How to Get Rid of Fleas

flea on a white background

You’re snuggling with your furry companion and notice something above her mouth. It’s only a fleeting glimpse, but then, there it is again, dipping in and out of her fur. With horror, you realize it’s a flea. You need to control them fast. Here’s how to get rid of fleas on your pet and in your home and yard.

Americans spend about $9 billion each year on getting rid of fleas. It’s best to try a multi-pronged approach to ridding your pet and environment of these biters. Here’s the way to do it:

How to Identify Fleas

Approximately 2,000 species of fleas exist, but the one most likely to give you the creeps is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, the most common flea found on pets, even your dog. Small, reddish brown, wingless insects, fleas appear around 1/8 inch long. These pests look flattened and possess mouthparts through which they feed on blood.

Here’s what you can see when your little cuddle buddy has fleas:

bed bug and flea side by side comparison
Photo Credits:
Bed Bug: AFPMB / Flickr / Public Domain
Flea: Doc. RNDr. Josef Reischig, CSc. / Flickr / CC BY-SA 3.0
  • The fleas themselves: You can sometimes observe the fleas on Fluffy and Rover or their bedding. These pests possess six legs with bristles that point backward and help them move through fur, making them expert jumpers.

    However, fleas are one of the bugs that look like bed bugs. If you’re unsure which pest you’re dealing with, your local pest control pro or Extension service can help.
  • “Flea dirt”: Partially digested blood the fleas excrete, flea dirt looks like reddish-black dust and can usually be found on pets’ bedding or favorite spots in the house or yard.
  • Larvae: Not quite 1/4 inch long, flea larvae appear dirty white. The most likely place to find larvae is in your pet’s infested bedding.
  • Nothing: You might not see the insects or their feces (the previously mentioned flea dirt). Instead, your only clue that they’re lurking may be your pet’s reaction: scratching.

Flea Life Cycle

little flea bites on a skin
Photo Credit: jxfzsy / Canva Pro / License

The life cycle of fleas includes four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. It generally takes only 30 to 75 days from adult flea to adult flea. External factors such as temperature, humidity, and the presence of a host affect the length of the cycle of cat fleas.


An adult flea jumps on your pet and begins to feed within 10 seconds, needing a blood meal to lay eggs and requiring only 2 days to start egg production. Some 4 to 6 days after this first meal, the flea already lays, on average, 27 oval eggs per day. She continues to blood-feed, consuming 15 times her weight a day.

Eggs, at about 3/16 inch long, often fall off the animal. However, you may not be able to see them on your pet or in your yard or home.


Legless flea larvae feed on adult flea dust, or excrement, although they may also feed on food bits and dead skin in a pinch. Larvae have no to few hairs, but they do have dark guts that can be glimpsed through their thin, see-through exoskeletons.

Larvae take 5 to 11 days to form into pupae. They tend to develop in areas protected from rain and sunlight; they like the relative humidity to be at least 75% and the temperature to be between 70 and 90 F.


The larvae spin cocoons, which become dirty with debris, providing camouflage. After a week or two inside the cocoons, larvae become adults.

The adult can last in cocoons up to 5 months without a host. However, it can snare a new host by emerging from the cocoon within seconds and jumping on him or her.  This extended cocoon time makes fleas especially vexing because they can suddenly “come alive,” even in homes that have been vacant for a time.


Adulthood is the only stage in the cat flea life cycle when the fleas live on their host. An adult female can produce 2,000 eggs in her lifetime. Here’s a really scary fact for you: At least 300 fleas exist in your home or yard or on your pet for every six fleas you can see. 

How to Get Rid of Fleas

red dots showing an allergic reaction on a cat
Red dots show feline miliary dermatitis, an allergic reaction most commonly caused by flea bites.
Photo Credit: Caroldermoid / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0.

Pet owners like you spend approximately $2.8 billion annually on vet bills when it comes to getting rid of fleas on cats, dogs, and other pets; this includes treatment not only for the little buggers themselves but also for flea-related conditions such as flea allergy dermatitis, anemia, and tapeworms. That’s a chunk of change, but it’s no reason to flee.

If your situation does become a flea circus, you should treat all of your animals simultaneously. But you must target more than just your pets. Their environment should also be treated. This includes your home and even your yard. Getting rid of fleas on your dogs and your cats should come first though.

For treatment to be effective, it must target all stages of the flea life cycle, from adults to eggs to larvae and pupae. Your vet knows how to draw up a flea-control plan for your babies.


Always read product labels to ensure the treatment is safe for both cats and dogs, as well as for kittens and puppies.  Because some flea products can be deadly to cats, always check the label – or with your vet, to be truly safe – to make sure a particular product has been approved for use on cats, and always, always follow the manufacturer’s directions.

