How the flea life cycle affects both your pet and your family

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Find out more about the four stages of the flea life cycle and how you can break the flea life cycle in your home. 

Just one flea on your dog or cat can signal a huge problem. In fact, a single flea can lay up to 50 eggs in one day1. These eggs then roll off your pet and infest the environment (your home) and wherever your pet goes, fleas and their eggs will go, too. Before you even realize you have a problem, a few fleas can quickly become hundreds, infesting your home, biting your pet and your family.   

Since humans can only see adult fleas, it can be difficult to grasp the full scope of an infestation.  

Most pet owners focus treatment efforts on the adult fleas they see crawling on their pets and are unaware of the younger stages of fleas growing in the surrounding environment.  

We need to think of the whole flea population as the problem, not just the visible fleas on your pet.

Unfortunately, adult fleas make up only 5% of the total flea infestation problem. The other 95% are invisible to the naked eye.2 The adult fleas we see are actually just the tip of the flea iceberg! 

Understanding the four stages of the flea life cycle, including how long fleas live, can help you put a stop to a seemingly never-ending invasion. 

The Flea life cycle

Stage 1: Flea eggs on your dog or cat 

As previously mentioned, one flea can lay up to 50 eggs in one day! Yuck!   

Fleas tend to lay eggs when the pet is resting and passively fall off the pet when they get up, or if the pet shakes itself.  In this way, your pet can act like a salt-shaker, dropping flea eggs on your carpet, bedding and even in your garden.  

Flea eggs land wherever they have been dropped and can't move themselves, so you can physically remove up to 90% of flea eggs by vacuuming thoroughly. 

Stage 2: Flea larvae on your dog or cat

The next life cycle stage is the flea larvae which can wiggle up to 50cm on their own, so they are harder to vacuum up.   

Most larvae emerge/hatch within 2-6 days and immediately start to consume flea dirt (undigested blood from fleas). Larvae don’t like light, so crawl into cracks and crevices between floorboards, into the carpet fibres or under leaves and debris in the garden.  

Like many stages of the flea life cycle, the flea larvae are prone to desiccation (drying) and excessive heat. 

When disturbed, flea larvae wrap around objects holding onto their positions. A good example of this can be seen when they curl around carpet fibres to hold onto them. Even fastidious vacuuming can only remove around 15-27% of larvae. 

Stage 3: Flea pupae on your dog or cat

Larvae turn into pupae by enclosing themselves in a sticky, silk‐like cocoon and develop into fully formed pre-emergent adults that sit in waiting and hatch out in response to body warmth or the vibration of a pet passing. 

Flea pupae are the most difficult part of the cycle to kill as the cocoons are formed in hard to reach positions, deep in the carpet or leaf litter and unfortunately there is little that can be done to kill the flea at this stage of the life cycle. Even flea sprays, foggers and bombs are unable to penetrate carpet fibres deep enough to kill all these developing adult fleas. 

The pupae then develop into pre-emergent adults within 5 days under ideal conditions (being warm and humid) and can last up to 140 days. It takes really low temperatures such as 3°C for 10 days or -1°C for 5 days to kill development at the pre-adult stages, and that's why fleas can survive winters in New Zealand. 

Stage 4: Adult fleas on your dog or cat 

Pupae then emerge into fully grown fleas. You can see fully grown fleas with the naked eye, and they begin biting almost immediately after getting onto your pet. Contrary to popular belief, fleas neither jump from pet to pet nor fly because they do not have wings. They can stay on one pet biting, feeding and laying eggs for up to several months.  

However, as a general rule if you can pick fleas off an animal relatively easily, they are already slowing down and are dying.   

If a flea cannot find a dog or cat, it’s not uncommon for them to jump on and bite people. This is why some people experience flea infestations and flea bites after returning from holiday or moving into a new house. 

How to prevent and treat fleas on your pet 

Protect ALL of your pets with a trusted and quality flea treatment ALL year round. Killing fleas across various life stages also helps to break the flea life cycle and prevent fleas from biting your cat or dog. That’s why it’s important to use a quality flea treatment which kills BOTH adult fleas through contact (meaning fleas don’t need to bite to die) and also targeting another life cycle stage.   

Quality flea treatments work in two ways: 

  1. They kill the adult fleas on your cat or dog. 
  2. They break the flea life cycle by killing flea larvae, an immature stage of a flea. 

It can take several weeks or months to fully tackle a flea problem, but so long as you’re patient and consistent, you’ll get there. To prevent re-infestation, it’s important to treat ALL of your pets with a trusted and quality flea treatment ALL year round. 

Once you’ve got on top of an infestation, keeping up with regular flea treatment will help to make sure both your pet and your home stays flea-free. 

Talk to your vet clinic or pet retailer for more information. 

1 Dryden MW. Host association, on-host longevity and egg production of Ctenocephalides felis felis. Vet Parasitol. 1989;34:117-22 

2 Grace SF. Fleas. In: Norsworthy GD, Crystal MA, Grace SF, et al, eds. (2006). The Feline Patient. 3rd ed. Ames, IA: Blackwell Publishing; 106-107. 

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