Fleas 101

As the weather warms up again, it’s time to start watching your pet for fleas – and proactively avoiding infestation.

Fleas are more than just a nuisance to pets. They can transmit parasites, cause allergic reactions, and they can also bite you and your family!

Although there are more than 2000 species of fleas, the most commonly encountered today is the cat flea. Despite its name, it is adaptable and is found on both cats and dogs. Fleas are small, brown, wingless, parasitic insects that feed on blood.

Fleas can live just about anywhere, but they prefer the warmth of a furry pet and they thrive in humid conditions. How can you tell if your pet has fleas? Watch for ‘flea dirt’ – small black specks in your pet’s coat, which are actually dried blood excreted by the fleas. During regular grooming, collect any debris from your pet’s coat onto a white paper. Moisten the specks with a drop of water and if they turn red or reddish-brown, your pet likely has fleas. The only good news? Catching fleas early will make treating the problem easier.

The four-stage life cycle of fleas requires a consistent, ongoing approach to effectively prevent infestation. In the pupal stage, fleas are at their hardest to eliminate and they can remain in that stage for up to six months!

Lifecycle of a Flea

Stage 1 – Egg : The adult female flea will lay eggs only on your pet. As your pet moves around the house, eggs will fall off onto rugs and furniture. There, they hatch into larvae in 2-4 days.

Stage 2 – Larva: These maggot-like creatures feed off of protein sources found in carpets or furniture. A larva will feed on crumbs of food or “flea dirt” to sustain life. Within two weeks, the larva spins a cocoon.

Stage 3 – Pupa: The pupa’s cocoon protects it from outside dangers while it becomes an adult. While in this state, it is invulnerable to most flea control products. The flea will stay in this state for as little as 7-10 days, hatching when it senses the vibration and heat of an animal. Note: Without the right amount of heat and the presence of a host to feed on, a pupa will remain dormant for up to 6 months. This accounts for many re-infestations.

Stage 4 – Adult: They seek out a host, take a blood meal, mate within 48 hours, and lay eggs within 72 hours to begin the reproductive cycle again.

Are you prepared?
What is the best way to avoid a flea infestation? Preventative measures that are easy to use and available at your local Pet Valu store. The easiest is a ‘spot’ treatment that you apply once per month for complete protection. Try Zodiac PowerSpot for small or large dogs, Zodiac Spot-On for cats, or Hartz UltraGuard for dogs and cats. These products are proven effective against fleas, and best of all, you can enjoy the convenience of picking them up at your local store without an appointment. Another tried-and-true prevention product is a flea collar. Often one collar can kill fleas for the whole flea season (up to five months).

Too Late! We’ve Got Fleas
Do you know what to do if you miss the ‘prevention’ boat? A three-step process will get you back on track.

Step 1 – Treat the Home

Treating all the carpeting, upholstered furniture, pet bedding, and favorite pet resting areas will wipe out the adult flea  population. It’s important to treat areas like underneath furniture and in closets, even if a pet has not been in the exact spot as the larvae that hatch will seek out dark, hidden places. Use a premise spray such as Zodiac Premise 2000, which will kill adult fleas, stop eggs from hatching and kill larvae, continuing to work for up to seven months. Pets and children can safely re-enter a treated area once the spray is dry. Replace any pet bedding (or wash in HOT water and dry on a hot setting if possible). Remember to throw away your vacuum bag. Just sucking up a flea doesn’t necessarily kill it, and the bag is an ideal location to form a cocoon. The protective cocoon of the pupal flea allows it to survive most treatments. In order to be killed, fleas must first emerge from their cocoons and come in direct contact with the spray. It usually takes about one to two weeks for pupal fleas to emerge from cocoons so it’s not unusual to continue to see fleas for approximately 2-3 weeks after treating a pet and home.

Step 2 – Treat the Pet

Provide immediate relief for your pet with products like pet sprays or flea treatment shampoos. Follow the directions on the treatment products you choose. Some will protect your pet for longer than others, but all products should be applied only as often as suggested on the label.

Step 3 – Protect the Pet

Once the infestation is resolved, it’s time to implement preventative measures to avoid reoccurrence. See “Are You Prepared” (at left) for recommendations to protect your pet.


Flea season begins in April, reaching its peak during the August humidity. A single female flea can lay 25 eggs per day, or 800 in her lifetime. Fleas can survive several weeks without ‘feeding’ on a host animal. Adult fleas can jump up to 20 cm vertically and 40 cm horizontally. Larvae can travel 30 cm per minute.

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