Getting Rid of Fleas
from House and Lawn

The following story demonstrates one man’s struggle at getting rid of fleas on his country property.

A man stopped by my shop a few years ago and asked if he could buy my 200 gallon sprayer. "Do you think it is OK to spray diesel fuel with this?", he asked. He told me a story of how his beloved dogs were suffering terribly from fleas and nothing he tried would help. Then he added, "This is a last resort. I have heard that diesel fuel sprayed over my property will kill fleas".

Although I didn’t sell him my sprayer, he was clearly at his wits end with his flea problem.

Knowledge of flea life cycles and proven control methods are the keys to getting rid of fleas for good.

Important Note: If you have found fleas on your pets or are experiencing an infestation, it is important to treat your pets as soon as possible. Dogs and cats are the primary hosts. Fleas infestations don't just go away by themselves. They must be treated or you will continue to have problems regardless of other steps you take.

Getting rid of fleas permanently requires specific steps described on this page. Don't worry, it will work. I have seen it work many times.

Click here to see some of the better Cat and Dog Flea Medicines that Start Working Immediately After Application.

Most Common Species of Flea and Flea Anatomy

Fleas Killed by Placing in Alcohol

There are several species of flea, including the human flea, rat flea, and dog flea. However, the cat flea is the most common type of flea most people and pets will encounter.

Cats are a primary host of the "cat flea", but they will readily feed on dogs, wildlife, chickens, rabbits, and other small farm animals, and even humans.

Cat and dog fleas will bite humans as a temporary host in the absence of pets, but must find a more suitable host for reproduction.

The photo above shows several fleas that had been picked from a small dog using tweezers. The fleas were placed in alcohol, which kills the fleas almost immediately. (Photo by Russ James)

Before the dog's owner found a remedy, she would repeat this daily process of picking off fleas and putting them in alcohol. Some days she would get twice this many as those in the photo.

Picking fleas off pets is never a cure. Fleas will accumulate on the pet again before an hour is up. Getting rid of fleas must go much farther than this.

How Fleas Bite

Adult fleas are external parasites with mouth-parts designed for piercing the skin and feeding on blood. The flea cuts into the skin with a sawing motion. As the blood begins to flow, the flea will mix saliva into the blood. The flea's saliva contains an ingredient to keep the blood from coagulating.

Adults are approximately 1/8 inch long, with flattened bodies that allow them to easily move through thick hair. They can easily jump onto a passing animal and immediately begin feeding.

Flea Life Cycle

Important: Understanding the flea life cycle is crucial to getting rid of fleas.

Fleas go through four life cycles:

The four life cycles are 1) egg, 2) larva, 3) pupae, and 4) adult.

Only the adults are harmful to pets by feeding directly on their blood. However, in a heavily infested area, the adult flea accounts for only 2 to 5 percent of all the life stages. Therefore, getting rid of fleas involves knowledge of all phases of flea life. Below is a brief description of their life cycles.

  • 1) Adult flea lays eggs on a host animal that will hatch into larvae within 2 to 10 days.
  • 2) The flea larvae, which resemble very tiny meal worms, feed on partially digested blood feces left behind by the adult fleas. The larvae fully develop in 5 to 10 days.
  • 3) The mature larva spins a cocoon where it pupates. It takes as little as a week for the pupa to develop into an adult flea. However, unlike other insects, it will not exit the cocoon until it senses a host. When a host passes by, it quickly exits, leaps onto the host and begins feeding.
  • 4) The adult flea feeds on the animal and can start laying eggs within a couple days of its first blood meal. While the adult flea gets all the attention, it makes up the smallest percentage of life stages. If we focus only on the adult, completely getting rid of fleas is rarely possible.

The Life Phases Listed Above are Explained in Greater Detail Below.

Phase One: The adult flea can begin laying eggs within a few days from emerging from the cocoon and feeding on a host. The eggs are laid within the hair of the animal. However, in a short time the eggs dry out and fall off onto the ground. The majority will fall off where the pets spend most of their time. Examples could be the pet’s bed; the floor near the sofa; on the sofa; in and around the doghouse or kennel, etc.

