Learn about fleas, how to check your pet for fleas, how to prevent fleas and how to get rid of fleas.
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What are fleas?
Fleas are small, parasitic insects that feed by sucking blood from mammals and birds. While immature fleas do not bite, adult fleas usually feed several times a day.
- are dark brown or reddish brown
- have flat bodies
- are 1 to 4 mm (.04 to .16 inches) long
- are wingless
- can jump up to 20 cm (8 inches) vertically and 41 cm (just under 16 inches) horizontally
In most parts of Canada, the peak flea season is early August to early October.
Why should I be concerned about fleas?
Fleas are not just an annoyance. They can cause discomfort for you and your pet. Some people and animals get an allergic reaction to flea saliva, which creates a rash.
In animals, fleas can cause:
- hair loss from frequent scratching and biting
- anemia (not enough red blood cells in the blood) in extreme cases
Fleas can transmit:
- parasites like tapeworms
- diseases like typhus
A flea bite creates a small, hard, red and itchy spot. The spot:
- is slightly raised and swollen
- has 1 puncture point in the middle
Flea bites often appear in clusters or lines. They can be itchy and inflamed for up to several weeks.
How do I check my pet for fleas?
Adult fleas prefer to stay on pets and only leave after feeding. Their eggs, larvae (immature fleas) and pupae can be found in and around where pets sleep.
During peak flea season and after contact with other animals, you should:
- Check your pet regularly for:
- black particles the size of ground pepper on your pet's skin near the tail
- Inspect areas that your pets often go to for signs of fleas:
- sleeping areas
- dog houses
How can I prevent fleas in the home?
You can reduce the chance of fleas coming into your home by:
- keeping cats indoors
- inspecting your pet regularly
- regularly mowing and raking your lawn to discourage animals that may carry fleas
- repairing window screens and other places that unwanted animals can use to enter your home
- covering sandboxes when they are not being used
You can prevent your pet from getting fleas by using pest control products made for pets. Most of these products come into contact with the pet's skin. It is important to use the right product for your pet and read and follow the directions on the label.
What do I do if my pet has fleas?
If your pet has fleas, you will need to treat the pet and areas used by your pet. You should use both physical and chemical control methods.
To get rid of fleas on your pet, focus on the neck or tail, where fleas tend to gather.
A flea comb will remove most:
- flea feces
- dried blood
Kill the fleas by putting them in hot, soapy water.
To get rid of fleas in your home:
- Wash pet and family bedding in hot, soapy water every 2 to 3 weeks.
- Lift blankets by all 4 corners to avoid scattering the eggs and larvae. If an infestation is severe, replace old pet bedding.
- Vacuum carpets and cushioned furniture daily.
- Clean around cracks and crevices on floors and along baseboards.
- Steam-clean carpets.
You will need to treat areas frequented by pets:
- baseboards near sleeping quarters
- points of entry (for example, around door and window frames)
- small areas in the yard where pets rest or play (like dog houses)
If the flea problem persists, contact a licensed pest control operator in your area.
What flea control products do I use?
Flea control products for use on pets and in the home are available.
Products for pets
Before choosing a product for your pet, you should ask a veterinarian about the best treatment. Veterinarians can prescribe products that are not available over the counter.
The veterinarian will want to know if:
- you have both cats and dogs
- they are in regular contact with children
- your pet is sick, old, pregnant or nursing
- your pet is on medication or receiving another pesticide treatment
To prevent your pet from getting fleas during flea season use:
- flea collars
- spot-on treatments
For an ongoing flea problem use:
When using a flea control product:
- Follow the instructions on the label.
- Use the right product for the animal (the label will state if it is for dogs or cats).
- Use the amount specified in the instructions based on your pet's size and weight.
- Do not apply to animals below the minimum age stated on the label.
Watch your pet for signs of a bad reaction and see a veterinarian if you are concerned.
Products for the home
Products to control fleas in and around your home may require repeat treatments to kill the larvae and adult fleas.
Here are some things you should know:
- Applying a thin layer of diatomaceous earth (silicon dioxide) causes adult fleas to dry up when they crawl over it. It is not toxic to humans and pets, but be careful not to inhale the dust when using it.
- Using insect growth regulators, such as methoprene and pyriproxyfen, prevent flea larvae from becoming adults. This will break the reproductive cycle. These products do not kill adult fleas that are already present.
- Applying insecticidal sprays with pyrethrin or a pyrethroid on cracks, crevices and as a spot treatment kill adult fleas and larvae.
When buying a product, look for a Pest Control Products (PCP) number on the label. This tells you the product has been scientifically assessed and registered by the Government of Canada.
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