This article was crafted with the help of Charlie Washburn from Alexander Termite & Pest Control

If you’ve ever tried to catch a flea, you know that they’re resilient, hard-to-kill parasites—fleas have flattened bodies, making them very difficult to squash. To make matters worse, fleas change radically over the course of their life cycle and must be targeted differently as eggs, juveniles, and adults. If an infestation isn’t properly dealt with, you may wind up with a persistent, if not worsening, flea problem.

Charlie Washburn, general manager of Atlanta-based Alexander Termite & Pest Control, says that the solution to eliminating fleas lies in a comprehensive approach. By treating your pets, cleaning your home, and working with a qualified pest management contractor, you can decimate flea populations and decrease the chances of the pesky pests persisting.

Know Your Enemy: The Flea Life Cycle

Flea populations are so difficult to kill because fleas adopt very different bodies and behaviors during their life cycle. Understanding how fleas mature will help homeowners combat fleas at their most vulnerable states.

Fleas begin as eggs that slip easily through a host animal’s fur, fall off, and collect around areas frequented by pets. As durable as adult fleas are, they’re even harder to kill as eggs. “Flea eggs are fairly impervious,” says Charlie. “They’re tough to spot, and it’s difficult for pesticides to penetrate them.”

After a few days, the eggs hatch into larvae—legless scavengers that burrow down into carpets and feed on dried blood and adult flea feces that also fall from an infected host’s fur. Eventually, the larvae enter cocoons and live for a few days as pupae. When alerted to the presence of potential hosts through vibrations, adult fleas emerge from the cocoons, immediately leap onto a host, and begin feeding.

Homeowners should be aware that the length of the flea life cycle can vary wildly depending on circumstances. Nurtured by moderate temperatures and plenty of food, fleas mature over the course of a few days; under less favorable conditions, a flea’s progression from one stage of the life cycle to the next can be strategically delayed for prolonged periods—up to 200 days, as discovered by entomologists. Also, fleas can be long-lived after reaching maturity; according to Charlie, “An adult flea can live over a year provided it has a blood meal after hatching."

Homeowners can learn two tactics from this lesson in flea biology. First, repeatedly target fleas with treatments that are effective against adults, juveniles, and eggs. Second, remain vigilant until you’re sure no more generations of fleas are waiting to emerge from dormancy.

Fighting on Many Fronts

The good news is that while fleas are willing to feed on humans, our regular grooming practices and lack of fur reliably keep the pests from settling in and starting families. The bad news is that houses have plenty of other places that are more hospitable to fleas, including pets, thick carpets and upholstery, and yards. In order to target fleas at all life stages and prevent cross-contamination, “treating pets, yards, and the interior of the home should all be done at roughly the same time,” advises Charlie. He adds that homeowners should use the following strategies with the expectation that they’ll have to apply at least two treatments to each flea habitat—a process that should take approximately ten to fourteen days.

Adult fleas on pets: Cats and dogs are not only feeding sites for adult fleas; they are also the primary means by which fleas spread concentrations of eggs throughout people’s homes. That’s why, according to Charlie, “the first and most important step is to remove fleas from pets.” In consultation with their veterinarian, homeowners should find a treatment that’s appropriate for their pet—probably a prescription parasiticide administered orally or topically. When done meticulously, washing and combing a pet can also be effective. Whatever the treatment, homeowners should expect to use the method more than once. “Remember that it’s usually not a single treatment that’s needed,” says Charlie. “Any effective method for dealing with fleas will probably be a regimen or a program, not a one-time thing.”

Juvenile fleas in the home: As infected pets move around the house, adult fleas lay eggs that fall off and settle in carpet fibers and upholstery. Upon hatching, flea larvae embed themselves even deeper. According to Charlie, the best way to deal with entrenched juvenile fleas is simple. “By regularly vacuuming carpets and cleaning pet bedding, homeowners can uproot many eggs and larvae before pesticide is even applied,” he says. After vacuuming, remember that you’ve only sucked up and trapped the young fleas; banish them forever by immediately throwing the vacuum bag away in an outside garbage bin.

Even after a vacuum assault, some eggs and young fleas will probably remain. Charlie recommends hiring a contractor to finish them off. “Professionals have the best products available and the experience to apply them effectively,” he says. “Homeowners may have to experiment for a while before they get professional-level results.” If you decide to attack the fleas yourself, keep in mind that you probably shouldn’t use a traditional pesticide designed to kill adult fleas; you’ll be better served by an insect growth regulator (IGR) that prevents young fleas from maturing and reproducing. Again, Charlie recommends applying your treatment of choice more than once. “IGRs are very effective, but flea eggs are resistant to aerosols,” he says. “Vacuum and treat the house a second time to kill any survivors as well as the next generation.”

Wild fleas in the yard: Again, good upkeep is crucial to deterring fleas. “Keep the lawn mowed, trim the shrubbery, and have a pest control company periodically treat the yard,” advises Charlie. “The technicians should have special licenses to apply very effective outdoor pesticides. Treatments will usually take care of a lot of pests besides fleas as well.” Homeowners can help by pointing out places where they’re most likely to have flea problems. “Fleas thrive from 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit,” notes Charlie, “so direct your pest control applicator to the shady places where your pet likes to lie down.” For more information about how to discourage all kinds of pests from invading your home or yard, click here to read our post about the seven ways homeowners unintentionally welcome bugs to their property.

Winning the War

From identifying the multiple sources of an infestation to partnering with a pest management contractor, it’s clear that eradicating fleas requires a calculated battle plan. As Charlie repeatedly points out, make sure your response to a flea infestation is coordinated and persistent in order to get the most effective results.

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This spotlight article was crafted with the help of Alexander Termite & Pest Control, a Pest & Termite Control Best Pick in Atlanta. While we strive to provide relevant information to all homeowners, some of the material we publish may not pertain to every area. Please contact your local Best Pick companies for any further area-specific advice.