Fleas are one of the more important groups of insect pests
because they not only cause discomfort by biting, but they
can transmit several diseases such as plague and murine typhus.
Cat fleas are found throughout the United States and the rest
of the world.
Adults about 1/8" (2.5 mm) long. Body laterally flattened
(side to side); wingless. Color brownish black to black, but
reddish black when full of blood. Female's head twice as long
as high. Compound eyes well developed. Both genal and pronotal
combs present, each composed of 16 spines, and genal comb's
first 2 anterior spines of about equal length. Femur of hind
leg with 7-10 bristles on inner side. Abdominal terga (dorsal
plate of segments) 2-6 with a single row of bristles. In addition,
antennae short, 3-segmented; ocelli lacking; legs long, coxae
large, tarsi 5-segmented; usually jumping insects; mouthparts
piercing-sucking with well-developed palps.
larvae about twice the adult length (1/4"/3-5.2mm). Larvae
whitish, slender, eyeless, and legless. With a well-developed
head. Anal struts/hooks 2, small. With moderately long, backward-projecting
hairs (setae) encircling each segment. Last abdominal segment
(10th) with 3 ventrolateral hairs (setae).
(1) European mouse flea (Leptopsylla segnis) has genal comb
with only 4 spines. (2) Rabbit flea (Cediopsylla simplex)
with genal spines oriented vertically (vs. horizontal), comb
spines with blunt/rounded ends. (3) Dog flea (Ctenocephalides
canis) with head length less than twice height, genal comb
with spine I (anterior most) distinctly shorter than spine
II (adjacent spine to posterior/ rear), hind leg femur with
10-13 bristles on inner side. (4) Other fleas (various families)
lack having both pronotal and genal combs or if both pronotal
and genal combs present, then either have abdominal combs
or have fewer than 16 spines in pronotal comb (dog flea with
16 pronotal spines, see above).
Females lay 4-8 eggs after each blood meal, laying some 400-500
during their lifetime. The eggs are not glued/stuck to the
hairs or body but are deposited on or between hairs, or in
the nest or bedding material. Hence, eggs deposited on the
animal either fall or are shaken off, and are frequently found
in cracks and crevices where pets sleep or frequent. Eggs
are oval, whitish, and about 1/64" (0.5 mm) long. They
usually hatch in 1-12 days.
larvae move about using the setal rings and abdominal struts/hooks.
They have chewing mouthparts and feed on organic debris but
almost all require dried fecal blood in order to complete
development; they do not bite but feed on adult flea fecal
blood. Larvae require high relative humidity (45-95%) and
1-2 weeks to several months to go through 3 instars. Last
instar larvae then spin a cocoon and incorporate surrounding
debris on its surface which provides camouflage. Under favorable
conditions, the pupal stage may last 4-14 days or up to a
year under harsh conditions. The pre-emerged adult remains
in the cocoon for up to 20 weeks, where it is protected from
adverse conditions, including pesticides. Adults are stimulated
to emerge from the cocoon by mechanical depression of the
cocoon, an increase in temperature, and possibly vibrations.
Larvae and pupae are typically found where the animal sleeps
usually begin to seek a blood meal on the second day after
emergence, but can live for several months on stored body
fat. Once on a host, they tend to spend all of their time
on the host, feeding, mating, and laying eggs, unless dislodged.
Although they have a preferred host, they will readily bite
and can survive using other species as hosts. Depending on
conditions, adults usually live only several days because
normal cat grooming removes up to 50% of the fleas; otherwise,
they can survive about a year.
fleas may transmit plague. There is very strong circumstantial
evidence that they may transmit murine typhus. Cat fleas serve
as intermediate hosts of the dog tapeworm, Dipylidium canninum
(Linnaeus), and the rodent tapeworm, Hymenolepis diminuta
(Rudolph). These tapeworms occasionally infest humans, especially
very young children. The dog tapeworm commonly infests cats
that spend time outdoors.
