What Do Fleas Look Like?

By: Kealia Reynolds How to

If your pet is scratching itself more than usual or you notice red, itchy bumps on your lower legs, you could be dealing with a flea infestation. But how do you know for sure? What do fleas look like? We describe what fleas look like, where they come from, what their bites look like, and how to treat flea bites and infestations.

What do fleas look like?

Fleas are small, wingless parasites with thin bodies that range from brown to reddish-brown in color. Though they don’t have wings, they’re capable of jumping long distances to get from host to host. Their bodies are covered in hair to root them to their host and allow them to easily move under a host’s fur or hair. Adult fleas are typically 2.5 millimeters long, making them difficult to notice individually. You’ll likely notice fleas on your pet first.

Cat fleas are the most common domestic flea, but dog fleas are also very prevalent in homes and on pets. Cat fleas don’t just affect cats—they affect dogs, various animals, and humans.

Where do fleas come from?

Most likely, fleas come from your pet having picked them up while outside. Fleas thrive in moist, shady areas, so if your pet frequently hangs out in one of these outdoor spots, there’s a good chance that’s where the fleas came from. Fleas can also come from raccoons, squirrels, rodents, and feral cats, so if you don’t have pets, one of these stray animals could be your likely source.

Closeup of mite and fleas infected on dog fur

What do flea bites look like?

Now that you know the answer to, “what do fleas look like,” you may be wondering “what do flea bites look like?” On humans, flea bites look like small, red bumps surrounded by light-red halos. You’ll likely notice flea bites randomly scattered on your lower legs and feet an hour after you’ve been bitten—this is different from bed bug bites, which appear in a straight line and show up a few days to weeks after being bitten.

If you’re unsure whether you’ve been bitten by fleas, look to your dog and cat for signs of a flea infestation. On pets, flea bites appear as raised red dots (smaller than typical bug bites), but these may be difficult to locate because of your pet’s fur.

The best way to determine if your pet has flea bites is to search for evidence of fleas and look for the following flea bite symptoms:

  • Raised, red bite marks—If bitten by fleas, pets may show visible red marks all over their body.
  • Redness—A pet that’s allergic to a flea bite will experience an allergic reaction, which can result in redness. Severe reactions to flea saliva can lead to hair loss, inflammation, and skin diseases like flea allergy dermatitis.
  • Persistent itching—Some pets may be hypersensitive to flea saliva, causing a severe itching sensation over their entire body from just one bite.
  • Small pustules—When pets itch their flea bites, their bites can become infected causing small, white pustules to form.

How to treat flea bites on humans

  1. Wash the bite with warm water and soap.
  2. Use an antiseptic and apply an ice pack to the bite area.
  3. Allergic reactions are common with flea bites, so put some calamine lotion on the bite to relieve redness and any itching sensations.
  4. If you’re experiencing severe itching, consult your pharmacist or doctor about antihistamines.

As much as flea bites itch, do not scratch them. They can get infected easily and potentially scar your feet and legs.

How to treat flea bites on pets

  1. Give your pet a bath using lukewarm water and a specially-formulated pet shampoo to get rid of any lingering fleas.
  2. Dry your pet with a towel.
  3. Brush your pet’s fur with a fine-tooth flea comb to dislodge remaining fleas. Remove the fleas from the comb and dispose of them in soapy water.
  4. Use a prescription-strength spot treatment or veterinarian-prescribed steroid cream to prevent emerging fleas and relieve any itching.

How to get rid of fleas

Fleas breed at a rapid pace—female fleas can lay over 2,000 eggs in three months—so it’s essential to eliminate them as soon as you notice an issue.

Here are some methods to get rid of fleas at all four stages of their life cycle.

Eggs

If flea eggs aren’t properly removed, multiple fleas will hatch in the coming weeks. Flea eggs look like translucent, oval dots and are about 0.4 millimeters in size. Not to be confused with brown flea dirt, which is a sign of flea fecal matter, flea eggs look like dandruff or grains of salt.

