Fleas can make your pets' lives miserable. Flea bites are irritating, and when your pets scratch the itchy parts, they can wound themselves and thus become prone to infections. They are also at risk of getting diseases that the fleas carry, and if your pets are suffering, then you too can. Fleas can hop from your pet to your legs and give you those nasty bites.
What Are Fleas?
Fleas are tiny flightless insects (2-3mm in size) from the order Siphonaptera. They are parasitic creatures that infect birds and mammals, such as dogs and cats. As external parasites, they live on the skin and fur. The most common flea is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis), which are also found in dogs and other house pets.
Fleas feed by sucking the blood of their hosts using special mouthparts. They use probes to pierce the skin (the "bite") and inject their saliva to prevent the blood from coagulating. These bites cause irritation, pain, and allergies. Though lacking wings, fleas can jump to up to 50 times their body length! They use powerful hind legs evolved for jumping. Moreover, these legs have backward-facing spines that latch on the skin, making fleas difficult to remove.
Where Do Fleas Come From?
Fleas don't just magically appear on your skin. The fleas that your pets carry come from outside your homes. Fleas get onto your pets via two ways:
Fleas live on most mammals, even feral ones like rabbits, raccoons, and rats. If these animals live nearby (house in the woods or suburbs, for example), they carry these parasites whenever they seek shelter near your home. In urban spaces, fleas can come from stray cats and dogs. These critters sneak into crawlspaces or storage areas, which are usually warm and shady - perfect breeding grounds for fleas. Animals are like saltshakers that scatter flea eggs wherever they go. Flea eggs can drop underneath trees or on the porches where your pets lie and pick them up.
How to Treat Flea Bites at Home
Flea bites are nasty and dangerous like other insect bites. That's why whenever flea bites break out, it makes sense you make your home flea-proof. There are many ways to remedy flea bites, but like always, prevention is still better than cure. It is important to know your "enemy" first and stop them from getting to you.
Signs and Symptoms of Flea Bites
It is easy to spot flea bites. They often affect lower body parts such as the legs and feet and can last from a few hours to a few days. The telltale signs are:
Another symptom is itchiness away from the affected area. This is due to the body's allergic reaction to the flea's saliva. Other people may experience severe allergic reactions like swelling of the lips and tongue, nausea, difficulty breathing, and chest pain.
Dangers of Flea Bites
Fleas don't directly cause diseases; instead, they are vectors or carriers of the diseases they get from other animals by drinking their blood. These diseases transfer to humans through flea bites. Fleas can also carry viruses, bacteria, protozoans, and other smaller parasites. One notorious example of a pandemic caused by fleas is the bubonic plague, which wiped out millions of people during the Middle Ages. Flea bites transferred the Yersinia pestis bacteria from the rats to the medieval folks, who lived in squalid conditions.
Other non-disease dangers of flea bites are allergies. The protein from the flea's saliva can cause allergic reactions. The body goes into overdrive to attack these foreign bodies, that's why your body develops rashes, wheezing cough, and itchiness. Scratching the rashes can also worsen the condition because it wounds the skin. The germs in the fingers can transfer into the wound, thus risking infections. In rare cases, flea bites cause typhus, a very infectious and deadly disease that has no preventive vaccine yet.
Remedies for Flea Bites
It is always good to have medicines ready in case of flea bites. As first aid, you can do cold compresses. Here’s how to do it:
On the bites and rashes, you can put Calamine lotion on them, as it is proven to soothe and heal most insect bites. It is also safe for babies, so no worries whenever your little ones get feasted on by these tiny terror fleas. To prevent infections on the wound, you can use Bacitracin, Neosporin or Polysporin antibacterial cream which is readily available in drugstores. For the allergies, antihistamines like Benadryl are good to reduce swelling and relieve the itchiness.
In the absence of commercial medicines, or if you prefer natural ways to treat flea bites, you can try these DIY remedies. However, don't forget that these remedies are also good for your pets so use these on them to soothe their pain.
Baking soda soothes itchiness as it neutralizes the acid in the affected area. It is a natural antiseptic, so it prevents bacterial infections. It is also good for cleaning, which makes it an active ingredient in toothpaste!. To create a baking soda paste, mix 1 tsp of baking soda with a little water. Then apply a small amount onto the bite, leaving it for 5 to 10 minutes. Rinse the area off with cold water. As an alternative, you can make a "baking soda bath." Add 1 cup of baking soda in a tub then stir. Soak the whole body (or the affected area) and rinse after 10 minutes. Do not apply baking soda directly on an open wound.
Aloe vera has been used as a traditional medicine for hundreds of years. The most popular is a topical gel, used on burns and rashes to soothe the stinging pain and itchiness. Aloe vera's moisturizing effect also keeps the skin from drying, while its antibacterial properties prevent infections.
To create a DIY aloe vera gel for flea bites, slice an aloe vera leaf (from an organic store or even garden supplies). Squeeze the part gently to extract the gel. Collect the gel in a small dish and then apply a small amount to the affected area. Leave on for 15 minutes before rinsing with lukewarm water. Use 2-3 times daily or when needed.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Believe it or not, apple cider vinegar isn't just for cooking and dressing your salads; it also has medicinal uses. Raw apple cider vinegar is a good topical treatment for flea bites. Simply dab a cotton ball into it then place on the affected area. Leave the cotton ball for 5 minutes before removing.
Neem, also known as Indian lilac, is a tree from the mahogany family native in tropical regions like India and Pakistan. The leaves, bark, and fruits are used as is, while oil from the seeds has been used for centuries for their medicinal properties. Indian lilac has antifungal, antibacterial, antiseptic, and sedative properties, which is why it is often used for skin disease and insect bites.
To create an Indian lilac bath, boil the leaves in water for 10 to 20 minutes to extract the essential oil. When it cools down, soak the infected body part in the solution. Alternatively, you can soak a small amount using a cotton ball then put the ball on the affected area. You can also use neem oil as a topical ointment.
How to Prevent Flea Bites
After you’ve taken care of the flea bites, it’s time to address the pests themselves.
Use anti-flea shampoo to kill the parasites hiding in your pets’ coats. Use combs to remove fleas and eggs. Always give your pets regular baths and keep their beds clean.
This is to prevent other pets from contracting fleas. Isolate your poor little doggy until the flea outbreak is over.
Check the Surroundings
Prevent feral or stray animals from contacting your pets to prevent fleas from getting to them. Also, try to keep your pets away from dirty and shady areas.
Clean the House
Make sure you always clean the house to prevent the fleas from surviving and spreading. Use a vacuum cleaner to clean dust and dirt especially in areas where your pets go. Do a regular carpet and porch cleaning.