Fleas are small, dark, reddish-brown, wingless, blood-sucking insects. Their bodies are
flattened from side-to-side, allowing for easy movement through the hairs on the host's body.
The flea body is hard, polished, and covered with many hairs and short spines directed
backward. The mouthparts of an adult flea are adapted for sucking blood from a host, and their
long legs are well adapted for jumping.
Fleas are small at only about 1/16-inch long.
Female fleas lay tiny, white eggs loosely on the body of the host, and often fall off the
host’s body onto the floor, bedding, or furniture. Some fleas can lay 500 eggs over a period of
several months. The eggs hatch in 1-12 days after being deposited, and after a week or so the
adult flea emerges and begins its search for blood.
Adult fleas must feed on blood in order to reproduce; however, adults can live for long periods
without feeding. Fleas usually live and breed most heavily where pets rest. If fleas are
established in a home, they will feed on man as well as on the pets. The entire life cycle of a
flea can require from two weeks to two years. Hot, wet, summer months are favorable for egg
laying; hot, dry periods allow for maximum adult production, so greatest adult flea populations
are produced in August to September.
Several species of fleas cause problems in Florida. The cat flea is the most frequently found
species, but dog, human, and sticktight fleas are also found in Florida. Fleas may attack a
wide variety of warm-blooded animals including dogs, chickens, rabbits, squirrels, rats, mice,
and humans. They are most often brought into the home on pets from outside.
Fleas often breed in large numbers where pets and other animals live. Fleas are known to remain
in the pupal stage from five days to five weeks in the absence of hosts. Adults emerge from the
pupal case when vibrations from pets or humans let them know a host is near.
Some people suffer more than others from flea bites. The bites can cause intense itching, often
resulting in secondary infection. The usual flea bite has a small red spot where the flea has
inserted its mouthparts. Around the spot there is a red circle with very little swelling. Aside
from minor itchiness, many people do not react to flea bites at all yet others are sensitive
and suffer severe allergic reactions. Fleas may also vector such human diseases as plague,
typhus, and tularemia.
Fleas have very powerful legs that enable them to jump approximately 7 inches vertically and 14
Flea control for pet owners must be implemented by treating the pet and the premises. Pet
treatment alone is usually insufficient because the animal quickly becomes re-infested from
untreated premises. To be certain pets remain free of fleas, it is necessary to make routine
use of flea control products, especially if pets are allowed to contact infested animals or
Veterinarians may prescribe oral flea medication, which helps control of fleas when pets are
not allowed outdoors. Topical or spot treatment also provides effective residual control.
Pets become re-infested with fleas from premises. For the most effective control, sleeping
areas, bedding kennels, and other areas frequented by the animal should be treated at the time
the pet treatment is made. Treatments may or may not include the use of pesticides.
Non-pesticidal premise control includes thorough and frequent cleaning of the house. All rugs
should be thoroughly cleaned with a vacuum cleaner or a steam cleaner. Infested furniture, pet
baskets, and cracks should be thoroughly cleaned to prevent the larvae from finding food. Dirt
that is collected should be disposed of immediately to destroy fleas and flea larvae.