These are one of the most irritating, stubborn, bloodsucking species of pests and they’re determined to thrive despite your best efforts.
While certain types confine their feeding to animals, others are equally satisfied with human blood.
Cat and dog fleas resemble each other closely, feed interchangeably between the two and are usually found in the Eastern states.
The human flea lives on all sorts of animals, wild and domestic, being particularly fond of hogs, in whose litters it will breed prolifically.
Sticktights breed on poultry and only occasionally transfer their attention to man.
These insects must have the blood of warm animals to reproduce. Once the eggs are laid, however, it can develop from egg to larva, pupa and adult and continue to live in the latter stage for several weeks with no food at all.
They will breed in hordes wherever animals sleep, especially in basements and out-buildings. From there they may be brought into the house by an animal and will migrate upstairs through the various living rooms, where they will cause no end of annoyance and embarrassment.
Difficulties In Getting Rid Of Them
You must treat your house, your pets and your yard all at the same time to prevent one location being a safe haven that allows them to move into another area (after you’ve cleaned it).
To successfully rid yourself of them, it’s imperative that you kill both the adults and the eggs. I mentioned above that they’re stubborn, and they are. It takes diligent care to get rid of these insects.
If you find they come back within a few days of cleaning, chances are you aren’t getting to all the eggs (they’re hatching after cleanup).
You can buy commercial powders and sprays or mix homemade concoctions for control (I have a few recipes below), but if you prefer something natural and is pet & child friendly, consider Diatomaceous Earth (DE).
This is a non-toxic pesticide that can be found in garden centers (look for the food grade stuff). It’s a soft, chalk-like sedimentary rock that is crumbled into a fine white to off-white powder. This has an abrasive feel, similar to pumice powder, and is very light, due to its high porosity. The typical chemical composition of diatomaceous earth is 86% silica, 5% sodium, 3% magnesium and 2% iron (Source: Wikipedia).
As I mentioned in a previous article about ant control, DE is easily picked up by the hairy bodies of most insects, whereupon it scratches through their protective wax layers and they also absorb some of this material. The result being that the insects dehydrate rapidly, dry up and die. Further protection is provided by its property of repelling many pests.
In houses it can be used effectively to prevent the entry of certain creepers such as earwigs, ants, and cockroaches, and to control these and others that are present in cupboards containing food, carpets, basements, attics, window ledges, etc.
In all of these examples it is important to place a small amount of the DE in corners, cracks, crevices and other areas where bugs might hide (Source: Ecological Agriculture Projects, McGill University).
It’s generally advisable to wear protective eyewear and a face mask to prevent irritation to the eyes and throat while spreading any product or sprays.
Methods of Treatment: General Care
Laundry: Wash all bedding and draperies in hot, soapy solution to kill any bugs that may be living in them.
Carpet: Treat with flea powder (follow the package directions), or Diatomaceous Earth, or a homemade mix (8 cups Borax + 1 cup table salt). If you choose to use DE or the homemade mix, spread evenly over the carpet with a shaker (such as a talcum container) and leave on for about 8 days before vacuuming up. Repeat again.
After vacuuming, remove contents from the vacuum and dispose of immediately in an outside sealed container for garbage pickup. Don’t forget to wash out the canister.
Flooring: Wash flooring and dog bed with hot soapy water then spread DE in the bed and surrounding area (make sure to get it into all floor cracks where the critters may be hiding).
Furniture: Sprinkle DE or flea powder over upholstered furniture and vacuum up after 8 days, repeating process again (or follow directions on the package).
General Surfaces: Walls, countertops, table legs, etc. Wash well with hot soapy water.
Caring For Pets
As soon as their living areas are free of the bugs, the animals themselves should be treated. How can you tell if they have them? The first sign is your buddy will be very itchy and scratching a lot.
Determine If They Are Infested With This Test:
- Stand the animal on a white sheet or towel and comb through his fur with a fine toothed flea comb (give it a few strokes), if you see one or two on the comb, you can bet there are more. If black flecks fall off his coat onto the towel, see if they’re flea dirt by sprinkling them with water. They’ll turn red if they are (this is their blood excrement from feeding).
- You can also spot check fur by spreading it apart and looking for this dirt (black specks), hot spots are behind the ears and at the base of his tail. You’ll also be able to feel them as you run your hands through the fur, they’re gritty and coarse.
- Bathe the pooch thoroughly with a shampoo formulated just for this purpose.
- Brush fur daily with the special fine tooth comb to remove as many eggs as possible.
- Use a commercial product or Diatomaceous Earth on fur, rubbing it deep into the hide to reach the skin. Keep out of their eyes, ears and nose to prevent irritation.
As a supplementary measure to clearing your home and pets of the infestation, keep the grass cut short as contact with sun and rain kill these critters readily. If these measures still do no good, spread diatomaceous earth around the yard paying attention to shady areas and low shrubbery.
- Bathe the dog (pets) regularly
- Use cedar chips, shavings or sawdust in your dog’s bedding, this will help repel them
- Pine needles spread on the dog house floor (outside) will also help repel them
- Vinegar: Add a teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar to the pet water dish, helps prevent ticks as well
- Repellent Floor Cleaner Recipe: 15 drops lavender essential oil + 1/4 cup liquid Ivory Soap + 1 gallon hot water. Mop with cleaner and do not rinse. You could also use rosemary essential oil rather than lavender.
Itch Relief (For Humans)
- Vicks Vapo Rub
- Calamine Lotion
Did You Know?
- It’s the saliva from the bites that make them so itchy
- They can transmit tapeworms to your canine
- They don’t fly but jump from one victim to another
- Each one can lay dozens of eggs per day
- They thrive in warm & humid climates
Source: Some of the information above is from Woman’s Home Companion Household Book (1948)