Phase Two: Newly hatched larvae do not travel more than a few inches to a few feet from where they hatched. They are sensitive to light and will immediately seek a dark place close by. This could be under the couch, under the bed, between the slats on the doghouse, etc. They must have blood to develop so they eat dried blood flakes that fall from scratching dogs or on partially digested blood in the feces from adult fleas.

Due the larva’s diet, only those that hatch near the food source will survive. Therefore, keeping the primary pet area clean on a daily basis, including under and around sofas, etc, will keep infestations down and help in getting rid of fleas.

Phase Three: Mature larva spins a cocoon and enters the pupal stage. Depending on conditions, the pupa will develop into an adult in as little as 5 days. After exiting the cocoon, the adult can only live for a couple weeks without a blood meal. Unfortunately, the flea has a solution. It will not exit the cocoon until it senses a passing host. The adult flea can live inside the cocoon for up to five months waiting for a host. When it senses a host, the flea quickly exits the cocoon and attacks the passer-by. In the absence of pets, the fleas will feed on humans, but only temporarily.

Caution: People have been viciously attacked by fleas when visiting homes or apartments that have sat empty for several weeks or months. This occurs when a previous owner or renter had a flea problem before moving out. The hungry adults waited patiently inside the cocoon for a new host to come by.

Getting rid of fleas is paramount before renting an apartment. Never rent an apartment where previous renters had pets before making sure there are no fleas.

Flea Bites Causing Bloody Sores on Dog

Phase four: Flea bites can cause intense scratching and can carry certain diseases. Fleas are also carriers of the dog tapeworm and can transfer the tapeworm to your pet if it swallows an infected flea.

Pets, especially dogs, can scratch and bite continuously. Severe cases can resemble mange due to hair loss, rough skin, and scabs from bleeding, etc.

In the photo, this dog is bleeding near the base of the tail. This is a difficult place for dogs to scratch and will often flip over on their back in grass or gravel and kick their feet in the air to assist in scratching. (Photo by Russ James)

Cat fleas are not generally a problem for humans, but become so with infested pet. Both pets and humans can develop an allergy to flea bites at any given time.

Another True Story:

Some years ago I went to check on a farm dog while the owner was out of town. The dog was in a kennel behind the house. As I filled the water container, I felt a bite I had immediately recognized as a flea bite. That was when I noticed fleas jumping on me in large numbers. I was on the menu for that moment. I quickly left and spent the next 10 minutes picking fleas off my socks, jeans, and skin. I must have been bitten a dozen times in the short time I was there.

Getting Rid of Fleas from Outdoor Areas

Note: Treating only your pet and not the bedding or surrounding area will guarantee continued flea problems. Remember, only a small fraction of fleas are adults. Pay careful attention to your pet’s resting, kennel, and sleep areas.

It is often said that flea larvae cannot exist long in hot, sunny locations. I am not completely convinced of this. However, I am sure the larvae will be found in the greatest numbers in damp, dark areas where pets or animals frequent the most.

Successfully getting rid of fleas involves thorough cleaning. Remove fallen leaves, debris, or other things larvae can hide under. Larva and adult fleas will fall between the wood slats on doghouses and can accumulate large numbers. Trim low hanging branches near pet areas to allow in more air and light. Regularly wash and sanitize concrete and wood surfaces associated with pens or kennels. If pets are kenneled on shady sides of houses, if possible, periodically move the kennel to a different location and treat infected area.

Apply a lawn pesticide labeled for fleas to infected outdoor areas. Sanitize the inside of doghouses. Do not forget to apply the pesticide under the doghouse. Keep your pets out of the area if required by the pesticide label.

Getting Rid of Fleas in Indoor Areas

Thoroughly clean your pets living and sleeping areas. Pay careful attention to cracks in hardwood floors, carpets and rugs, sleep areas, under sofas, bedding, under cushions, etc. The majority of fleas and larvae will be in the areas your pet spends most of its time. Vacuuming these areas daily will remove at least 50% or more of flea larvae and eggs. Wash your pests bedding frequently. If the bedding is not washable, throw it out and replace it with washable materials. Replace the vacuum bags often because the larva can develop inside the bag. Adults can possibly escape.

