How to get rid of fleas

How to get rid of fleas

The best way to end an infestation involves using an integrated approach, attacking the fleas on multiple fronts.

Steps

Supplies

Flea drops for cats

example:

Advantage II

Flea drops for dogs

example:

Frontline Plus

Beater bar vacuum

example:

Dyson Animal

Insect growth regulator

example:

Martin’s IGR

Integrated flea control

Integrated flea control (IFC) is the implemention of multiple control strategies. IFC programs target various life stages, on pets and in the environment.

IFC benefits

  • Eradicates entire flea population
  • Lowers the odds of re-infestation
  • Delays insecticide resistance
  • Reduces effects of poor compliance
IFC components

  • Educating the pet owner
  • Using a modern adulticide
  • Using an insect growth regulator
  • Vacuuming and mechanical control
IFC components

  • Educating the pet owner
  • Using a modern adulticide
  • Using an insect growth regulator
  • Vacuuming and mechanical control
High efficacy

No flea control product is 100% effective. Combining multiple strategies helps to cover the gaps. For example, when adulticides on pets fall below 100% efficacy, an insect growth regulator (IGR) in the environment can stop newly fallen eggs from developing.

Adulticides work best on adults. IGRs work best on adults and eggs. Adults live on pets, while all other stages live in carpets. Thus, pet treatments often contain adulticides and IGRs, and the environment is controlled with IGRs and vacuuming.

An IFC program eliminates existing fleas on pets, reduces populations of environmental stages, continues killing emerging adults, and prevents re-infestations.

Delayed resistance
Fleas currently show no signs of resistance to modern adulticides. However, resistance is likely to occur in the future with continued use. The natural selection process can be delayed or prevented by combining numerous control measures. The goal is to ensure that all fleas die, so those that resist chemical treatments don’t pass on their genes.
Treating only pets

Applying flea drops to pets can be enough to end an infestation. This sole control measure is most successful with indoor cats. Outdoors, pets are at a greater risk of re-acquiring fleas.

As effective as flea drops are, treating the premises is still advisable. This is especially true when establishing control, when infestations are severe, if there are foreseen compliance issues, or if members of the household are allergic to fleas. Premise treatments also prevent re-infestation from unseen reservoirs.

Treating only carpets
Applying an IGR to the environment can be sufficient in controlling fleas. IGRs kink the life cycle at the larval stage. However, it will take many weeks before the entire population reaches this stage. In that time, pets are being bitten. Therefore, concurrent administration of flea drops is strongly recommended.

Step 1 Learn about fleas

Understanding fleas makes controlling them easier and sets realistic expectations. It’s important to know the flea life cycle, and where different stages live.

Start here

Visit the FleaScience homepage for a quick overview of fleas and their control.

Browse

Visit the Flea Encyclopedia for a list of all our well-researched articles on fleas.

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The 3 goals of flea control

Relieve pet discomfort

Kill fleas on premises

Prevent re-infestation

Step 2 Treat pets

Relieving pet discomfort

Adult fleas live on their host, rarely leaving. Infested dogs and cats are regularly being bitten. The first priority when battling fleas is to relieve pet discomfort. This is done by killing the fleas on them, and is achieved with flea drops.

About flea drops
Flea drops are dual-action, containing an adulticide and insect growth regulator. Common adulticides are imidacloprid and fipronil. Common IGRs are pyriproxyfen (Nylar) and methoprene (Precor).

The adulticide quickly kills existing fleas on pets. And fleas jumping onto pets are killed before they can reproduce.

The IGR sterilizes female fleas, so they can’t lay viable eggs even if they survive the adulticide. And IGR-exposed eggs on pets are unable to develop.

Treatment duration

Treat pets for the labeled 3-4 months to prevent re-infestation. The 1st treatment kills adult fleas, but immature stages live in carpets. For months, adults will continue emerging to infest pets. If a female feeds freely, she’ll lay eggs within 48 hours. The infestation will continue.

Flea drop activity lasts 30 days before reapplication is needed. With monthly treatments, year-round or seasonal control is possible.

