Fleas are wingless, agile, external parasites, 1/16 to 1/8-inch long, and usually dark in color. Similar to the tick, fleas have mouthparts adapted for piercing skin and sucking blood from mammals and birds.
Fleas have long hind legs well adapted for jumping. A flea can jump vertically up to 7 in and horizontally up to 13 in, making the flea one of the best jumpers of any known species, relative to body size. In comparison, if humans had the jumping power of a flea, a 6 foot person could make a jump 295' long and 160' high.
The flea body is laterally compressed, hard, and covered with many hairs and short spines, allowing them ease of movement through the hairs or feathers on the host's body. The tough body is able to withstand great pressure. Even hard squeezing between the fingers is normally insufficient to kill a flea. However, rolling them back and forth a dozen times disables their legs, resulting in death.
Fleas lay tiny, white, oval eggs better viewed through a magnifying glass. The larva is small and pale with bristles covering its worm-like body, lacks eyes, and mouth parts adapted for chewing. The larvae feed on various organic matter, especially the feces of mature fleas, while the adult flea's diet consists solely of fresh blood.
Fleas are a nuisance, causing an itching sensation which in turn may result in the host attempting to remove the pest by biting, pecking, scratching, etc. in the vicinity of the parasite, leading to hair loss as a result of frequent scratching and biting by the animal, and can cause anemia in extreme cases. Flea bites generally cause the formation of a slightly raised, swollen itching spot with a single puncture point at the center (similar to a mosquito bite), often appearing in clusters or lines of two bites, and can remain itchy and inflamed for up to several weeks afterwards.
Flea adults, larvae, or eggs can be controlled with insecticides. Lufenuron is a veterinary preparation (known as Program) that attacks the larval flea's, but does not kill fleas. Flea medicines need to be used with care because many of them also affect mammals. Flea treatments meant for dogs can be hazardous to cats.
Flea and tick ointment is also hazardous to humans. The label of a commercial preparation warns: “First aid: If on skin or clothing, take off contaminated clothing, rinse skin immediately with plenty of water for 15 – 20 minutes; call a poison control center or doctor for treatment advice. . . Although (the product is) applied only between the shoulder blades and at the base of the tail, the dog’s skin and hair oils carry the product over the entire body . . . Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling . . .”
Natural Repellent for Pets
Vinegar - In a spray bottle, mix 1 cup of water with 2 cups of white vinegar, and add 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil or almond oil, which contains sulfur.
Lemon Juice, Citrus, or Peppermint - To make a repellent that will deter fleas, mix in a few teaspoons of lemon juice, citrus oil, or peppermint oil, any of which will repel ticks and fleas while also creating a pleasant smelling repellent. Spray onto the pet’s dry coat, staying away from sensitive areas such as eyes, nose, mouth, and genitals. When outdoors for an extended period of time, spray this solution on two to three times per day.
Cedar - Cedar essential oil is a (nontoxic natural substance) which has proven effective in the eradication of infestations in pets. Use of some essential oils containing phenols, such as basil, clove, oregano and thyme, can be hazardous to cats.
Bathing - Can dramatically reduce the flea population on a badly infested animal, especially when in combination with a mild detergent or shampoo, and brushing or combing.
Repellent for You and Your Family
In a spray bottle, mix 2 cups of distilled white vinegar and 1 cup of water. To make a scented solution, add 20 drops of your favorite essential oil. Eucalyptus oil is a calm, soothing scent, while peppermint and citrus oils give off a strong crisp scent that will also repel ticks.
Shake well to mix, spray onto clothing, skin, and hair before going outdoors. Reapply every four hours. Examine your skin and hair when back inside.
For the home
Vacuuming - Combatting a flea infestation in the home takes patience because for every flea found on an animal, many more could be developing in the home. A combination of controlled humidity, temperature, and vacuuming should eliminate fleas from an environment. The vacuum must be used around everything your pet frequents, to pick up all the larvae and eggs. Disposing of the bag after each vacuum is recommended.
Baking Soda - Safe for family and pets when used inside the home on carpets and floors. A layer can be sprinkled on carpets and worked into the fibers down to where the larvae and eggs are—dehydrating and killing them. The baking soda can be easily vacuumed up afterwards and safely disposed of. Treatments of 2-3 times per week will be required to remove an infestation completely.
Diatomaceous Earth - A food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE) can also be used as a home flea treatment. Application is effective on both the interior and exterior of one's property. The effectiveness of diatomaceous earth is diminished when it gets wet. It is also effective to simply leave it exposed in areas typically vulnerable to fleas and other insects. DE dust can be harmful when inhaled, so use of a dust mask is recommended when applying it.