Flea Facts

Fleas can be pests in homes, hotels, motels and wherever human populations occur, often where these areas are shared with animals. There are many species of fleas, some having particular preferences for hosts.

Fleas can be pests in homes, hotels, motels and wherever human populations occur, often where these areas are shared with animals.  There are many species of fleas, some having particular preferences for hosts.  All have piercing and sucking mouthparts that are used to draw blood from their host.  In so doing, they transmit diseases to humans and animals.  It is therefore important that we understand how to effectively deal with these pests, both in the medical and veterinary areas.  Understanding the habits and life cycles of fleas is essential to achieving their prevention and control.

Appearance, Life Cycle, and Habits

Adult fleas vary in size but are usually about 1-2mm long, brown in colour and compressed laterally (that is, they have very thin bodies) so that they can move freely between the hairs of their animal hosts.  Larvae are tiny and legless with hairs on their body.  They have chewing mouthparts and feed on food particles, blood, and fecal pieces from adult fleas.

The adult female may lay some hundreds of eggs in her lifetime but usually about four to eight eggs after each blood meal.  The eggs are laid on the animal and these fall off on to floors, the ground, and often in their sleeping and resting area.  The eggs hatch anywhere from four to ten days after laying them.  The areas surrounding a house can also be a significant source of fleas.

The larvae feed on many forms of organic matter located in carpets and other floor coverings as well as outside in lawns  When finished feeding and fully grown, usually after about 12 - 20 days, the larvae pupate in silken cocoons which are often covered with debris.  After about seven to ten days the adults emerge and seek a blood meal from the host.  The larval, pupal, and adult stages may extend for many months, depending on the availability of food. 

Warm and humid conditions - such as those occurring in summer and autumn - favour the development of flea larvae, pupae, and adults.  Flea pupae may remain in floor coverings and cracks in flooring for several months and often the adults emerge from their cases when vibration from walking fractures the pupal cases.  The adult fleas then seek blood meals from the legs of any animal or humans nearby.

Dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis)

Dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis)

This flea is similar to other fleas and has a wide range of hosts, but has been encountered much less during recent years.

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Cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis)

Cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis)

The cat flea also has a wide host range feeding on cats, dogs, humans and other animals.  It is the most frequently encountered species in much of Australia at present.

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Fleas and Disease

Fleas are one of the most significant transmitters of diseases to humans and also to some animals.  Over the last one thousand years, countless millions of people have died because of this transmission of diseases by fleas.

Intestinal Parasites

The dog tapeworm Dipylidium canium is conveyed from one dog to another by fleas.  Rodent tapeworm is passed on to other rodents when the fleas are infected.  Children have occasionally been infected by these tapeworms.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

Fleas produce a severe form of allergic dermatitis in dogs and cats.  Some animals are more susceptible to this form of dermatitis than others.  Flea control is important in the prevention of this condition.

Control

The householder may successfully control fleas even if animal pets share the living area.  Control falls into two categories, one complementing the other: non-chemical preventive methods; and chemical methods. 

Chemical Method

To control fleas apply prepared emulsion to outside surfaces of buildings and surrounds including but not limited to foundations, verandahs, window frames, eaves, patios, garages, pet housing, soil, turf, trunks of woody ornamentals or other areas where pests congregate or have been seen.

Non-chemical Preventive Methods

The breeding areas for fleas from animal pets can be significantly reduced by washing floors regularly and vacuuming carpets, including under furniture and areas where animals may rest.  Animal beddings should be removed daily and shaken well away from the home, or left in the sun to remove eggs.

The contents of the vacuum cleaner should be heat-treated in a black plastic bag – by placing it in the sun for a few hours.  It may also be treated with an aerosol spray before being emptied.  The vacuum cleaner and bag must not be stored in a partially full or full condition as the environment created inside the bag is ideal for flea breeding.

A thorough vacuuming is important to reduce any flea population present before going on holidays.