Fleas are pests that are easy to overlook until bites are discovered on a person or a pet. They may pose serious health risks, especially to dogs and cats, due to the diseases they carry.
Flea infestations are also costly to get rid of. In fact, around $9 billion is spent every year in the United States on flea control—it’s one of the largest single expenses for pet owners.
Although fleas are a year-round problem, these bloodsucking insects are most active in the spring and summer. In New York and the Northeast, flea season usually starts in April due to warm weather.
Here’s what you need to know about dealing with fleas in New York City including facts, prevention, control, and treatment.
MMPC Flea Guide
Facts about Fleas
There are approximately 1600 flea species in the world, with more than 300 in the United States alone.
The most common type of pest flea in the United States is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis). Another species of fleas called the dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis) closely resembles the cat flea but is more commonly found in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
One common misconception is that dogs must have dog fleas and cats must have cat fleas. Despite what their names suggest, dog fleas can also affect cats and cat fleas can also affect dogs. In fact, if you live in the United States and your dog is incessantly scratching or biting, it most likely has cat fleas.
Fleas can’t fly, but they’re known their ability to jump up to 200 times their body length using a unique catapult mechanism, according to entomologist Lou Sorkin. They store a large amount of elastic energy in their muscles by compressing an elastic protein known as resilin. A small triggering muscle releases the stored energy, launching the flea into the air.
- Fleas are small, wingless insects with laterally-flattened, oval-shaped body and 6 legs.
- The average size of an adult flea is 1/16–1/8 inch long (1.5-3 mm).
- They can be reddish-brown, brown, or black in color.
- Their thin, flattened bodies allow them to move easily through an animal’s fur, hair, or feathers.
- Fleas also have backward-pointing spines on their bodies, which help them stay attached to their host.
- The presence of flea larvae, eggs, and droppings together in infested pet bedding will appear like it was sprinkled with salt and pepper.
- Fleas go through 4 life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
- Adult fleas typically live between several weeks to several months.
- Female fleas can lay up to 20-50 eggs every day.
- Egg production usually begins 1 to 2 days after their first blood meal.
- After eggs are laid, they usually fall off the host into carpet or pet bedding and hatch after one to 12 days.
- Fleas can eat 10 to 15 blood meals per day, ingesting up to 15 times their body weight.
- Fleas are attracted to breathing (carbon dioxide), warmth, and vibrations to find their next meal.
- Because they avoid light, fleas tend to burrow deep in carpet and fur
- Besides pets, fleas can and will also bite humans.
Problems Caused by Fleas
Beyond just itchy and annoying bites, fleas can pose a serious threat to both animals and humans. Here are some of the most common health problems caused by fleas.
Fleas can eat 15 times their weight in blood, and a severe flea infestation can literally suck the blood out of your pet. This can cause anemia, a shortage of red blood cells carrying oxygen resulting in fatigue, weakness, labored breathing, weight loss, and loss of appetite. Other signs of anemia in pets include pale gums, bruising on skin, and blood in stool or vomit.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)
FAD is the most common skin disease in dogs, and it can affect cats and other pets as well. The condition is a result of hypersensitivity to substances in flea saliva, which can cause intense itchiness from even a single flea bite. The main symptom of flea allergy dermatitis is excessive scratching, which may lead to hair loss and secondary infections.
Fleas are intermediate hosts for certain species of tapeworms such as Dipylidium caninum. Flea larvae ingest tapeworm eggs from pet feces. The eggs develop into cysticercoids inside the larva and remain dormant there until the flea matures. When the flea is ingested by an animal or human, the cysticercoid develops into an adult tapeworm after about one month, causing weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and other symptoms.
Fleas carry a variety of pathogens that can cause disease when transmitted to their host. Examples of fleaborne diseases in the United States include:
- Murine Typhus
- Cat Scratch Disease
- Flea-Borne Spotted Fever
- Canine Bartonellosis (dogs)
- Feline Hemotrophic Mycoplasmosis (cats)
Signs of Fleas
Keep an eye out for early warning signs of a potential flea problem, especially in the spring and summer. Like with bed bugs, if a flea infestation is left undetected or unattended, these pests can rapidly multiply and become very difficult to control or exterminate.
Signs That Your Pet May Have Fleas:
- Excessive scratching for long periods of time
- Sudden hair loss, especially around the neck, lower back, tail, and hind legs
- Flea bites, which appear as small, raised red dots
- Red and irritated patches of skin, due to fleabite hypersensitivity
- Abnormally pale gums, due to anemia
- “Flea dirt” in pet hair, which are small specks of flea feces resembling black pepper
Signs of Fleas in Your Home:
- Bites around your feet, ankles, and legs. Flea bites are typically small, raised dots that appear in small clusters. They may form a small scab surrounded by a light red halo.
- Flea dirt – If you find black pepper-like specks in pet bedding or in your carpets, they might be flea dirt, a mix of dried blood and flea excrement. You can verify this by picking them up with a damp paper towel. Due to the dried blood, flea dirt will leave reddish streaks on the paper towel.
- Flea eggs – Flea eggs are white, oval-shaped, and approximately 0.5 mm in size. While flea dirt resembles specks of black pepper, flea eggs resemble grains of salt. This “salt and pepper” combination, when found in pet fur or bedding, is often a telltale sign of a flea infestation.