Here are some ways to get rid of flea eggs:

  • Clean pet bedding—Wash all pet bedding, blankets, pillows, and toys in hot, soapy water and dry them on high heat. If you think fleas have spread to the rest of your home, it might be a good idea to wash all other bedding, blankets, and pillows. This will get rid of eggs and lingering adult fleas.
  • Wash your pet—Give your pet a bath in warm water and use a flea shampoo to get rid of eggs and adult fleas.
  • Use a flea comb—After washing your pet, remove remaining eggs with a fine-toothed flea comb. You should also treat your pets with a flea ointment to prevent fleas from laying more eggs in their fur.
  • Vacuum around your homeVacuum your carpets (where flea eggs are most likely to get stuck) and couches on a daily basis with a water-based model vacuum. Throw away the bag each time you vacuum. This will remove not only flea eggs, but flea dirt as well.
  • Use an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR) flea spray—Choose between a natural or chemical IGR spray to treat carpets and furniture. This step is important as vacuuming doesn’t always cover areas where flea eggs are found.

Larvae

Once flea eggs hatch, the result is flea larvae that look like tiny, white worms with pale-colored hairs. They feed primarily on flea dirt to prepare for entering the pupal stage. Here’s how to kill flea larvae:

  • Clean your pet—Bathe your pet using a pet-safe shampoo. Use warm water and work the shampoo into a lather before rinsing it off. This will drown any flea larvae on the fur.
  • Wash pet bedding/human bedding—Drown flea larvae in hot water and soap by throwing pet bedding and human bedding in the wash.
  • Create a homemade flea remover—Mix one part baking soda and one part salt and sprinkle the mixture onto your carpet. This will dehydrate flea larvae in your carpet, causing them to die. Leave the mixture on your carpet overnight and vacuum it the next day, making sure to empty the contents of the vacuum bag outside your home once finished.

Pupae

Flea pupae are small, sticky, water-tight, cocoons that blend in with your carpets. In this stage, flea larvae are transforming into adult fleas. Pesticides and IGRs won’t get rid of fleas inside the protected pupal casings, but there are other mechanical methods that will. Here’s how to effectively get rid of flea pupae:

  • Vacuum carpetsVacuuming carpets, rugs, floors, and furniture will pick up pupae and encourage other fleas to hatch (which can then be treated with other removal methods). Dispose of the vacuum bag outdoors.
  • Encourage vibrations—Since pupae can be difficult to remove, encourage fleas to hatch out of their casing by vacuuming and cleaning around the house. The warmth and vibrations from these movements will entice fleas to hatch. Once the fleas hatch, you can use insecticides to get rid of the remaining adult fleas.

Adult fleas

Aside from vacuuming your floors, cleaning bedding, and washing your pet, here are specific methods that will eliminate adult fleas in your home:

  • Use food-grade diatomaceous earth—This fine powder contains microscopic remains of algae that will cut into a flea’s exoskeleton, causing them to dry out and die. Sprinkle this powder over your carpets and in other areas that have been affected by fleas. Remember to buy food-grade diatomaceous earth to ensure the safety of small children or pets.
  • Deploy a flea fogger—This is a chemical method that should only be used as a last resort. A flea fogger will disperse toxic gas into a room and kill fleas and other insects. Follow all instructions on the fogger. Before using a fogger, turn off all electricity, cover kitchen utensils and countertop appliances, put away all food in airtight containers, cover your furniture, open interior doors, and close windows. Everyone in the house must evacuate while the fogger is working to avoid breathing in any harmful chemicals.
  • Hire an exterminator—Even with the listed removal methods, it may be difficult to get rid of fleas depending on the extent of your infestation. Hire a professional pest control expert to assess the issue, provide natural and chemical flea control options, and enforce tactics that will get rid of your flea infestation once and for all.

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