Compared to pests like cockroaches or flies, fleas are not an everyday nuisance that pest control professionals (PMPs) deal with. The PCT 2021 “State of the Market for Flea Control Report” showed an average annual revenue of just under $21,000, and only 23% of survey respondents said flea control was important or very important.
That doesn’t mean that fleas aren’t a pest to be aware of or that they shouldn’t be in your service offerings. Fleas should be looked at a little differently due to their life cycle, hosts, and habitats. If you think of fleas as cockroaches or rodents, typical Integrated Pest Management (IPM) tactics will not be effective. The closest pest to compare fleas to might be mosquitoes. It may sound like a bad joke, “why does a flea look like a mosquito”, but there are a lot of similarities. Thinking about it together can lead to effective control measures.
HABITAT. Fleas have an interesting life cycle. Like mosquitoes, only the adult flea feeds on the host. The immature stages are found outside the host in different (but close) environments. Unlike mosquitoes, both males and females bite and feed on blood. When adult fleas produce eggs, the eggs simply fall from the host animal onto the ground. It’s often in bedding, rugs, sofas, and other guest sleeping areas. The larvae live in these same environments as they develop. They feed on the droppings of adult fleas. This contains undigested blood from the host and they feed on other organic debris in their habitat.
Like mosquitoes, treatment should focus on two different areas for the greatest effectiveness: adult and immature habitats. In the case of fleas, the animal on which the adults live must be treated and veterinary care is necessary. Eggs, larvae and pupae must be treated in the areas where they live: where the host animals spend their time. Vacuuming and physical removal of feces, organic debris, and immature fleas can greatly reduce the problem.
HOSTS. These are otherwise known as the food source. Any good IPM program includes sanitation and cleaning of the pest’s food source and habitat. For fleas and mosquitoes, eliminating the blood meal is not too practical! Owners are not likely to get rid of their pet just because of fleas. While exclusion works quite well for mosquitoes (doors and windows can be closed and screened to keep them out), flea exclusion is more complicated, especially when animals spend a lot of time indoors. ‘outside. This is why flea treatments for pets are essential (with veterinary approval). Adult fleas live on the pet, so for pets that spend time outdoors, customers should consult their veterinarian for preventative treatments. Otherwise, they will go back inside and start the process again, dropping their eggs and droppings for the larvae to feed on. As a reminder, pest control professionals should not treat animals. Refer clients to their veterinarian.
Although humans can be hosts, it is not as common. People often start getting bitten when flea populations are high or when pets have been removed from the home and people become the only warm-blooded meal available. Like all bites on people, do not diagnose from the bite: Monitor the area and identify the pest that is present.
CONTROLS. Like mosquitoes, fleas depend on humidity. Fleas need higher humidity of at least 75% and temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to researching where host animals spend a lot of time, look for warmer areas of the home, such as kitchens and bathrooms, which provide that warm, humid environment. Suggest that customers dry out damp areas, install dehumidifiers, and even run fans to increase air circulation and dry out spaces. Bedding, pillows, stuffed toys and other soft materials can be washed and/or dried on high to kill any insects that live there. Deep cleaning carpets can further reduce organic debris, but make sure customers know they need to dry them as quickly as possible so they don’t create additional moisture.
Just like mosquitoes, getting treatment in the right areas is essential for flea control. Fleas hide in cracks and crevices indoors. Ask customers where their pets spend the most time and target those areas, especially around baseboards, edges of furniture, and behind appliances and furniture. Since the treatments target the immature stages, insect growth regulators are a great addition. Fleas are fully developed (egg, larva, pupa, adult) and IGRs act on the larval stage to prevent them from developing into reproductive adults.
Exterior treatments can be targeted to areas of a client’s property that have fleas, animal areas (eg dog pens, backyard livestock, high wildlife activity, etc.) and are authorized by the label. Once again: Do not treat animals.
DISEASES. Mosquitoes and fleas can carry several diseases that can be transmitted to humans and animals. For fleas, the best known is the bubonic plague, the infamous cause of the Black Death that decimated much of Europe’s population in the 1300s. It has not completely disappeared. For the past 20 years, there have been 1 to 17 cases per year in the United States.
They can also transmit flea typhus and cat scratch disease to humans. Our furry friends are of greater concern: fleas can transmit tapeworm, and if your pet has tapeworm, fleas can pass it from the pet to their owners. The good news is that these diseases are quite rare in humans.
Many people have adopted pets during the COVID-19 pandemic, and these pets are at risk of catching fleas, especially if they go outside. Backyard chicken ownership stung at the start of the pandemic and hasn’t declined significantly since then, creating another host of fleas close to people. The 2021 State of the Flea Control Market survey showed that 91% of respondents offer flea control services, but are you advertising them to your customers?
As summer continues, pets are taken outdoors and flea populations increase, so now is a great time to remind customers to get checked by their veterinarian and have ticks treated for their pets. house and their property. If your clients have pets (including barnyard animals), talk to them about the risks of fleas and the solutions you offer to protect them and their pets. Remember to wear your PPE and protect yourself when doing flea work.