The following brands, to name a few, can be used to control fleas; they’re found in various types of products such as shampoos, sprays, and collars, often with ingredients that also get rid of other pests such as ticks and heartworms. Some are effective for only a particular life cycle stage, and some kill fleas immediately, but all have various lengths of effectiveness.

  • Advantage, K9 Advantix, and Advantage Multi
  • Capstar
  • Comfortis
  • Fleatrol
  • Frontline Plus
  • NexGard
  • Ovitrol/Ovitrol Plus
  • Program
  • Promeris
  • Relieve Collar
  • Revolution
  • Sentinel
  • Seresto
  • Trifexis
  • Vectra 3D
  • Vectra for Cats and Kittens

It’s likely that you’ll be using more than one type of treatment because these tend to focus on a particular stage in the flea’s life cycle. However, newer treatments are getting better at targeting more than one. Again, your vet will know best, but do your own research too.

Other Flea Treatments for Cats and Dogs

Start from scratch to get rid of fleas. Always consult labels before using any flea product on your cat or dog or, to be safest, consult a veterinarian. And remember to treat your animals before you treat their environment. 

Types of products for getting rid of fleas are available as follows:

  • Shampoos and dips: You can drown fleas by bathing Fluffy or Spot with soap, shampoo, or mild detergent, some containing pesticides. Larvae can also be controlled by shampooing away the flea dirt that serves as their food.
iron flea comb with magnetic waves
Photo Credit: Rakhmat Sobirin / Canva Pro / License
  • Combs: You can shampoo and comb your pet at the same time. But if you can’t seem to get your kitty into the water, using a flea comb by itself is another option. However, any fleas you comb out should be placed into soapy water. Combing can remove up to 60% of fleas but also as low as 10%.
  • Dusts: Safer than shampoos because they carry no pesticide through an animal’s skin, flea dusts nevertheless cause issues of their own. When you use dusts, the powders become airborne, and you and your pet can breathe them in; safer, dustless products are available.
yellow coloured flea collar on a dog
Photo Credit: Dmitry Andreev / Canva Pro / License
  • Collars: Flea collars contain insecticides that break the flea’s life cycle. They can last up to 6 months. Ensure the collar you buy contains insect growth regulators such as methoprene and pyriproxyfen because some contain ingredients that don’t control flea growth at all.
  • Oral pills or food additives: These treatments work systemically to control the flea life cycle but don’t generally kill adult fleas.
  • Sprays and spot-on treatments: Liquid pesticides, spray and spot-on flea products are applied to your pet’s skin, often on the back of the neck or on the shoulder.

No flea product can be used over the counter on reptiles or on rabbits, ferrets, and other furry animals. Ask your veterinarian for advice on treating these pets.

How to Treat Your Home for Fleas

woman mopping the floor
Photo Credit: pixelshot / Canva Pro / License

It’s not enough to just treat your pets. You likely need to treat your home as well, especially places where your cutie pie likes to rest or sleep. If applying pesticides to carpets and cushions, first remove all your pets from the environment.

Launder pet bedding and clothing: Wherever Fluffy and Rover sleep, immediately wash their bedding, as well as bandanas or other clothing, in hot water and dry to get rid of the, ahem, flea market happening there. This may also take care of the other stages of the flea life cycle and will reduce the amount of flea dirt for larvae to feast on.

Vacuum and steam: Vacuuming reduces, but does not get rid of, the number of flea eggs, adults, and larvae in your house. It won’t remove pupae, which can stick to carpet, rug, cushion, and bedding fibers. It also reduces the amount of flea dirt for larvae to eat. Steaming is another, more effective way to remove fleas. Discard pet bedding in severe infestations.

Treat the carpet: When flea larvae ingest borate, it kills them by working as an intestinal poison. Limonene or linalool sprays also kill fleas on contact; because these evaporate quickly, however, they don’t work on fleas that hatch after treatment. Pesticides can help. Treatments should be repeated at 5- to 10-day intervals to kill emerging fleas.

Treat other types of floors: Mop floors that aren’t carpeted. Fleas may develop in cracks and crevices, and mopping will help get rid of them.

Consider foggers: If using foggers, make sure you’re doing the following:

  • Ensure your home is well ventilated.
  • Use one fogger per room.
  • Cover all food-prep areas and utensils. You don’t want pesticides in your or your precious pet’s food.
  • Remove all pets (e.g., furry animals, reptiles, birds, fish) from the house before treatment.
  • Make sure that the pesticides are completely dry before returning to your home.
  • Clean under your furniture afterward because it’s unlikely foggers will reach there.

How to Treat Your Yard for Fleas

worker using pesticides on yard
Photo Credit: GEOLEE / Canva Pro / License

Treat for fleas outdoors in severe cases of pet and home infestation. Double-check for fleas in your yard by taking a trip around its shady spots in white knee socks; fleas can’t resist the movement and jump on your socks, revealing themselves. 

