July 25, 2022 - Podcast

Episode 290 — Protecting against flea infestations

It’s summer, so American pet owners may be dealing with a household pest that’s particularly pesky this time of year. Fleas are more active during the warmer months, which means you need to be more vigilant to protect your household from infestation. On top of causing excessive itching and scratching, fleas can carry diseases harmful to humans and pets, such as bubonic plague and some types of typhus. IU’s Marc Lame, an emeritus professor and medical entomologist, says the best way to get rid of fleas is to attack them on multiple fronts. Lame says monitoring for fleas is an important first step – especially in mid to late summer, when increases in flea infestations are more typical. Aside from excessive scratching, a common sign of fleas is flea dirt, or the feces left behind by fleas after a blood meal. This can look like small dark flecks of pepper. Once an infestation is identified, next steps include frequent vacuuming to help get rid of flea eggs and younger stages of fleas, as well as applying a safe pesticide to all pets in the home. Lame says fleas have what is known as a complete life cycle, which means they start as an egg, then become a larva, then a pupa, and then an adult. The only stage when a flea is on an animal is during the adult stage, and an adult flea can lay 40-50 eggs per day, or up to 3,000 eggs in its lifetime. That’s why it’s vital to clean indoors and remove immature fleas before they can become adults. Lame says it’s important now more than ever to mitigate infestations because climate change is exacerbating problems associated with fleas. The effects of climate change are causing hotter summers and warmer falls that allow flea populations to last longer, in addition to impacting the movement of smaller animals that host fleas.