How to Stop a Flea Infestation in its Tracks

A brown and white puppy scratching himself because he has fleas.
What You'll Need
oil of cedar
cleaning solution for floors
diatomaceous earth
insect growth regulator

The pleasure of owning a dog or cat usually comes with the risk of dealing with the occasional flea infestation, especially if they go outside a lot. Pets usually contract fleas from other animals like neighbor pets, feral animals, and other wildlife—but can also get them from hanging around certain outdoor areas that are breeding grounds for fleas. Knowing where they came from, however, is only half the battle. Here are some tips on how to deal with a flea infestation in your home.

Recognize the Early Signs

Your best way to defeat fleas is with early detection. Most animals have their own way of letting you know something is wrong, but the main indicator is that your pet is incessantly scratching more than usual. They may seem irritable and may even show similar signs as when they get sick, depending on the animal. Another telltale sign is flea “dirt,” which is the excrement that fleas leave behind them, often found wherever your animal sleeps. Inspect any beds, couches, or blankets that they sleep on for these tiny flecks. If you find them, add the flecks to a small bowl of water. If it turns red, you know it’s flea dirt.

Call the Vet

Once you've determined that your pet has fleas, immediately call your veterinarian so they can prescribe proper treatment. Washing your dog or cat may kill the adult fleas, but it’s laborious and will do nothing to exterminate the eggs, larvae, or pupae stage, which is what keeps the fleas coming back (and so hard to exterminate). There are some over-the-counter products you can buy from pet stores that may get rid of them, however, they aren’t guaranteed to work and there are cases of animals going into toxic shock from the level of poison. Your vet will have the safest, easiest-to-apply, and most effective kind of flea treatment that will completely rid your pet from its misery and stop the flea cycle in its tracks.

Vacuum and Launder

A dryer with a white striped towel hanging out of the front.

Once the animal has been treated, it’s time to attack the areas of the house where they sleep and lounge around. The best thing to do is vacuum the entire house, including couches, chairs, floors, and curtains. Don't miss the area around the baseboards, since eggs are frequently found in these small hidden cracks. Immediately dispose of the vacuum cleaner bag, no matter how full it is, and preferably into a heavy-duty garbage bag that can be sealed and thrown out immediately. At the same time, load the washing machine with any pet blankets or fabrics that are laying around. Use a hot water setting and add one teaspoon of oil of cedar to the wash load. Choose the hottest dryer setting, as the heat will ensure any eggs and larvae that weren’t drowned are desiccated. Wash any hardwood and tile floors with a disinfectant like vinegar and water. Flush dirty water down the toilet instead of dumping it outside the house.

Diatomaceous Earth

A pile of diatomaceous earth powder.

This all-natural powder kills any insect with an exoskeleton by sticking to and piercing their shell, causing the bug to dry up. It’s made up of ground fossils that under a microscope look like tiny shards of glass. You can sprinkle the powder on pet beds and even small amounts into their fur as it’s safe for both humans and animals. Make sure to get the food grade variety in case your pet accidently ingests some. It won’t affect their systems at all (and has even been shown to help eliminate parasites). This product is also safe for gardens, so if you think fleas are hanging around somewhere outside, don’t be afraid to sprinkle this amazing bug killer in any area around your house's exterior.

Mow and Treat

Keeping your home clean is one way to keep fleas away, but many homeowners neglect to keep their outdoor areas neat and tidy as well. Fleas thrive in dark, moist, warm areas, so try and keep the backyard well-ventilated and free from stagnant water. Remove any piles of junk items left in corners and clean up wet cardboard and old garbage bags, disposing of them immediately away from the home. Clip your lawn close to the ground and mow on a regular basis. If your dog has an outside house, implement the same treatments as you would inside. If you know your cat likes to sleep in certain areas like gardens or outdoor furniture, attack those spot with some diatomaceous earth as well.

IGR, Fumigate, or Fog

In some cases, all of the above may not be enough to rid your home of its flea infestation. There are some stronger products on the market that can help an extreme invasion. Insect growth regulator products (IGRs) will specifically target a particular kind of pest and stop them from reaching an adult or procreative stage, thus ending their ability to reproduce. Look for a product that targets fleas specifically and read the directions closely to ensure proper usage. When all else fails, enlist the help of an exterminator or purchase a veterinary-recommended whole house fogger. Keep in mind that this option is more expensive than others and you may need to evacuate your home for a time.

When it comes to flea infestations, you must launch a comprehensive assault to stop the cycle on all fronts. It can be a bit time-consuming, but with the right line of attack you can be sure to send those little creatures on their way, giving you and your pet peace of mind—without the itching!