Ah, that all too familiar sensation. Whether you’ve recently cuddled a furry friend or holidayed in some questionable accommodation, few things are as irritating as being on the receiving end of flea bites. Unfortunately, catching the culprits can be difficult, to downright impossible. If you want to make sure that you (or your four-legged friends) don’t fall victim to itchy, red flea bites, you’ll need to school yourself on the lives of these annoyingly deft little pests.

If you’ve got one flea, you’ve got too many.

Besides being able to defy gravity – jumping up to 1000 their own height, fleas have another talent – breeding. Consider the following: Fleas lay 4-6 eggs after each blood meal, and a single female may produce 800-1000 eggs during her lifetime, which may be as long as two years. That leaves you with a flea population of 1 million, all birthed within a relatively short period of time.

Why do fleas bite anyway?

Flea bites are effectively the result of a hungry flea who’s sought you out in order to feed. In a real life take on the movie Twilight, fleas revive themselves by drinking the blood of humans and animals. Just like Edward and Bella, their mouthparts are especially designed to pierce skin and draw blood. In order to harvest your life-giving liquid, fleas use two mouth parts. One squirts saliva and partially digested blood into the host (you), and another sucks out fresh blood.  It’s this saliva that creates that tell-tale itchy sensation, as well as a small, round red welt.                           
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Fleas make your home theirs after hitching a ride on your four-legged companions.

There are two types of fleas in South Africa. First off, there are ‘pet fleas’, which make their home in carpets and bedding, as well as on domestic animals. These fleas infest homes after jumping off the bodies of their hosts – your pets. Then there are ‘Human fleas’ that can live on human and animal skin, and while rare, these populations are occasionally found in the vicinity of pig farms. Contrary to popular belief, ‘pet fleas’ prefer to live in carpets and bedding than on pets. For example, cats’ bedding may support a flea population of 8000 immature and 2000 adult fleas. Flea bites on humans occur when these fleas jump onto your feet or legs, as they try to take advantage of the passing buffet.

It’s not only humans who’re plagued by flea bites – fleas are the most common parasite found on cats and dogs.

If you’re a pet owner, the site of your pet furiously scratching herself is a common one. Unfortunately, the ramifications of flea bites on pets are far more severe than many people realise. Older animals, as well as kittens and puppies, can become severely anemic as a result. In addition, flea allergy dermatitis is not uncommon. Just like humans, some animals are especially sensitive to allergens. Their bodies react to flea bites by producing excess histamine, which leads to severe itching. This can be so uncomfortable that the pet can develop neurodermatoses – a condition characterised by anxiety, restlessness, irritation and nervousness.
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In addition, fleas are also hosts to tapeworm. When a dog or cat ingests a flea whilst grooming, the body of the flea is broken down, releasing the tape worm larvae that then attaches itself to your pet’s intestines.

Fleas reproduce faster than you’re able to kill them, which means that flea control measures need to be both frequent and thorough. 

If you don’t want to resort to using a flea bomb or spray, your vacuum cleaner is the next best option. Regular vacuuming of carpets, upholstery and bedding can be enough to eliminate any flea infestations – providing you do this on a frequent basis, and that you dispose of the vacuum bag afterwards. If you’re still suffering from flea bites, natural remedies like eating garlic, or rubbing peppermint or mint essential oils on exposed skin can repel fleas. This only applies to humans though – if your pets are harbouring fleas, there are some natural pet-friendly alternatives to chemical flea control. If you’re unable to achieve adequate flea control after trying these methods, it’s advisable to consult a pest control company, who’ll do an inspection of your home and advise as to the best way forward. Got fleas? Contact us today to find a solution that’s safe for your (human and animal) family. [hs_action id="1098"] Image Credit: Orkin
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