Caitlin UltimoFlea & Tick / Health

How to Detect a Flea Infestation

Few things are worse than having a full-on flea infestation in your home. Flea bites on dogs (and/or flea bites on cats) will then be only part of your problem, believe it or not. When fleas are nipping at your ankles, an infestation is quite obvious! But in other cases, it’s less apparent, especially if the infestation is still in its early stages. It’s not uncommon for this to be the situation when you move into a new home. The fleas in the house may not have been noticeable when you toured the property, but by the time you move in, they’re everywhere.

The goal should always be to keep fleas at bay in the first place by using your vet’s recommended preventative flea treatment for dogs (and/or fleas on cats, as the case may be), reminds Dr. Bethany Howe, a veterinarian at Hawkins Animal Hospital and Wellness Center in Ronkonkoma, NY. Once they are in your home, it can be a nightmare. If you’d like to try a natural dog and cat flea treatment as an extra measure of defense, you may want to look at Vet’s Best Flea + Tick Spray for Dogs, which relies on plant-based active ingredients. Regardless of what you choose to treat your pet with, “Never use a product labeled for dogs on cats,” cautions Peter Lugten, veterinarian at Basic Pet Care in West Babylon, NY. Always follow the directions on the package, or your vet’s directions, and use it for the specific species it’s made for.

Since summertime is high season for fleas as well as moving, here’s help for both spotting an infestation before it gets out of hand, as well as ways to get rid of the buggers if they have settled in.

Make sure you don’t already have a cat or dog with fleas. If she’s suddenly noticeably scratching, check her fur, especially around her head, neck and hindquarters, the areas fleas usually target most. Reddened areas of skin with some fur loss can be caused by flea bites on dogs (or flea bites on cats). Even if you don’t see the insects themselves, tiny black droppings (aka flea dirt) that look like pepper are a telltale sign. If you want to make sure what you’re looking at is flea dirt, grab a damp white paper towel or cloth, and wipe it off your pet. If the towel shows red streaks, it’s flea dirt. If your pet has fleas, an infestation in your home can be temporarily avoided but is often not far behind. Adams Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo stops flea eggs from hatching for 4 weeks, disrupting their life cycle and upping the odds that your home won’t get reinfested.

Then, check pet beds. Flea eggs don’t adhere to your pet’s fur as well as the fleas themselves, so they tend to fall off in places your pet frequents. Your pet’s bed should be the first place you look, as well as any other spots your pet is allowed to sleep in, such as couches, chairs or your bed. Flea eggs are tiny, off-white ovals that can be hard to see on light-colored upholstery and rugs. You may need to use a magnifying glass in that case.

Look over carpeting. Rugs are common places for fleas to lay eggs, so run your hands over your carpet carefully, looking in between the fibers for eggs. Again, unless you have dark carpeting, they can be tough to spot without a magnifying glass.

Don’t overlook hardwood floors. Unfortunately, if you have a dog with fleas, you’re not in the clear if your home has only bare hardwood floors. Determined fleas will lay eggs in the cracks between wood floorboards, notes Dr. Howe.

Do the sock test. Put on knee-high (or at least calf-high) white socks and walk around your home for an afternoon, keeping close to carpeting and putting your feet up on furniture. Check the socks for fleas. The critters are stupendous jumpers for their size, and if they are in your home, odds are a few would have attempted to hitch a ride on you, and thus be visible on the socks.

Perform triage. If you’ve determined you have fleas for roommates, don’t panic. Foggers and flea bombs performed by professional exterminators should only be used in the most severe cases, says Dr. Lugten. In general, the first thing to do is to launder “everything that can be put into a washing machine, using color-safe bleach,” says Dr. Howe. Obviously, your pet’s bedding (and actual bed, if possible) should be the first to go in, but also wash your own bedding, couch throws, bathroom mats, slip covers, curtains and the like.

Vacuum—a lot. Until the infestation is eradicated, you have to vacuum the entire house every single day, recommends Dr. Howe. If you have bare hardwood floors, then you need to vacuum and mop every single day. Dr. Howe has an additional trick: If you have a bag vacuum, buy an inexpensive flea collar, cut it up, and put the pieces inside the bag. “That way, the fleas will be killed immediately upon entering the bag, so you don’t have to worry about them getting out if you get distracted and don’t throw it out right away.” After vacuuming, treating carpets with a flea spray such as Sentry Home Flea Free Breeze can serve as an extra measure of defense.

Stay vigilant. “It can sometimes take 3 or 4 weeks for all the flea pupae in a house to hatch,” notes Dr. Lugten. He recommends using Rx for Fleas as a far better alternative to the toxic “bombs” professional exterminators use. And don’t overlook the obvious: fleas are getting into your house from the outdoors, so tackling your front and back yard with an outside flea spray, such as Advantage II Yard & Premise Spray can be a smart move.