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  • Writer's picturePeter Weel

How do I tell if I have Fleas?

Cozying up to a dog or cat in bed can be soothing, unless your furry friend has fleas. Fleas bite people as well as pets — and if your pet typically shares your bed, they may bring fleas with them. Many pet owners sleep with companion animals. One small 2015 studyTrusted Source found that more than 50 percent of pet owners let their four-legged pals share their bedroom. While fleas are typically harmless to humans, flea bites do itch. They can also make your pet very sick. If you’re wondering why you and your pet can’t stop scratching, read on to learn about the signs of fleas in bed and what you can do to get rid of fleas forever.

Signs of fleas in your bed Thousands of flea species exist. The most common types in the United States are dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis) and cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis). Either kind will bite dogs, cats, rabbits, and other furry mammals. If they have access, they may also bite birds. Fleas bite people, too, though they won’t stay on you for long. Fleas prefer to nestle in fur or feathers, rather than skin or hair. Fleas like to live on a blood host. They won’t take up residence in your bed, but they will leave evidence that they’ve been there. If your pet has fleas, the eggs may roll off their fur and onto your bed, where they’ll hatch. Adult fleas can jump long distances and may make their way onto bedding. Signs of fleas in your bed include:

Bites If you notice itchy red dots along your shins, ankles, and feet, you may have a flea infestation. Multiple flea bites often appear as a straight line on your lower limbs. In some instances, flea bites may have a red halo surrounding their center. Unlike bed bugs — which typically bite people on the face, arms, and neck — fleas tend to nibble on your lower body parts. They may bite behind your knees, where skin is warm and moist. If your pet likes to sleep near your head, you may see bites in your elbow bends and on your upper body as well. Red dots on your face or chest may also be a sign of fleas. You may have additional side effects if you’re allergic to fleas or have a strong reaction to the bites. Symptoms include:

  • hives

  • swelling

  • rash

  • intense, extreme itching

  • signs of anaphylaxis, including shortness of breath

Flea bites appear as red itchy dots, typically along your shins, ankles, or feet.

Residue (flea dirt) All insects poop, including fleas. Flea dirt, or residue, looks like tiny black dots. If your pet has fleas and sleeps with you, you’ll likely see or feel flea dirt on your sheets. Flea dirt is primarily made up of the host’s blood. Fleas with a host nearby consume much more blood than they need to survive daily. Fleas often excrete while biting and may release 10 or more drops of flea dirt while they feed. Pet scratching It can be hard to see flea bites on your pet, so you may want to pay attention to whether your pet is scratching. Your pet may also appear to gnaw or bite their own skin. Fleas can infest an animal’s entire body. This causes widespread itching and discomfort. If left untreated, your pet may develop skin infections or a rash from constantly breaking their skin while scratching. Even if your pet is housebound and never goes outside, they can still get fleas. Fleas can travel into homes on the soles of shoes or on clothing. If your pet is scratching, they may have a flea infestation.

  1. Eggs. Female fleas lay up to eight eggs after each feeding. The oval-shaped eggs are loose and can roll around. They may land on any surface, including your bed. They can remain there until they hatch, 1 to 12 days later. Flea eggs are clear to white in color and resemble dandruff flakes or salt.

  2. Larvae. Flea eggs grow into larvae. Flea larvae look like small, translucent worms or maggots. You may be able to see black matter inside their bodies, especially under a microscope. This stage lasts for about a week.

  3. Pupae. Flea larvae grow a cocoon to become incubating pupae. Their cocoons are sticky, so dust can get caught on them. Flea pupae look a lot like flea dirt. Pupae can remain alive and ready to hatch for up to 1 year under warm, humid conditions.

  4. Adult fleas. Fleas are tiny, but they’re not microscopic. If your home is infested, you may see them in carpets or bedding. Fleas are wingless. They range from light reddish-brown to black in color. Their bodies are tough and can be hard to squish. Fleas move very quickly and can jump as high as 13 inches. You may see them moving around on your pet’s skin but probably won’t see them nestling on top of fur. They are easiest to see on your pet’s belly.

How long do fleas live on beds and furniture? Fleas need blood to survive. In the presence of a host, a flea can live up to 1 year. Without a host, they can survive for only 1 or 2 weeks. If your home is warm and humid, they may live longer than they would under dry or cold conditions. That’s why spring and summer are flea seasons. Fleas like to burrow into carpeting and bedding, but they won’t live there for long if they don’t have a host to feed from. Fleas are more likely to live on your pet’s body than on your sheets or blankets.

Treatment for beds and upholstery If you have fleas, daily vacuuming of all soft surfaces can help to remove them. This includes carpets and upholstered furniture, such as couches and chairs. You can sprinkle flea powder onto carpets and rugs and vacuum it up later. Sprays are also available for treatment around the house. Throw out the vacuum bag each time you vacuum. The suction action of vacuuming may kill many fleas in all stages of their lives, but it probably won’t kill all of them. Fleas can continue to live and lay eggs in vacuum cleaner bags for 1 to 2 weeks. Wash your sheets and blankets and your pet’s bedding every few days in hot water. If you have curtains, you should launder them often, especially if they touch the floor.

How to prevent fleas The most common way fleas get into homes is on the bodies of pets. Talk with a veterinarian about the best type of flea prevention products for your furry or feathered friend. Some products kill existing fleas, eggs, larvae, and pupae, plus prevent future infestation. You can also get dual-prevention products that protect your pet from ticks as well as fleas. These may be especially beneficial if live in or often visit grassy or wooded areas. When using flea prevention products, make sure you stick to a schedule. Some require monthly reapplication. Even while using these products regularly, check your pet often for fleas. This may be easiest to do during bathing, when you can see their skin clearly. Flea prevention products You can choose from among many different types of flea prevention products for your pets. They include:

  • chewables and pills (prescription and over the counter)

  • flea collars

  • topical lotions or gels

  • shampoos

Talk to a veterinarian about what products are right for your pet. Product recommendations may vary depending on the size and age of your pet. Long-haired animals should also get groomed often, especially during hot weather. This will make them more comfortable, plus make spotting fleas and flea dirt easier.

Takeaway Fleas bite people as well as pets. If you sleep with your cat or dog and they have fleas, you may be more likely to get bitten in bed. You can eliminate flea infestations by using flea prevention products on your pet. Cleaning all the soft surfaces in your home regularly will also help.

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