Fleas; a common infestation and a complete nuisance to get rid of! Whether they’ve found their way on to your pet’s fur or settled in between the nooks and crannies of your furniture, not only will paranoia contribute to sleepless nights, but there’s also the huge risk of diseases and flea bites. Yikes, we know! But, don’t panic just yet, even if you are trying to figure out if you’ve been bitten by one or not. 

Because we have assembled the ultimate guide to help you deduce if your house or pet has been infested, whether you’ve been bitten by one or not, possible treatments, and finally, how to get rid of these pesky parasites!

What are fleas? What do they look like?

To put it simply, fleas are tiny, black, or brown colored parasites that take immense pleasure in feeding off of the blood of their hosts- aka you or your pet. They can’t fly, but with 3 pairs of strong legs, they are capable of jumping 200 times their body length. Their flattened bodies are covered by a hard shell but they can easily be killed by the tip of your fingernails against a hard surface if spotted. Granted, the major infestations are going to require special products to kill them instead. Along with the fleas, you will most likely also spot tiny, oval-shaped, almost transparent (yet still visible to the naked eye) flea eggs.

Flea bites on humans Symptoms of Flea Bites

If you’ve got fleas around, they will bite! Their bites are very similar to mosquito or bed bug bites but much smaller. They form red bumps on the skin in clusters of threes, with a halo in the center. They will most commonly be found around your ankles, groins, elbow and knee folds, armpits, legs, or waist. 

Apart from its physical appearance, before you even see it, the bite can be identified through symptoms such as redness around the bitten area on the skin, itching, pain, rashes or hives; and in more severe cases, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and severe allergies. 

When fleas bite, they deposit a chemical that not only prevents your blood from clotting (which works in their favor) and but also contains certain allergens. These allergens can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, swelling of lips or tongue, dizziness, nausea, and chest pain in people who are allergic.

Possible diseases caused by flea bites in humans:

If the basic symptoms weren’t bad enough, fleas also carry the risk of causing several bacterial infections which can lead to diseases such as:

  • Plague:

More commonly known as Black Death, this plague was an endemic in 14th century Europe and was responsible for the deaths of millions of people! Still around today, with a significantly decreased number of cases, this disease continues to be transferred by fleas. Fortunately, it can now be treated with antibiotics.

  • Murine Typhus:

This particular disease is carried by flea-infested rats and if transferred to humans, can cause the appearance of symptoms such as high fever, severe headaches, chills, weakness, and nausea. However, the good news is that with treatment, the patients usually recover rather quickly.

  • Cat scratch fever:

This bacterial infection can be found in cats and also transmitted to humans through bites, scratches, or licking open wounds from a cat. The infected area on a human will be red round, swollen, and might even contain pus which can be coupled with headaches, fever, poor appetite, exhaustion, and cause the lymph nodes near the infected area to swell up.

  • Tungiasis:

More common in tropical regions and transmitted by the infamous sand flea, this disease targets the foot. The fleas latch on in the burrows between the toes and dig their way through the epidermis of your skin. This causes severe pain, skin inflammation, and worst of all, red lesions form on the skin with black spots in the center.

Treatment of flea bites

While most flea bites heal on their own, if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, seek professional medical help immediately. However, if you are looking to treat regular flea bites, keep on reading:

First and foremost, do not scratch. This might lead to a secondary infection and only worsen the pain. Instead, wash the bite with antiseptic soap to prevent any infection. Next, if swelling and redness occur, apply ice or Aloe Vera to the area (feel free to use a pack of frozen peas!).

Products like tea tree oil, calamine lotion, anesthetic creams or even witch hazel help with the itching. However, do consult a doctor before using a medicated anesthetic cream if you have sensitive skin or are treating a bite on a child. 

In the unfortunate circumstance, of the bite morphing into a secondary infection, it will be indicated by the formation of a warm blister, a white pocket of puss, or a rash. Refer to your doctor immediately for the appropriate treatment.

Fleas/flea bites on pets Symptoms of fleas/ flea bites

 In animals, the fleas most commonly reside behind the ears, under the tail, under their legs, and on their bellies, though they do tend to travel throughout the body now and then. The most common way of spotting fleas in pets is looking out for excessive itching, bald spots in their fur, or redness on their skin. If you’re lucky, and your pet has a while coat of fur, these will be significantly easier to spot and treat. Another important thing to look out for is black specs, almost like dandruff that fall off every time your pet scratches. These are flea droppings that turn red when in contact with a damp towel because they contain blood.

Diseases caused by fleas in pets:

Some of the most common diseases caused by fleas in pets include:

  • Tapeworms:

The tapeworm larvae infected fleas on your pet’s fur can lead to tapeworms in their bellies (easily spotted in their feces) if they are consumed while grooming. This might cause your cat to vomit, have diarrhea, and lose appetite but can easily be treated by deworming. Make sure you’re keeping up with your pet’s deworming schedule to avoid such issues.

  • Bartonella infection:

Same as the cat scratch fever in humans, this bacteria affects pets too and its symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, seizures, and swelling of the lymph nodes. If your pet shows these symptoms, then seek veterinary care immediately as it can be very harmful if not treated soon.

  • Anemia:

Fleas eat about 15 times their body weight in blood because of which, your pets are bound to experience low iron levels in their blood. The common symptoms of this are a lack of energy and pale gums. You need to ensure that your pet’s diet is filled with nutrition and all the necessary vitamins to prevent this.

  • Flea Allergic Dermatitis:

Occurring most commonly in dogs (but also found in cats), this disease can cause severe allergies from the allergens in the flea saliva that’ll leave your pet feeling incredibly uncomfortable and itchy unless treated!

Treatment from fleas and flea bites:

More often than not, when an animal is bitten by a flea, they are usually the victim of a flea infestation, so to permanently cure them; you need to work on removing fleas from your pet.

As stated before, if your pet experiences some of the severe symptoms mentioned above, always refer to a vet for a professional opinion on how to go about treating your pet.

To get rid of fleas completely, the most common treatment involves making use of anti-flea shampoo and a good old flea/ lice comb. Give your pet regular baths with the shampoo- once you lather it on; let it sit for a couple of minutes (as instructed on the bottle) before washing it out. Then, go ahead and comb their fur regularly to get the fleas out. To make sure that the infestation doesn’t return, you need to get rid of the eggs too (comb while the fur is wet to catch them). Along with that, there are flea collars and professionally prescribed medicines and products you can apply on pet’s fur to help get rid of fleas. 

If chemicals are not your thing, there are a couple of home treatments that you can try as well such as spraying your pet’s fur with lemon water, vinegar mixture, and so on. But the effectiveness of these varies from pet to pet and might not be fully functional when dealing with a very bad infection. 

Get rid of fleas once and for all!

To fully eliminate fleas from your surroundings, you need to exterminate from your furniture, yard, carpets, etc as well. As your pet is getting treated, vacuum your house thoroughly, especially the spots where your pet spends more time, then dump the contents outside. 

Change all your sheets and wash them thoroughly along with carpets, rugs, cushion covers, etc. Fleas can be found in gardens and yards too so make sure you’re keeping that grass mowed short and monitoring your pet when it’s outside, very closely.

Getting rid of fleas is a hard, lengthy, and thorough process but it’s necessary to provide a safe environment for your family and pets so good luck, and you’ve got this!

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Zahira holds a PhD in Cosmetics Surgery and Pharma. She worked with Mashable's and some other beauty, skincare and wellness blogs. She is also a well-known personality and educationist and has a large number of social following. She also writes on the female empowerment motivational topics in her leisure time.

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