Before we go into the methods of getting rid of fleas, the first thing you should know is that the most common species of flea that is likely infesting your house and pet is the cat flea, known as ctenocephalides felis. Don’t let the name ‘cat flea’ fool you though; these fleas will bite cats, dogs, and humans (this means you!) as well. While there are dog fleas (ctenocephalides canis) and human fleas (pulex irritans) as well, cat fleas are far and away the most common. In this article, we will speak briefly about life cycle and habits of the cat flea, as well as various methods of control and elimination.
Cat Flea Habits and Lifecycle
Despite the pervasive belief that fleas as ‘everywhere’, cat fleas prefer to spend most of their time in your pet’s bedding and your carpets (since I bet your pet prefers to lie down on your carpets too) as it provides adequate shelter for the fleas to lay eggs. When the eggs hatch into larvae, which have no legs meaning that they can’t jump around like the adults, the larvae feed on ‘flea dirt’ which is the dried feces and blood of the adult fleas. Since the larvae are relatively immobile, the adult flea always makes sure to lay their eggs in areas which the larvae would be safe and have sufficient access to food. An adult flea can lay over 20 eggs in a single day and over 800 eggs over the lifetime of a typical flea. After consuming sufficient nutrients, the larvae spins a cocoon (which is waterproof and provides a high degree of protection against most insecticides) and emerges a few weeks later as an adult flea.
Fleas are a persistent nuisance and they can be extremely difficult to get rid of. If you have fleas attacking your furry friends, read up on these tips on how to get rid of fleas on cats for effective flea killing strategies. Despite the prevalence of many natural methods out there on the Internet, insecticides are still the most effective way to combat a flea infestation as they are specifically formulated to kill the flea at every stage of their lifecycle. In comparison, natural methods most often work as repellents (with questionable effectiveness) or only kill adult fleas (methods such as diatomaceous earth or other flea traps).
When it comes to insecticides, there are five common types that you should know about, they are malathion, limonene, pyrethrin, linalool, and carbaryl. Both pyrethrin and linalool are organic compounds that are naturally derived from flowers. Insecticides containing pyrethrin, limonene, and carbaryl will take care of adult fleas and flea larvae, while compounds containing both limonene and linalool is able to eliminate fleas at all stages of their lifecycle, including the eggs (but may be ineffective against the pupae). Malathion is an insect growth regulator, meaning that it stops flea larvae from developing into adult fleas.
Flea Control Methods
- Insecticidal Soaps – Your pet is the source of the flea infestation and needs to be taken care of first. Give it a good bath with warm water and use an insecticidal soap for maximum effect. Note that some soaps are specific to your pet, so make sure you read the labels carefully, also some soaps are not appropriate to be used on puppies or kittens.
- Flea Dips – After a nice bath in insecticidal soaps, you can follow up with a good flea dip. The most common active ingredient in flea dips is pyrethrins, which are derived from the chrysanthemum flower. As an organic compound, pyrethrins are very low in toxicity while being no less effective. WARNING: Pyrethrins are extremely toxic to cats, so keep their use to dogs only. Mortality rates for cats treated with pyrethrins can range from 5% to 35%.
- Flea Sprays – If the flea dips wasn’t effective or you have felines instead of canines you can use a flea spray which usually have linalool and limonene as the active ingredients. These are citrus extracts and are extremely effective. Use on both your pet and their bedding.
- Flea Dust – The most common active ingredients in flea dusts are carbaryl and malathion. Carbaryl is a great choice for felines as they tend to be less sensitive to them. You can also purchase carbaryl and malathion separately at your local garden or hardware store, just be aware that malathion won’t kill fleas on their own as it is an insect growth inhibitor and not an insecticide.
A general application method for insecticides and insect growth regulators is as follows: you will need two treatments, with the first one being a combination of both insecticides and insect growth regulators while the second can be purely insecticides. The reason is that the first application may miss fleas in the pupal stage so you may still see adult fleas after the first application. The second application is to get rid of these newly minted adults.