through all the hassle and expense of treating your house for fleas, only to have your pet’s fleas continually reestablishing the flea population in your house.
So let’s talk about how to effectively treat a cat for fleas.
First off, it’s never a bad idea to talk to your vet first when you have a problem with your pet.
Your vet knows your cat and knows the specifics of your situation that can affect the effectiveness of different flea control methods, such as what types of fleas are most prevalent in your area and what your local climate is like.
Plus, some flea treatments for pets require a prescription.
Beyond that, you again have many options.
The best treatment for cat fleas in the house?
Not everything that can be used on a dog can also be used safely on a cat.
Also, it’s possible for a pet to be allergic to some products, so if your cat is showing any kind of adverse reaction to a flea control product, discontinue using it.
– Flea Comb For Cats
Using a flea comb is labor-intensive, time-consuming, requires cooperation from your cat that may or may not be forthcoming, and is not as effective as some methods since it basically entails picking fleas off your cat one by one.
I also want to recommend this one below and not the 2-row version because I found that fleas get caught in between the rows and just jumped back on my cat.
- What do you dunk the fleas in after each stroke with the comb?
You can use a bowl of dish soap/water, a bowl of alcohol, or my favorite, boiling hot water to dip the comb in and sting those fleas on contact then dunk.
- How long are the teeth and how many teeth are there?
There are 31 teeth per inch and length of the teeth are 1/2 in long.
- Does this work on short and long hair cats?
- Are the tips of the teeth rounded off?
Yes, they are so it’s not hard on your cat.
And it’s safe and involves no toxic chemicals and the like.
To use a flea comb, set a bowl with dish soap mixed with a little hot water alongside where you’ll be working.
Dip the comb in the bowl, and then gently comb your cat’s fur, working against the grain.
Fleas are most often found around the neck and tail but could be anywhere.
Each time you see that one or more fleas have gotten caught up on the comb, dip the comb into the bowl to remove and kill the flea(s).
– Flea spray for cats
Just as you can spray your house, you can also spray your cat directly to kill fleas or help repel them
There are many types of commercial sprays that can be used on cats:
- Vet’s Best
If you’re concerned about getting too close to the eyes or other sensitive areas, spray some of the flea sprays on a brush and then apply it to your cat with the brush.
There are also more homeopathic ways to make sprays too.
Below is a great recipe for a flea repellent: (NOTE: Fast Forward To 2:20 To See How To Make The Recipe)
– Flea topical treatment
Instead of spraying your cat, you can squeeze a liquid flea killer onto your pet.
For maximum effectiveness, you’ll want to part the fur and apply to the skin, but the advantage is that unlike with the sprays you don’t then need to try to spread it around and cover every part of the animal…
you can just put it on one spot and you’re done.
Here’s a useful video from a vet so you can see for yourself how to apply the topical liquid:
– Flea tablets
Rather than putting something on your cat, there’s the option of your cat swallowing the flea medication.
Tread with care here for your cat. Although these work great to kill off the fleas, there are horrific side effects as well. Including death.
Below are a few options:
- Capstar – read some of the side effects here.
Many people are super excited about these types of treatments because they work so fast to kill the fleas.
Just understand your cat could have really frightening side effects and quite frankly this isn’t the most holistic/natural way to eliminate fleas… more of a last resort.
Here is a video showing how fast the Capstar worked for this kitty:
This is a video sharing how Comfortis worked for their kitty:
It can take as little as a half hour for the medicine to be dispersed throughout your cat’s bloodstream such that any fleas feeding off your cat get an unwelcome, and fatal, surprise and drop to the ground.
The downside is the medicine only stays in your cat’s system for about 24 hours.
However, newer products have entered the market recently that can work for up to 30 days.
You can also go the inexpensive route by going to Healthy Home Pets.
They sell factory sealed generic Lufenuron and Nitenpyram. (hope this helps.)
Everyone has an opinion about using these types of products on their pets.
Look, if it will help get rid of your flea problems, test it out.
OF course, consult your Vet first.
TRY the “other” ways, holistic, first… put in that work to see if you can eradicate them yourself.
– Flea shampoo for cat
Then there’s the option of giving your cat a bath with a flea shampoo or shampoo bar!
If you’ve ever attempted to bathe your cat, I think you know the drawback here.
Unless you’re Steve Martin, chances are your cat will express its displeasure over your decision to bathe it with lots of frantic, painful slashing to your hands, face, or anything it can reach.
Then again, there are spray foams marketed as “waterless bath” products for cats, which don’t require immersing your cat in the water and making it a permanent enemy.
These are fine; they’re basically the same as the aforementioned flea sprays.
Whatever method you use, to make sure it has been effective to examine your pets to see if there are any remaining fleas.
Part the fur so you can see down to the skin.
You may see little dark specks that, when exposed, try to scurry out of sight into the fur, or possibly hop off the animal.
That indicates additional treatment is necessary.
I notice you left out flea collars.
Flea sprays, topical liquids, and tablets all have a strong track record for effectiveness.
Flea collars, not so much.
It’s certainly a popular method and has been around for a long time, but its reported success rate is lower than these other methods.
Not to mention, some people are wary of putting any collar on their cat, due to the risk of injury (e.g., if the collar gets caught in something, like a branch).
So I’ve treated my house for fleas, and I’ve treated my cat for fleas, and I’m no longer seeing evidence of fleas.
Am I done?
Well, there’s still the matter of prevention.
Once you get your house, and your cat, free of fleas, you’ll want to keep them that way.
There are no guarantees, but there’re certain steps you can take.
For your house, the cleaner you keep it the better.
The more spic and span a house is, the more attractive it tends to be to humans and the less attractive it tends to be to fleas and other such disgusting critters.
So don’t just vacuum and clean your and your cat’s bedding and such when you already have a flea problem; keep your living space nice and clean year round.
For your cat, remember that pets typically get their fleas from another animal.
So consider where your cat could have gotten fleas, to begin with:
- Was it staying at the house of friends who have their own pets, or in a kennel with other animals?
- Is it an outdoor cat that probably comes into contact with other animals as a routine consequence of its wanderings?
If in the future you can keep your cat away from where you think it picked up fleas, then great.
That may not be realistic though, so you might want to consider 6-month shots, Novartis Capstar Flea tablets (the 30-day kind especially) or periodic sprays or topical liquids as a preventative.
Just be sure to check all product directions for limitations on how frequently they can safely be used on your cat, and speak to your vet if you have any uncertainty about the risks.
Chances are that as long as you have pets any victory you manage over fleas will be temporary.
But it’s a battle worth fighting as effectively as you can.
You don’t want fleas in your life.
They can torment your cat and they can torment you.