The White Sock Test for Fleas
If you suspect there might be fleas living in your carpets, rugs, or furniture, one way to test this is using the “white sock test.”
Wearing a pair of knee-high white socks, walk or shuffle slowly through any suspected areas. If there are any live fleas, they will be attracted to your movement and body heat, causing them to jump onto your socks. After at least 10 minutes, take off and examine your socks for live fleas.
How to Prevent Fleas
Flea Prevention for Your Pet
Most flea infestations are brought into the house by a pet. Outdoors, fleas typically inhabit shady shrubbery, trees, and tall grass. Attracted by movement and body heat, they’ll latch onto unsuspecting pets that wander into their vicinity.
Therefore, the first step to preventing fleas is being proactive about regularly checking and washing your pets, especially dogs.
- Regularly inspect your dog’s fur for signs of live fleas, flea dirt, or flea bites.
- Bathing and brushing your dog frequently will also lower the risk of flea problems.
- During flea season, especially when the weather is warmer and more humid, try to limit the amount of time your dog spends outdoors.
- Before coming home, run a flea comb or brush through your pet’s fur.
- Lastly, consult your veterinarian about preventative flea control products that are right for your dog (or other pet).
Flea Prevention for Your Home
Aside from your pet, there are also steps you should take to make your home and yard less inviting to fleas. Once a flea infestation has rooted itself in a part of your home, they can spread to other areas and become much more difficult to get rid of.
- Thoroughly vacuuming or steaming carpets on a regular basis is an effective way of getting rid of fleas before they start reproducing.
- Wash your pet bedding weekly with hot, soapy water.
- Proper yard maintenance, including mowing grass and trimming shrubs, will discourage fleas from hiding and living there.
- If you live in an area with wildlife such as squirrels and raccoons, these animals can carry hitchhiking fleas into your yard. Keep these animals from coming in by keeping your yard clear of any trash or food and sealing any openings to crawl spaces, garages, and sheds.
Solutions to Get Rid of Fleas
Flea Solutions – Pets
If your pet has fleas, start by giving it a good bath and using a flea comb to remove any live fleas. Soapy water will also kill fleas.
There are several types of flea treatment for pets, including topical preventatives, flea collars, flea shampoos, flea sprays, and oral flea control. Consult with your veterinarian for treatment that best suits your pet.
- Flea Collars — These special plastic collars slowly release a chemical substance that repels and kills fleas. A single flea collar typically provides around 8 months of protection.
- Flea Shampoos — Also called “flea baths,” these special medicated shampoos can kill fleas on the spot and prevent them from coming back.
- Flea Sprays (Topical) — This is a type of medication that, when applied, kills and repels fleas for several weeks.
- Oral Flea Treatments — Flea pills can be given to pets in the form of small, chewable tablets. There are several types of flea pills with various chemical ingredients that, once absorbed into the bloodstream, target fleas in different ways. Some are designed to eliminate adult fleas, while others kill larvae or inhibit reproduction.
- Insect Growth Regulators — Abbreviated as IGRs, these growth regulators work by mimicking flea hormones to disrupt their development cycle. They can be used as ingredients in flea sprays, tablets, and food additives that are given to pets on a regular basis. IGRs are nontoxic and generally regarded as one of the safest flea treatments.
Flea Solutions – Home
When a pet has been diagnosed with fleas, there’s a good chance those fleas will also spread to other areas in your home. Not only will fleas get into pet bedding, but they’ll also find their way into carpets, rugs, and upholstered furniture.
For mild infestations caught early on, it might be enough to thoroughly wash your pet’s bedding (using hot water) and vacuum or steam carpets and upholstery. There is also a range of home remedies you can try, including salt, dish soap, baking soda, lemon spray, and more.
To get rid of more serious flea infestations from your home, consider some of the options below. If you haven’t used or heard of these products before, we recommend consulting a pest control professional first to make sure you understand what you need to do.
- Flea Sprays — These sprays use chemicals that kill fleas, larvae, and eggs. Many are made from natural ingredients that are safe for pets. Spray places where fleas are suspected to live, such as carpets, baseboards, and pet beds.
- Carpet Powders — Like with flea sprays, there are a variety of potent powders that can kill fleas at all stages. Apply the powder to the carpet and leave it on as instructed on the label — normally for an hour — then vacuum.
- Flea Foggers — Also known as “flea bombs,” these products come in aerosol cans that release a fog of insecticide into an enclosed space. However, their safety and effectiveness are controversial, so we do not recommend this option.
- Professional Flea Control — Oftentimes, it’s best to contact a flea exterminator earlier rather than later. When DIY treatments fail, you’re giving the fleas valuable time to multiply and spread, making the problem harder to control. A professional will help you diagnose how serious the infestation is and recommend appropriate treatment options for you.
About MMPC: NYC’s Top-Rated Flea Control Experts
At MMPC, our expert flea exterminators can help rid your home or apartment of flea infestations. We have more than 25 years of experience providing eco-friendly pest solutions for fleas and more. We’re also the #1 top-rated pest control on Yelp in New York City and Long Island.