It is not necessary to have pets in the building in order
to have fleas present. Since fleas can jump about 6"
(15 cm) vertically, they can easily hitch a ride on shoes,
vacationers who may have been unaware of the few adult fleas
present, are often greeted and severely attacked by fleas
upon their return. This can occur even if the building has
been vacant of animals and people for as long as 6 months
or so. This situation can occur because of the potentially
long pupal period, adults can live for months without food,
and because fleas have not been removed via normal vacuuming.
Also, fleas are normally removed from the interior environment
by taking up residence on the pet(s).
are typically found where animals sleep or frequent, including
along their usual avenue of travel, because this is where
eggs and adult fecal blood accumulate. Most larvae will be
found in similar places but especially in areas with high
moisture which is necessary for their survival. Pupae will
be found in the same situations as larvae. Such places include
both indoor and outdoor situations. Cat fleas are also found
on other urban hosts such as opossum, fox, mongoose, and occasionally
larvae die at relative humidities below 45% and above 95%,
and hence, are rarely found outdoors in arid climates. Larvae
fail to develop at temperatures below 55 degrees F (13 degrees
C) and at or above 95 degrees F (35 degrees C).
Flea control is a 4-part process.
Wild animals such as rodents, opossums, etc., which are nesting
in or frequently visiting the structure must be prevented
from entering the structure and controlled with appropriate
trapping devices or baits.
If the pet has fleas at the time of treatment, the pet owner
must arrange for the pet to be treated. Treatment may be done
by a veterinarian, grooming parlor, or by the pet owner, but
must be done on the day of treatment and either before or
while the premises are being treated.
Indoor control. The homeowner or occupant must do the following
just before the flea treatment: remove all items such as toys
and pillows off the floor or carpet; remove all articles from
under beds, on closet floors, and from under furniture; vacuum
all upholstered furniture, floors, and carpeting, paying particular
attention to the foot of the furniture on which the pet rests,
under furniture, and wall-floor junctions. The vacuum bag
must be immediately removed and put into a plastic garbage
bag, the top sealed, and then placed in an outside garbage
receptacle or burned. Thoroughly clean all areas frequented
by cats, e.g. table tops, refrigerator tops, window sills,
counters, etc. Cover aquariums and turn off the pumps prior
to the treatment. Be sure to remove all pets, including birds.
pest control operator's treatment consists of applying an
appropriately labeled pesticide and/or IGR as per label instructions
with thoroughness being the key to success. It is recommended
that an IGR (insect growth regulator) be used on the initial
treatment and reapplied as per label instructions every 3-6
months throughout the flea season. For problem accounts, it
is recommended that the IGR alone be applied prior to the
beginning of the next flea season as a preventative measure.
Regardless, after any carpet and/or floor treatment, do not
allow humans or pets back into the house until the treatment
has completely dried. This will prevent pesticide pickup and
possible staining from dirt being brought in contact with
the damp carpet. Also, advise the occupant(s) to ventilate
the house upon re-entry. Since vacuuming has little effect
on residual deposits, advise the customer to vacuum several
times during the first 7-10 days after treatment. This will
help reduce the emerging fleas and callbacks. Be aware that
some pesticide sprays (microencapsulated formulations) tend
to stimulate fleas to emerge from their cocoon.
Outside control. Minimally, spot treatment should be done.
This consists of treating with an appropriately labeled pesticide
and light-stable IGR, every place the animal rests, naps,
or sleeps which are typically cool areas such as next to the
building's foundation, porch, etc., or under a bush or tree.
In addition, band treatment is often helpful, especially if
overall treatment is not going to be done. Band treatment
is done with an appropriately labeled pesticide which is applied
in a 6-1 0 foot band around the perimeter of the building.
For dogs confined to a fenced-in yard, also treat the 3-4
feet adjacent to the fence on the side to which the dog has
access. If the infestation is severe, overall yard treatment
may be required and an appropriately labeled pesticide should
be used. Wettable powder and microencapsulated formulations
are particularly effective outdoors. Note that if the pet
is on Proban, Prospot or similar product, use of such a product
should be discontinued one week before treatment and until
one week after treatment.