A home infested with fleas is a stressful and painful problem to deal with, particularly if one or more family members is allergic. Infestations generally begin with pets, such as cats or dogs, and find homes in bedding, upholstered furniture and carpeting. Dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis) and cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) are the most common, though some 2,000 species of fleas exist worldwide. Natural control is best when dealing with these wingless bloodsuckers, as chemical methods pose health threats to animals and their human counterparts.
Fleas are tiny insects anywhere from 1/16 to ⅛ inches long, and are generally dark in color. Unable to fly, fleas nevertheless are capable of jumping incredible distances, and are very fast, making them difficult to catch and kill. They are regarded as some of the “best jumpers” in the animal world thanks to their long hind legs. Their laterally-compressed bodies make it easy for them to move through hair, fur and feathers on host bodies, as do the short spines that cover their shells. These hairs are “directed backwards” for easy movement.
These pesky insects go through four life cycles–egg, larvae, pupa and imago, or adult. An adult flea seeks to feed and reproduce, with females laying as many as 5,000 eggs throughout their lifetimes. Fleas can live as long as a few years if conditions are ideal, with females laying about 20 eggs per spawning.
The insects’ tube-like mouths are perfect for sucking blood. Common hosts include humans, cats, dogs, rabbits, mice, ferrets, chickens, squirrels and rats. Flea bites result in red, itchy welts on hosts, though even worse problems can occur, including hair loss, hot spots, and the transference of viruses and bacteria. Fleas were also among the carriers of the Black Death, or bubonic plague. Bites often appear in clusters and can take up to two weeks to heal.
Commercial flea medications contain powerful chemicals deemed highly dangerous by the EPA, with the agency reporting a range of conditions and illnesses from spot treatments in pets, including more mild problems such as skin irritations to serious issues, such as cancer and death. “Spot-on” products are those sold in tubes or similar containers and are applied between the shoulders of the animal or across the back ridge. Touching a pet following application results in exposure to these toxic chemicals. The animal also ingests the medication every time it grooms itself.
Flea “bombs” are another way to rid the home of fleas and other insects. A device sets off a “bomb” in the home, which coats everything in the house with a chemical that kills fleas.
A surefire way to tell if your pet has fleas is if the animal scratches and itches itself constantly. Examining the animal is another way, as you can usually see the insects living on the pet.
Rather than using chemical means to rid your pets and home of fleas, check out the many effective natural options that won’t harm anyone in the family, whether they walk on two or four legs.
Meticulous bathing of your pet and cleaning of your home are the best ways to ensure your home is free of these bloodsuckers. Making sure your pet is healthy will also prevent infestation.
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