Tips for success
  • Treat all pets, even those without fleas.
  • Apply the correct dosage. Don’t split treatments between pets.
  • Apply to the animal’s skin, not fur.
  • Apply when the animal is dry.
  • Don’t allow a lapse in treatment.
  • Don’t stop treatment early, even during winter.
  • After treatment, don’t immerse pets in water more than once weekly.
  • Don’t switch products. This should be reserved as a last resort.
  • Oral treatments may be a better option for pets with a skin disease.
  • Only treat cats with products labeled specifically for use on cats.

Optional Soothing shampoo

Bathing pets with a soothing, anti-itch shampoo quickly relieves existing flea bites. After applying flea drops, wait at least 4 days before shampooing pets. If bathing is done first, allow pets to thoroughly dry before using drops.

Step 3 Vacuuming & sanitation

The next step is to thoroughly vacuum the home. Do this prior to spraying the premises. Vacuuming lifts up the carpet fibers so insecticides can penetrate deeper into the matrix.

Vacuuming benefits
  • Allows sprays to penetrate deeper
  • Removes flea eggs, larvae, pupae and adults
  • Removes larval food
  • Triggers cocoon emergence
  • Forces naked pupae to develop
  • Reduces the need for chemicals

Where to vacuum

Thoroughly vacuum the entire home, especially when establishing control. Rooms frequented by pets will contain the most fleas. Take extra time in areas where pets sleep, groom and eat. For example, beside a bed in bedrooms, or near a sofa in living rooms.

If possible, remove furniture from hot-spot rooms. If not, vacuum under the pieces. When eggs fall near furniture, upon hatching, the larvae may seek refuge underneath. Remove pillows and cushions from seats, especially those used by pets. Vacuum thoroughly, giving attention to crevices and fabric folds.

Don’t neglect rugs or other floor types (e.g. hardwood, tile, linoleum). Focus on cracks in hardwood floors, and crevices around baseboards. Mopping may be advisable on some floors.

Vacuum every day
Flea eggs are removed from carpets easier than larvae. Eggs hatch two days after being laid. Thus, it’s best to vacuum at least every other day. Continue this routine for at least 8 weeks. Even after proper treatment, fleas will continue emerging from carpets for around 2 months (up to 6 months).

Vacuums for fleas

Flea removal

Vacuuming carpets can remove 32-90% of eggs, 15-50% of larvae, 63.8% of pupae, and 95% of emerged adults. A portion of the larval food (flea dirt) also gets sucked up. Efficacy decreases with higher density carpets.

The process of being vacuumed up kills 100% of pre-adult fleas, and 95% of adults. Further efforts to sanitize the vacuum’s bag or canister are unnecessary.

Triggering emergence
Sprays can’t reach pre-emerged adults at the base of carpets. Within cocoons, these fleas can stay quiescent and safe for up to 5 months. Heat and pressure indicate a host and trigger emergence. Vacuuming simulates these cues, causing adults to rapidly emerge and subsequently die.
Forcing naked pupae
When their substrate is shaken, larvae sometimes abandon their cocoons and mature as naked pupae. Naked pupae still reach adulthood, but they can’t go quiescent. Additionally, without a sticky cocoon, they’re easier to vacuum up. Beater-bar vacuums may agitate carpets enough to force larvae to pupate without cocoons.
Steam cleaning carpets
Steam cleaning removes more debris than dry vacuuming. Steam cleaning carpets can help establish control in severe infestations. However, like vacuuming, the infestation won’t end without additional control measures. The same goes for rental carpet cleaning machines.
Vacuuming & insecticides
After spraying carpets, don’t vacuum until it dries. Some sources recommend waiting a week. However, studies show that vacuuming treated carpets doesn’t decrease insecticide activity. Wet carpet cleaning may reduce residual activity, but few studies have been done on this.
More sanitation measures
  • Launder pet bedding, rugs & blankets
  • Once a week
  • Wash at 140°F for ten minutes
  • Dry at the highest heat setting
  • Clean and sanitize pet carriers and kennels
  • Give pets a rug to sleep on and clean it regularly

Vacuuming isn't enough
Ongoing vacuuming and environmental sanitation are crucial parts of any flea control program. They accelerate the extermination process. However, these measures alone won’t end an infestation, as many immature fleas will escape removal.

fleas in carpets

Step 4 Treat carpets

Eggs, larvae and pupae make up over 95% of a flea infestation. These immature stages live deep within carpeting, concentrated around pet resting areas.

