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Fleas are parasitic insects that feed on the blood of their host. They have been in existence for 100 million years and are believed to have fed on dinosaurs. Of the 2,000 known flea species in the United States, the most common is the cat flea. Though its name implies otherwise, the cat flea can also be found on humans and other animals including dogs, raccoons, ferrets, skunks, and birds.

Fleas, another bloodsucking insect, are common throughout the area. They are found outside during warmer weather and are brought into our living spaces inadvertently by pets or people, or they may be brought in from an infested location or from contact with an infested host. Interior infestations continue year-round.

By far the most common is the cat flea — very small, dark, and wedge-shaped. Less often found is the dog flea — a little bigger and lighter-colored. The names imply their preferences, but both will feed on either species, or on humans. There are also rat, bird, and bat fleas and other species found locally, but cases of their infesting human areas are comparatively rare.

Usually, a flea problem is shown by the presence of adult fleas on the pets and hopping from place to place; people may also start to get bitten, typically on the lower part of the legs. But at any given time, only about 10% of the population consists of adults. The rest are still in the egg, larva, or pupa stages. A treatment, which only kills the adults, may provide some temporary relief, but the problem returns as more of the pre-adult fleas mature.

Elimination of an interior population of fleas consists of 1) treatment of all of the pets, preferably by a veterinarian or licensed groomer — although some over-the-counter measures are effective; 2) preparation — everything needs to be picked up off all of the floors throughout the entire area, with the exception of heavy furniture, throw rugs, and pet bedding; 3) pesticide application to all of the floors, carpets, top and bottom of throw rugs, top and bottom of pet bedding; and 4) ongoing preventative treatment of all of the pets. Product may also be applied to some furniture and to some areas where the pets spend the most time (other than the floor).

There are many products on the market for the treatment of fleas. The most effective is a combination of a standard adulticide and an IGR (insect growth regulator), which prevents immature fleas from developing into adults. Following the treatment, there is a quick reduction in the number of adult fleas present. A small number may still be found for about a month, until 100% elimination occurs. The best way to prevent re-infestation would then be to treat the animals regularly, as per the veterinarian’s recommendations, and to retreat the floors in the house regularly as well.

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