Healthy homes: flea control and prevention

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Have you noticed excessive scratching or unusual restless behaviour in your pet? It may be a sign of flea trouble. We give some tips on preventing and controlling flea infestations in the home and look at environmentally friendly pest control strategies.

Household pets are a common breeding ground for fleas. Make sure they are regularly checked and treated for fleas.

Fleas are found all over the worldi. Australia is home to several species although the most common is the cat fleaii, which usually infests household pets and humansi. The adult flea reproduces at a fast rate causing infestations to spread rapidly. They lay eggs on hosts, in gardens, carpet and furniture, and in dusty areas of the houseii.

Flea bites can be very itchy and may also pose serious health risks to humans and animals. Fleas can cause skin disease in petsiii and transmit tapeworms in cats and dogsiv. Tapeworms can also be transmitted to humans if an infected flea is swallowediv. If you are concerned about a flea problem in your home, it's best to contact your local council or a qualified pest controller to determine the type, source and extent of the infestation.

Preventing a flea infestation is a lot easier than trying to get rid of one. Some simple but important preventative steps to take are regularly vacuuming floors and areas where pets rest or sleep, laundering animal bedding in hot, soapy waterv and treating it with appropriate insecticides when necessary. Also, you should treat your pets for fleasiv with on-pet flea productsv. These good hygiene practices will significantly reduce the risk of an infestation. If, however, you discover fleas in your home, here are some tips for controlling and eliminating the infestation.

Treating your pet

If you find your pet has developed a flea infestation, the first point of help should be your veterinarian. They can advise you on appropriate medical treatments available for your pet and the types of insecticides to use. In addition, make sure your pet's bedding and surrounding areas are thoroughly cleaned and treated with insecticides. This will eliminate fleas and avoid animals being reinfestedvi.

Treating the house

If you are unsure about the most appropriate or effective method to use, seek advice on the types of pesticide treatments available from local councils and pest controllersi. Depending on how severe the infestation is, you may need to hire a qualified pest controller to eliminate the fleas. If you decide to treat the house yourself, make sure to use the lowest toxicity pesticide product that will get the job done, like pyrethroids such as deltamethrin or permethrinvi. A pesticide retailer should be able to provide tips on the most suitable product for your home.

When using any chemical product, remember to:

Flea eggs can survive for weeks, so you may have to repeat the procedure once or twicevi. During this period, it's important to clean the house regularly and check and treat your pets for fleas. Carpeted areas should be steam cleaned, and floors and upholstered furniture should be vacuumed every day for at least a weekvi. After vacuuming, remember to dispose of the vacuum bag, as it will contain fleas and flea eggsi.

When treating your home with pesticide, remember to follow labelled instructions and wear appropriate safety gear.

Environmentally friendly pest management

Ensuring your home is free of unwanted pests and parasites is not only important for maintaining a healthy home, but also a healthy family. Integrated pest management (IPM) is an environmentally sensitive way of managing pests, which focuses on prevention, rather than dealing with infestations once they have occurredvii.

While IPM is traditionally used in the horticultural sector, it can also be applicable to households. Rather than turning to chemical control at the outset, IPM encourages people to seek biological solutions that expose pests to predation or destroy their breeding habitsvii.

i Better Health Channel 2013, Fleas, viewed 24 June 2013,

ii Cammans, J et al 1999, ‘Guidelines for the control of public health pests - lice, fleas, scabies, bird mites, bedbugs and ticks', National Environmental Health Forum, viewed 24 June 2013,$File/vermin.pdf
, p.14

iii Pet MD, Flea Control and Flea Bite Allergies in Dogs, viewed 1 July 2013,

iv Cammans, J et al 1999, ‘Guidelines for the control of public health pests - lice, fleas, scabies, bird mites, bedbugs and ticks', National Environmental Health Forum, viewed 24 June 2013,$File/vermin.pdf
, p.15

v University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Pests of Homes, Structures, People, and Pets, viewed 1 July 2013,

vi Government of Western Australia 2007, Environmental Health Guide Fleas, fact sheet, viewed 24 June 2013, Flea2.pdf

vii Environment Protection Agency NSW 2013, Integrated Pest Management, viewed 1 July 2013,