How to Get Rid of Fleas Once and For All
Fleas. If you've had them on your pets and in your home, you know that feeling of dread when you detect the first signs. Just thinking about it makes you want to scratch, and you start jumping 4 feet in the air every time you see anything dark and small for fear it is one of those little bloodsuckers.
You've scoured the Internet for solutions. You've searched everywhere for information on the life cycle of the flea and what it means when you find one on your pet. The dreaded figures tell you that if you've found one, then there are scores of others already breeding (yes, breeding) in your home.
These little creatures are prolific. At times, they seem impervious to treatment. Their eggs can lie dormant for months in a home just waiting for a nice warm host to walk by and wake them up with body heat and vibrations.
As a pet owner, I have made it my business to figure out how to get rid of them, and I've done it successfully several times.
So, How Do You Know You Have Fleas?
I have three indoor cats who have very little chance of catching fleas, but I used to rent houses and would move house quite frequently (once every 12-24 months). During that time, I encountered four houses where there were fleas lying dormant (probably in their larval stage) waiting for their next meal. (This demonstrates how common these critters actually are.) Sure enough, in each of these properties, I would start to see signs of the little biters' arrival approximately two weeks after we moved in. Any time you move into a new environment with pets, it is a good idea to be on the lookout for signs of fleas.
It's a good idea to give your pets a daily brush or comb when you suspect there could be fleas in the environment. When you brush or comb your pet, you should look out for small, dark grains of flea dirt. This is usually the first visible sign of fleas. Flea dirt is easy to spot, as it is a very distinctive 'C' shape. In fact, when you get to know the shape, you will become very good at detecting the stuff. If you find any suspicious dirt in your pet's hair, shake some over a piece of damp kitchen roll or tissue paper. The dark flecks will start to dissolve and make a dark brown or reddish colour. Flea dirt is made of dried blood from where the fleas have bitten your pet. When it drops off your pet into the nooks and crannies of your floor, it actually feeds young fleas growing in the larval stages.
Are There Any Other Signs?
Most people probably imagine that they'd notice their pets scratching more than usual, but not all pets will react this way until the infestation is really bad. There are some other signs of fleas that you can spot (but these usually come a bit later, and you want to catch them as early as possible). If you start to get itchy bites on your ankles, it is likely that you have fleas. Of course, the most obvious sign is actually seeing them! There will be no mistaking a flea if you see one. One minute they are there and the next minute - gone! They have jumped so high in the air that you don't know their new whereabouts. If you're like me, this is an extremely disturbing thought!
I once moved into a property where there were fleas waiting to hatch in every room. Even in the bedroom (where the pets didn't go), I caught fleas hopping up onto the bed trying to reach me. Thankfully, I had white covers and sheets on the bed so it was easy for me to spot them. Still, it was a highly unpleasant situation. What did I do about it? After jumping around like a possessed lunatic, I got ahold of myself and killed the fleas.
How Do You Kill Fleas?
Fleas can be quite difficult to kill: hence the toxic strength of some of the flea-killing products on the market. When they were jumping at me in the bedroom I had to get some (thick) tissue paper and slam it down on them when they stood still (which wasn't for long). This was extra difficult because they were always making quite a beeline for me. Fleas will automatically start heading for the nearest meal when they hatch. They detect heat, vibrations and carbon dioxide, so their little systems are very well equipped to find mammals and humans. Once I had caught the flea in the tissue paper, I would squish it and flush it down the toilet. These creatures are resilient, so the water is a necessary step. Don't just throw them in the trash assuming they're dead.
If you decide to comb through your pet's hair with a flea comb, it is a good idea to have a bowl of soapy water beside you. Although fleas have been known to actually jump out of water, having some soap in there seems to stop them. I have also watched them jump right off the flea comb, so make sure to be quick!
What About Sprays and Other Products?
I have probably tried every product out there from the toxic to the environmentally friendly. Some of these products have worked, and others have not been very effective. I prefer to stay away from toxic sprays in the house as I have now found a viable alternative.
I don't use the toxic sprays for a couple of reasons: I don't want to cause harm to my pets, and I also now have a little boy. These sprays stay active in your carpets for 12 months, which makes me very reluctant to use them. If you are inclined to use one, however, make sure you buy one with growth inhibitors so that any survivors cannot grow up and breed again. These kinds of sprays are ineffective against pupae, so the fleas will not all die instantly. I recommend treating your pet simultaneously.