Insect growth regulators

Insect growth regulators, such as pyriproxfen or methoprene, mimic naturally occurring hormones in insects. While present, genetic switches can’t be activated which would transform the insect into the next life stage.

Immature fleas live in carpets. Spraying an IGR helps control these stages, thereby eliminating indoor reservoirs where fleas emerge from. This eradicates flea populations faster and lowers the odds of being re-infested.

IGR carpet spray

IGR effects
  • Exposed eggs won’t hatch, or larvae die upon hatching
  • Exposed larvae won’t pupate
  • Exposed young cocoons won’t emerge as adults
  • Exposed pupae become adults sooner and die prematurely
  • Exposed females can’t lay viable eggs
  • Adults die within 8 to 10 days (mild toxicity)
  • Adults excrete IGR-tainted feces, which larvae consume

Residual activity

IGRs are more effective than traditional insecticides for environmental control because of their superior residual activity. Insecticides can’t penetrate to the base of carpets where fleas develop. Thus, long-lasting activity plays an important role in efficacy. IGR activity lasts 7 months indoors.

Premise sprays typically contain an IGR and an adulticide. The adulticide quickly kills any emerged or emerging adults in carpets, but is less effective against larvae. Combining IGRs with adulticides boosts the residual effect of the adulticide.

Tips for success
  • Remove furniture from rooms to be treated.
  • Vacate all people and pets from the home.
  • Cover and unplug aquariums and fish bowls.
  • Cover (or remove) food, utensils and food processing surfaces.
  • Thoroughly spray the premises, focusing on hot-spots where pets rest.
  • Spray from a distance of 2 feet.
  • Spray in a sweeping motion until the area is slightly damp (not wet).
  • Don’t over-apply. 100 sq. ft. can be treated in 10 seconds.
  • Walk backwards to avoid stepping on treated areas.
  • Ventilate and don’t re-occupy the premises until the carpet has dried.
  • Avoid contact with skin or clothing. Wash hands with soap and water after use.
  • Don’t directly spray pets.
  • Wait at least 14 days before any follow-up treatment.
  • Targeting hot-spots is often sufficient for follow-up treatments.

Optional Flea traps

Fleas traps attract and capture emerging adult fleas from the environment. Traps are useful for assessing flea populations and for determining when the infestation has ended. They will do little to end an infestation on their own.

Step 5 Treat yards

Almost all flea infestations begin outdoors, as new fleas emerge from cocoons and jump on pets. While fleas can transfer between hosts, it’s rare.

Pyriproxyfen concentrate

Pyriproxyfen’s creation led to effective outdoor flea control. It’s the first IGR photo-stable enough to persist outdoors for extended periods. It maintains residual activity for 3 to 12 weeks. In high concentrations, 75% of fleas are controlled for 11 months.

Conventional insecticides (including permethrin) have very limited residual activity when applied outdoors. After 24 hours, efficacy falls below 50% against flea larvae. Even other IGRs are poor choices outdoors. Compared to pyriproxyfen, methoprene isn’t nearly as stable when exposed to UV radiation.

Pyriproxyfen spray concentrate

Where fleas live outdoors

Outdoors, fleas can only survive in shaded, moist areas. Hot-spots are found in dense vegetation and beneath porches. Pets venturing into these areas can rapidly acquire fleas. It’s a good idea to clear away dead brush an debris, or block pet access completely.

Where fleas come from

Infested urban wildlife traverse neighborhoods and continuously drop flea eggs into the environment. When their territories overlap with a pet’s, domestic infestations begin. If this initial flea reservoir isn’t eradicated, re-infestation is a threat.

Hosts of cat fleas

  • Opossums
  • Raccoons
  • Coyotes
  • Foxes
  • Skunks
  • Hedge hogs
  • Bobcats
  • Feral cats
  • Feral dogs
  • A few rodents

Final Considerations

Be diligent

Even after proper treatment, immature fleas will develop in the environment for months. Upon maturing, they’ll emerge from carpets and attempt to feed on pets. To prevent re-infestation, flea drops need to be properly re-applied on schedule, in full dosage, to all pets in the home.

