Here’s a scary thought: The fleas your vet recently spotted on your dog or cat may only be the tip of the iceberg. Your home may also be the unfortunate site of a flea infestation. So, what’s a pet parent to do? First things first: You need to learn how to detect fleas in your house.
When fleas are nipping at your ankles, a flea infestation is quite obvious. But in other cases, the signs of fleas in your house can be less apparent, especially if the infestation is still in its early stages.
Pet parents should always take preventative measures to keep fleas, as well as ticks, at bay and consult their veterinarian when choosing a flea prevention treatment. But if you still find yourself with a potential pest problem, Peter Lugten, BVM&S, MRCVs, of Basic Pet Care in West Babylon, New York, and Bethany Howe-Fanning, DVM, CVA, founder of Hawkins Animal Hospital and Wellness Center in Ronkonkoma, New York, are here to help you spot fleas in your house before they get out of hand—as well as how to get rid of the buggers if they have settled in.
How to Detect Fleas on Your Pet
One obvious sign that you might have a flea infestation is if you find them on your pet. Check their fur, especially around their head, neck and hindquarters—these are the areas fleas usually target most.
Reddened areas of skin with some fur loss can be caused by flea bites, and even if you don’t see the insects themselves, you might notice tiny, black, pepper-like dots (aka “flea dirt,” or flea feces) that are a telltale sign that fleas are afoot. Grab a damp white paper towel or cloth and give those black dots a swipe. If the towel shows red streaks, it’s flea dirt. If you do find fleas or signs of fleas, contact your vet right away to get their treatment recommendations.
Check out these best-selling flea treatments for dogs and best-selling treatments for cats, but regardless of which you choose, “Never use a product labeled for dogs on cats,” Dr. Lugten says, as certain insecticides that are safe for dogs can be toxic to felines. Always follow the directions on the package and your vet’s instructions.
How to Know If You Have Fleas in Your House
If your pet has fleas, an infestation in your home is probably not far behind. In fact, there may already be fleas in your house! Here’s how to find out.
Check Pet Beds
Flea eggs don’t adhere to your pet’s fur as securely 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, such as on 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 tool, like a magnifying glass or your phone’s magnification.
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, so look thoroughly with the aid of a magnifying glass.
Don’t Forget Hardwood Floors
Unfortunately, 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, Dr. Howe says, giving them another place to grow and hide.
Do the White Sock Test for Fleas
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. Then, check the socks for fleas. If they’ve taken up residence in your home, odds are that a few will be visible on your socks.
How to Get Rid of a Flea Infestation in Your Home
If you’ve determined that fleas have taken up residence in your home, don’t panic! First, be sure you work with your veterinarian on the best way to treat and prevent fleas on your pet. Then, follow the home-cleaning steps below to gain the upper hand on the little buggers.
Begin attacking your pest problem with a laundry day to end all laundry days. “[Wash] everything that can be put into a washing machine, using color-safe bleach,” Dr. Howe says. Your pet’s bed should be the first to go in, but also wash your own bedding, couch throws, bathroom mats, slipcovers and curtains.
Get Out the Vacuum
Dr. Howe also recommends vacuuming and mopping daily until you’re sure the pests have been eradicated. She also shared an additional trick: If you have a bag vacuum, buy an inexpensive flea collar, cut it into pieces and place them inside the bag. “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 out [the bag] right away,” Dr. Howe says.
“It can sometimes take three or four weeks for all the flea pupae in a house to hatch,” Dr. Lugten explains, referring to the adolescent larvae who have entered their cocoon stage and will soon hatch into adult fleas. So be sure to keep up with your daily cleaning duties as needed.
Try a DIY Home Flea Treatment
Dr. Lugten also recommends using RX for Fleas Plus Fleabusters Powder, which can be sprinkled over carpets and furniture and is designed to be safe for both pets and people, as an alternative to the toxic foggers and flea bombs that professional exterminators use. Those pro treatments should only be used in the most severe cases, according to Dr. Lugten.
Don’t Neglect Your Yard
And don’t overlook the obvious: Fleas enter your home from the outside, so tackling your front and backyard with an outdoor flea spray, such as Advantage Yard & Premise Spray, can help prevent future infestations.
We know that discovering your pet or home is flea infested can be scary. After all, fleas make for roommates worse than the ones you had in college. But by following the above advice, we’re confident that you’ll be able to evict those little pests soon enough.