Even the tidiest homeowners can find themselves faced with flea infestations. Pets, even those that are kept indoors, may become plagued by itchy, uncomfortable bites from fleas that have found unlikely ways of entering a home—and those fleas may decide to snack on their hosts’ owners if an infestation becomes too bad. Here are a few helpful tips on what to do if you discover you’re sharing your favorite winter blanket with unwelcome guests.

Where Do Fleas Come From?

Most of the time, flea infestations begin when an outdoor dog or cat brings fleas from the outside into the owner’s home. However, fleas can also enter a home on a piece of old furniture or on the skin or clothing of a guest whose house is infested; fleas don’t often use humans as hosts, but they’re capable of traveling on us. It’s even possible for fleas to get inside a house without using a host—fleas are very small and are capable of entering a house through window screens and cracks in the floor. You can help keep an infestation from beginning by vacuuming often and by bathing your pets and changing their bedding on a regular basis.  

How Long Do Fleas Live?

Fleas lay their eggs on a pet’s fur or bedding; these eggs fall off onto the surrounding furniture and floor shortly afterward. It only takes a few fleas to start an infestation because fleas are very prolific—some are even capable of laying up to 500 eggs over the course of just a few months. Anywhere between one and twelve days after being laid, these eggs hatch into tiny larvae that stay hidden in carpets, floor cracks, and furniture. Normally, flea larvae mature in one to two weeks, but conditions such as heat and dry surroundings, which aren’t healthy or beneficial for fleas, can cause the larval stage to take about six months. Then, the larvae spin insecticide-resistant cocoons, where they remain for up to five weeks. However, it is possible for flea pupae to rest inside their cocoons for a longer period of time and emerge only when they feel the vibrations from a potential host passing by—which is why some flea infestations begin when homeowners return to a house that hasn’t been occupied for a while.

A flea’s diet consists of blood from its host, and female fleas cannot lay eggs until they’ve fed. Unfavorable conditions can cause a flea to die within two to five days without a meal of blood, but with humid and temperate conditions and enough to eat, one flea can live anywhere between a month and an entire year. On average, a flea can live for two months without eating.

What Can You Do About It?

Luckily, getting rid of fleas isn’t as harrowing as dealing with a bed bug infestation. First, wash or get rid of any bedding or blankets where the fleas’ potential host spends a lot of time. Begin to vacuum often—this will spur more pupae to emerge from their cocoons and come into contact with any insecticides or desiccants you’ve applied to the area, and it will also help these substances work further down into a carpet.

If you decide to use an insecticide spray or a bug bomb, make sure to treat every area where fleas might be found; don’t set off a fogger just anywhere in a room. Homeowners and pets should stay away from a house, room, or surface that’s just been treated until the insecticide is dry, which can take a few hours. Keeping your windows open can help fumes dissipate faster and speed up the time it takes for the treatment to dry—and since fleas don’t fare well in heat, letting some sun in can even help a little on its own. Bear in mind that commercial insecticides aren’t the only available means of treating a flea infestation; there are a variety of both store-bought and homemade flea killers and recipes available, ranging from sticky flea pads and boric acid-based products to cedar oil and homemade rosemary spray. Fleas are also very easy to dehydrate, so sprinkling salt, diatomaceous earth, or baking soda over an infested area can complement your treatment.

It’s likely that you’ll still see fleas for a few weeks after you treat. That doesn’t mean that the treatment wasn’t effective—the leftover fleas are most likely newly hatched adults that were inside their cocoons during your initial treatment, and they’ll be removed easily enough by thorough vacuuming and washing. However, if the infestation doesn’t seem to lessen after about a month, it may be time to re-treat or call a professional.

You don’t have to spend the winter months sharing your cozy home with itchy, invasive fleas. Taking these steps—or calling in a Best Pick pest control specialist—will help ensure that you and your pets stay flea-free all winter long.

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Sources: Canine Journal; FleaBites; Offbeat Home & Life, Rapid Home Remedies; The Library of Congress; UK Entomology; UMaine Cooperative Extension.

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