Read more: Why flea control fails

Be patient

Flea drops don’t kill fleas instantly. It will take a couple hours (up to 36 hours) for all fleas on pets to be killed.

Complete extinction of the infestation, at all stages of life, takes 8 weeks and sometimes longer. In severe cases, infestations can worsen after the first treatment, as there will be scores of maturing environmental stages.

Read product labels
The active ingredients contained in flea control products are evaluated by the EPA. They are concluded to be safe during normal use, as per the instructions. Normal use is described in detail on product labels. Don’t put your family, your pets, or yourself at risk from negligence.
Consult a veterinarian

The information on FleaScience.com is not intended to be a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment. The content here is provided as an informational resource only.

Read more: Disclaimers.

References

Discussion

  • Grx September 8, 2016, 12:04 pm

    Thank you for the useful information.

    Unfortunately, I have to disagree with your information regarding vacuums and fleas.
    Vacuums do not kill the majority of adult fleas. I know there are multiple studies would say they do. However, I have used different vacuum cleaners and I can see inside the tanks. The fleas Are Not dead. It is very important to get rid of these fleas in the vacuum is soon as possible. I add boric acid or something like comet into the vacuum. Even with that, the fleas will not immediately die. You need to treat the debris coming out of the vacuum like toxic waste.

    Reply
  • Dan October 8, 2016, 8:23 pm

    Where are the citations for the idea that flea traps “…will do little to end an infestation on their own.67” ?

    Reply
    • Adam Retzer October 10, 2016, 5:30 pm

      Thanks for bringing that to my attention Dan. Something is going wrong with the citation software. I am going to have to troubleshoot that when I have time. Looks a like a few references aren’t appearing.

      Reply
  • mocwos October 9, 2016, 4:54 am

    Unbelievably great site. I may have learned more about fleas than I ever wanted to, but doing so has meant I can more accurately identify what I’m seeing and how well my treatment of a moderate infestation is coming along. The last time I had to deal with an infestation was about 25 years ago and info was limited, we didn’t have the internet then, not as we know it today..

    Wanted to share a bit of a tip with others who may be suffering an infestation: LINT ROLLERS ! Get a shedload of them and use to clean your cats’ beds, hotspots etc. You can use them like sticky tape, taking off a clean strip and really working it into those difficult crevices on window ledges etc. The debris you find on the sticky strips afterwards can be closely examined for all stages of larvae, adult fleas, amount of flea dirt and, perhaps most important, eggs. As time goes on, you can judge the reductions, especially in the amount of eggs. The knowledge that you are removing thousands of eggs, stopping flea larvae from going into their cocoon stage and removing a major food source by removing the flea faeces is very motivating 😊
    And another vital role lint rollers play is a massive boon if you get bitten – which I do; A LOT. Carry one with you around the house, keep an eye on your socks and quickly immobilise any flea that hops onto your foot / ankle. No more having to try and pick the little blighter off you using thumb and forefinger 😊
    I will disagree with previous post on vacuuming – I have a Dyson Animal and it very much encourages adults to emerge which I then catch with a lint roller after they jump on my feet.
    A week or so on from first detecting an infestation and I seem to be turning the corner. Still got one major hotspot left completely gut and clean, but both cats finally more comfortable and that was my first goal.
    Gawd bless the internet, and gawd bless sites like this.

    Reply
    • Adam Retzer October 10, 2016, 5:37 pm

      Thanks for the tips, Mocwos. Very useful. I like the lint roller idea. I will add some of your tips into the main content of the site when I get around to doing some edits. Very much appreciated.