Do not apply any of these sprays to your pet, and keep them well away from aquatic life or you'll have a lot of dead fish. I also recommend vacuuming daily when treating a house for fleas. Vacuuming not only gets rid of the dead fleas, it also encourages more to hatch and "come out" because of the vibrations.
I have tried lots of non-toxic flea treatments, but many of these were a waste of time for me. I literally smothered a flea in baking soda and salt, and the thing was absolutely fine afterwards. I also tried a stinky natural spray that was supposed to repel them from the cats (and probably towards me) but it didn't work either. I also bought flea traps that caught no fleas whatsoever, but I know that some people do manage to have success making their own traps.
Out of all the more natural treatments, I found only one that I thought was any good: a non-toxic, silicone-based spray (0.4% dimethicone) called Skoosh (now called Flee). It works the same way as the popular head lice treatment called Headrin, and it lasts for 6 weeks. It was absolutely amazing although it was expensive. It is now the only spray that I will use, as it is completely safe to use around children and pets. It even works on flea pupae as well as every other stage (most sprays are not effective on the pupae). If Flee/Skoosh is unavailable, there is another brand called Wipe-out. Just look for pesticide-free sprays containing dimethicone. I cannot recommend them enough.
My Fail Safe Flea Solution
In my experience, there is only one way to rid a house completely of fleas, and that involves a good spot-on treatment. I don't like using these on my pets as I don't like to use chemicals on their skin, but I believe it is the only fail-safe way to mop up all the fleas in the house.
The key is to treat your pets with a really good quality spot-on treatment (not the cheap ones you can buy from large pet retailers). Then you let your pets wander around your house in their new role as mobile flea killers (cats are especially good at this).
If you do not start to see dead or dying fleas on the floor or on the surface of your pet's fur within a couple of days, you can safely assume the spot-on treatment is not working. I used to use a brand called Frontline Plus. It was successful in eradicating the fleas completely the first three times (and on the third time I didn't use any other sprays or treatment at all). On the fourth occasion, however, this brand simply wasn't working. I was told that it was because I also needed to use a spray at the same time, etc. I decided to change to another brand (Advocate/Advantage) to see if I could get any results, and the fleas were gone within a week (again without sprays). I think that the critters had just become resilient to whatever was in the Frontline. The new brand I used was available by prescription only from the vet and was expensive but very effective. If you apply more than once, however, be sure to wait long enough between applications for the safety of your pet.
And If You Don't Want to Use Toxic Chemicals in Your Home or On Your Pets?
If you are against using the spot-on treatments or any of the strong sprays or flea bombs, there are methods you can use to rid yourself of fleas.
I would recommend using a non-toxic spray (like Flee) that coats the fleas in a kind of silicone and prevents them from being able to move. Then, I would sit each pet down and systematically work through their fur with a flea comb until you have removed all of the fleas you can find, putting them into some soapy water to kill them. If your pets are cooperative, and you want a better way to kill those fleas, you could try giving them a bath in soapy water as this is also effective.
This method takes more time and is a little more tedious, but it does avoid using harmful chemicals. The more often you comb or bathe your pets, the better, as it gives any new fleas much less chance to breed. You will find that you find fewer and fewer fleas on your pets until you eliminate them entirely (especially if you have sprayed the whole house with the silicone spray as well).
Flea removal methods
Strong house spray/bomb with growth inhibitor
Non-toxic silicone house spray
Non-toxic silicone house spray
A good spot-on treatment
A good spot-on treatment
Flea comb and soapy water
I have now developed a flea routine, and it works for me:
If I move house, I buy some Skoosh (Flee or Wipe Out) and spray the entire home before moving in any of my pets. Then, in the first two to three weeks, I am hyper-vigilant about checking for fleas. I treat all three cats with Advocate/Advantage any time we move homes and in the hotter summer months only. My dog, on the other hand, gets treated monthly with Advocate throughout the whole year, and this deals with any fleas, ticks and worms he might encounter.
With this routine, I am flea free and happy. No more running around the room like a crazed lunatic, no more itchy bites on my ankles, no more sleepless nights. No more fleas.
Now I just need to concoct a plan for the day we are overrun with hyper-resilient, mutant super fleas!