Wash your pet with a flea shampoo to kill fleas and eggs. Apply a proven parasiticide, such as Revolution, Frontline, Advantage, or K9 Advantix, or similar product. Click here for more detailed information about these products.

These work quickly to kill fleas and other parasites on your pets. Frequently comb out loose hair outdoors, placing hair in plastic bags to be disposed of in an outdoor trashcan. This will also help remove eggs and fleas.

-- A Quick Recap For Controlling Indoor Fleas --

1) Shampoo your dog or cat. Use a good medicated shampoo.

2) Apply a parasiticide to your pet. I use Revolution, but the others work well, too.

3). Spray the carpets, bedding, rugs, etc. with an indoor flea pesticide.

Successfully getting rid of fleas requires that you do all three of these the same day for best results. It will usually take a few days before you get relief.

Insect Growth Regulators (IGR's)

As a flea preventative, a safe and effective alternative to pesticides are materials called Insect Growth Regulators. (The products mentioned in the above paragraph all contain some form of IGR). For getting rid of fleas, insect growth regulators are a great ally.

IGRs are a preventative product that affects the development of eggs and larvae of fleas and other insects. Eggs exposed to IGRs will not hatch. Flea larva that come in contact with IGRs will not be able to pupate and will die. Adults exposed to IGRs will not be able to lay eggs.

However, only the eggs and larvae are killed. Since adult fleas are not killed with IGRs, quick kill insecticides can be used in conjunction with IGRs to kill the adult fleas.

Other Important Information About IGRs

  • IGRs are generally safe around pets and children when used according to the label, because they affect insect growth only.
  • Some products can be used on both dogs and cats. Others may be used on one or the other, but not both. Be sure the product you use is labeled for your type of pet.
  • Homeowner varieties are available in concentrates, spray cans, and foggers. This offers you a variety of choices for better control.
  • Professional pest control operators have access to IGRs not available to homeowners.
  • Veterinarians have very effective IGRs that work quite well. Some work internally and come in pill form, as pet food additives, or even lotions. They also have sprays and shampoos.

There are two IGRs available for purchase and use by homeowners. There may also be others not listed here. This is not necessarily an endorsement and it is not our intention to omit other good products.

  • Precor® (active ingredient – methoprene) Labeled for cats and dogs. Labeled for indoor use. Comes in foggers and spray cans. It also comes in concentrates that are to be diluted with water for large volume spraying. Precor is not photostable, which means it will quickly breakdown in direct sunlight and should not be used outside.
  • Archer® (active ingredient – pyridine) Labeled for dogs only. Labeled for indoor and outdoor use. Controls larvae of fleas and other insects that have multi-stage life cycles. Archer is photostable for up to 14 days in direct sunlight. Longer in shaded areas. Comes in liquid concentrate to be diluted with water.
  • All products are not available for use in all states at last check. Check with your local county extension office to see if it is legal to use where you live.

Always follow all label instructions completely before and while using any pesticide product.

Flea Collars

While some types of collars are effective, others offer poor protection against fleas. Even the best ones may be less effective with severe flea infestations.

IGRs are available in collar form.

Some of the least effective are the dime store insecticidal collars that work only when the flea touches the collar by traveling under it. The idea is that the flea comes in contact with the collar when traveling to the eyes for water. From personal observation, I haven't seem much evidence that they work at all. Pet stores or veterinary supply stores usually offer a better selection.

Be Cautious with Gimmicks

Save your money when it comes to obvious gimmicks. Ads offering "Secret Flea Control Product" should be looked upon with some skepticism. The best products are not a secret.

Final notes: Getting rid of fleas may take time with serious infestations. Treatment always begins with your pets and should start as soon as you notice a flea problem. Persistence will eventually win the battle of getting rid of fleas. Treat all areas at the same time. This should include your pet, as well as, the surrounding areas. Priority areas include pet sleep areas plus resting and play areas. Again, persistence is key to getting rid of fleas for good.

Cat and Dog Flea Medicines that Work
Applying flea and tick medicine on your pet is the first step in preventing an infestation. Click here to see what some of the best products are and how they are used.

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