      Reply
  • Nikki November 5, 2016, 7:01 am

    I’ve been reading these articles, & there very helpful, but I have a cat I had taken in when she was just a kitten, (almost 2 year ago) at night I would put her in the basement because she became so attached to my husband, she would sit at my bedroom door and constantly meow. I noticed that she was getting eat up literally with fleas to the point I was bathing her daily. NOW I have gotten her spayed, she’s calmed down with the meowing, and I keep her in the other end of my house at night. SO my problem is that I CANNOT AND WILL NOT GO INTO MY BASEMENT IT IS COMPLETELY DISGUSTINGLY INFECTED!!! I HAVE SPRAYED, VACUMED, MOPPED. I MEAN THEY ABSOLUTELY COVER YOUR LEGS JUST WALKING DOWN THE STAIRS. I LEARNED ABOUT SEVERAL THINGS ABOUT FLEAS LIKE, THEY CAN LAY DORMANT, THE LARVA, ALL OF THIS IS SHAMEFULLY NEW TO ME, BUT DO YOU KNOW OF ANY MORE TRICKS TO ERADICATE THESE DEAMONS, I NEED TO GET IN MY BASEMENT I WORK FROM HOME AND A LOT OF MY ITEMS ARE STORED THERE. HELP PLEASE….THANK YOU

    Reply
    • Adam Retzer November 7, 2016, 2:45 pm

      Hi Nikki, that does sound quite disgusting in the basement. How long has the cat been absent from the basement? The fleas will eventually die out on their own without a host down there. The last eggs to fall will reach adulthood in 17 to 26 days. Once the adults emerge, they will starve to death in a week or two. This is likely why you’re being attacked so hard when you go down into the basement, as the fleas are starving and coming ravenous. Of course, you will have to deal with the quiescent pre-emerged stage, as you mentioned. Vacuuming can force these cocooned adults to emerge.

      Vacuuming is the best thing you can do to speed up the extinction process. I have a few tips to make it a little less disturbing. Before going into the basement, put on pants and socks (and maybe closed-toe shoes). Then tuck the pant legs into your socks. Flea can’t bite through most fabrics. You can also spray the garments with permethrin insect repellent for clothing. This should help prevent the fleas from jumping onto your legs, and biting you, when you go down into the basement.

      Reply
      • Donna January 24, 2017, 4:05 am

        Fleas will go through your socks. I’ve had it happen. Wearing white will help see how bad the infestation is. They can also crawl up your body on your clothes and under them. I know…have had that happen…while out grocery shopping too(years ago). In recent months…I realized my dogs had gotten fleas. They are poodle and poodle mix. So their hair grows and grows. I gave them all haircuts….sheared down. Baths adding in neem oil with the shampoo. I washed all their blankets in hot water. I was going away and they to the kennel….so hours before taking them I gave them capstar. I’m not one for sprays, drops….chemicals in general. I have linoleum and carpeting. I have placed their blankets in the linoleum area and put baking soda all over the carpeted area (it was vacuumed a bunch of times before going away). I was dreading coming home a few weeks later to find an infestation. I was the guinea pig to come in first and watch my feet and legs for fleas. I did encounter a few….but days apart. They can’t live in the baking soda because it dries out the exoskeleton system. It’s not harmful to my dogs. A few years ago they got fleas….after returning from the kennel. I tried the borax….diatomaceous earth(too dusty…can’t breathe it in, and clogs the vacuum….better used outside). I don’t care that I have baking soda on the carpets and walking around it grinds it into the fibers too. After vacuuming…I reapply. And it’s in the vacuum to kill any if you do vacuum them up. I also wash their blankets alot.

        Reply
    • Matt Edholm November 11, 2016, 2:20 pm

      Order this stuff: Vet’s Best Flea Spray

      It does a very good job of killing fleas on contact, it works very well on stairs and landings. I have the same problem as you. I don’t recommend using this on large areas of carpets, like a living room as it does not seem as effective as raid, but It works wonders on stairs and landings, couches, chairs, etc.

      Reply
  • Ricci November 22, 2016, 5:39 am

    Is there any way to kill fleas naturally without using chemicals I can’t pronounce? I have tried apple cider vinegar and lemon juice. Any other ideas?

    Thank you

    Reply
    • Adam Retzer November 22, 2016, 1:12 pm

      Unfortunately, natural solutions don’t have a very high efficacy in killing fleas. A big part of the problem is that they don’t take the flea life cycle and habitat into account. There’s a lot of misinformation about natural solutions online, because content creators know many people are searching for this kind of info, so they just make things up to get traffic.