Here are some things you can do to get rid of fleas in your yard:

Water: Fleas prefer dry outdoor areas, so watering your lawn may be enough to reduce the number of fleas in it. 

Use insecticides: Larvae also prefer dry, shady areas. Use spray insecticides such as insect growth regulators (e.g., pyrethroids, fenoxycarb) where pets frequent, such as their favorite spot under a tree or their doghouse. Methoprene is also commonly used outdoors. 

Cleanup: Mowing and raking your yard, especially deep-sixing the debris in flower beds and gardens and under bushes, decks, and porches, increases exposure of fleas to insecticides. Fleas don’t like sunlight, so pay attention to shady areas. Don’t forget other places where your pet spends time, such as the garage, basement, pet carrier, and even your car.

Keep your pets inside: It’s not a treatment per se, but if your lawn contains fleas, then you may want to keep your furry friends indoors, at least until you deal with the little biters. Although this doesn’t completely guarantee that your pets won’t get fleas, it lessens the chance they will pick up these annoying pests.


How Do Fleas Affect My Pet’s Health?

Flea allergy dermatitis, anemia, and tapeworms are three ways fleas can affect your pet’s health.

Flea allergy dermatitis: Cat fleas affect both dogs and cats, causing flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) from bites. The primary clinical sign includes itching, as well as crusty lesions on a dog’s lower back, tail base, and thighs and crusty papules on a cat’s face, neck, and back.

The most common dermatologic rash in U.S. dogs and cats, FAD occurs most often during the warmth of summer but can appear throughout the year in inside-only animals. Depending on the number of fleas involved and each animal’s reaction to bites, the extent of this rash can be mild to extensive. Flea infestation can also cause iron deficiency anemia.

Tapeworms: Although an uncommon occurrence, fleas can serve as hosts in the development of tapeworms in dogs and cats. The transmission occurs if, while grooming itself, an animal ingests an adult cat flea infected with the tapeworm; the adult worm ultimately attaches to the new host’s gut, causing malaise, irritability, and mild diarrhea.

Can Fleas Affect Humans?

People can also be bitten by fleas from their environment, especially if a flea-bitten animal sleeps with them. The result includes small, red spots that appear 12 to 24 hours after the bite, often on your lower legs and ankles. The itchiness often lasts a week or more.

Diseases: Flea-borne diseases are unlikely in humans in the U.S. in this day and age. During the Middle Ages, plagues ravished the world but were caused by rat, not cat, fleas carrying the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Rickettsia species have the potential to cause murine typhus (rat fleas) and flea-borne spotted fever (cat fleas) globally.

Bartonella species can cause cat-scratch disease in humans with bites from cats with fleas. The infected area in humans may appear swollen and red with round, raised lesions. Pus may be seen. Fever, headache, poor appetite, and exhaustion can occur. The lymph nodes adjacent to the scratch site can also become swollen, tender, and painful.

Tapeworms: Fleas can also serve as tapeworm hosts in humans. The transmission of a tapeworm can occur if a human accidentally ingests (e.g., during sleep) an adult flea infected with the tapeworm; the adult worm causes abdominal pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, and upset stomach after ultimately attaching to the new host’s gut.

How Can I Prevent Fleas from Jumping on My Pets?

Although they are very small, fleas can jump 13 inches horizontally and 8 inches vertically, so preventing them may seem impossible. That’s not true. If you take a few simple steps, you can help keep these insects off of your pets.

  • As discussed earlier, keep your pets indoors or at least reduce the time your pets spend outside.
  • Try to keep them away from wild and stray animals likely to be fleabags.
  • Bathe and brush your pets. Regularly grooming your babies may allow you to catch an infestation earlier.
  • Check your pets and their bedding often for fleas.
  • Talk to your vet about products that can prevent flea infestations. What is right for one pet may not be right for another.

Hire a Professional

Even if your pets stay indoors, they — and you — are at risk for fleas. You might think getting rid of these pests is as easy as applying medicine to the back of your pet’s neck. Sometimes, it is. Often, though, fleas invade your yard and your home, brought in by your little ones.

Talking to your vet is the best method of knowing how to get rid of fleas on your pet. Getting rid of fleas in your home and yard may be more difficult, however. In that case, it might be easiest to hire a local pest control expert. They’ll know the best ways to get these insects out of your environment for good.

Main Image Credit: BeholdingEye / Canva Pro / License

Pat Joiner

Pat Joiner has been working with words for 35+ years. In fact, playing with words is her greatest passion. Pat despises the bugs that pester her when she spends time outdoors gardening and enjoying her patio. She lives in her little condo and has two adorable cats named Mona and da Vinci.