      Adult fleas only make up 1-5% of the infestation and live permanently on pets once acquired. Eggs are laid on the animal, but fall off within a few hours of being laid. 95-99% of the infestation are eggs, larvae, and pupae living in the environment (often deep within carpet fibers). So, in order to end a flea infestation, both the pet and the environment needs to be treated.

      There are numerous reports of people claiming that diatomaceous earth (DE) is effective against fleas. DE does have insecticidal properties, but there haven’t been any studies done with DE against fleas. It works best against the adult stage, by absorbing the protective oil layer on the cuticle, which results in the insect being unable to retain water so it desiccates. DE also has abrasive properties that can be damaging to insects.

      If the infestation is light to moderate, it may be possible to manage it without any control products at all. To remove fleas from pets, a flea comb can be used daily. To remove fleas from the environment, vacuuming can be done every other day. It’s also a good idea to launder pet bedding and rugs weekly.

      Reply
  • Tim Shanahan January 2, 2017, 10:40 am

    We have fleas living in our cold/dark basement. We used to have a cat, but he passed away in October 2016. We do not have carpeting down in the basement. Every time we go into the basement, we are attacked by fleas. Help!

    Reply
    • Adam Retzer January 2, 2017, 5:56 pm

      Tim,

      Without pets, the fleas will go away on their own, but it may take a while. They can’t survive or reproduce on human blood. You’ll just have to wait until all the immature stages reach adulthood, emerge, and then die. Emerged adults will starve to death within a week or two.

      If the cat passed away in October, then all of the eggs should have reached adulthood by now (usually takes around 3-4 weeks, but may take longer in cool environments). The problem stage is the pre-emerged adult. After pupating, adults can stay quiescent inside of their cocoons for up to 5 months. They’ll remain in this sleep-like state until they detect a host (heat and pressure). Vacuuming, or slowly walking around, can force these adults to emerge.

      Unfortunately, chemical treatments don’t have much of an effect on pre-emerged adults. Vacuuming is probably the best way to speed up the eradication process. It will force emergence and suck up the fleas as they emerge. To prevent bites, I’d recommend wearing socks and pants, and then tucking the pant legs into the socks.

      Reply
  • Dallas January 8, 2017, 5:16 pm

    What do you suggest for something you can’t wash in a washing machine? I let a couple of cats in my house when it was extremely cold and they brought a few thousand friends. They infested my pet rabbit. I have treated her. Luckily, I have no carpet in my home and she seems to be symptom free. But the room they were in had a lot of things that can’t be washed, like a recliner, a futon mattress and my luggage which I am using for a trip in about 2 months. I really don’t want to take fleas with me. Anything that’s not going to be toxic to my animals or cause a powdery mess? RThank you!

    Reply
    • Adam Retzer January 11, 2017, 2:12 pm

      Since it is winter, one chemical-free option would be to place these items outside for a couple days. No flea stage can survive in freezing temperatures. Keep in mind, fleas only develop where eggs fall from infested animals. So some of these items may not be a problem, if the cats didn’t have access to lay on them.

      Reply
  • kyle June 15, 2017, 9:34 pm

    hi so, i recently visited a friend’s house and they have 3 dogs, 1 of the dogs has fleas and when i came home i noticed i was getting bitten up. it went on for a good week before i realized that i mightve took some fleas home with me. now ive washed all my clothes, and sprayed my mattress down with bed bug and flea spray and left it outside for overnight and i brought everything back in and im still getting bitten around my feet and wrists. how can i permanently get rid of them?? cause i havent been able to sleep in my room for a week

    Reply
    • Adam Retzer June 19, 2017, 3:04 pm

      The first thing to do is make a positive identification of fleas. Without knowing exactly what pest is the causing bites, you could be wasting your time with ineffective methods. The best ways to find fleas are to check pets with a flea comb, place a flea trap in a suspected room, or walk around the room with long white socks and wait for the fleas to jump onto the socks.

      The information on this page should help you permanently eliminate the fleas. The main steps are treating any pets with flea drops, treating the environment with an insect growth regulator, and vacuuming regularly. I’d recommend re-reading the content on this page and then asking additional specific questions. I’ve tried to make this page as comprehensive as possible.

      Reply
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