Fleas: a wingless parasite

What Flea look like


Fleas feed off the blood of humans and animals such as dogs and cats. A flea bite is very itchy and secondary infections are very common. A treatment include anaesthetic creams and icepacks to reduce the swelling. Fleas can transmit disease including like tapeworm larvae and murine typhus. The fleas can also transmit bubonic plague from animals to humans in some parts of the world but not Australia.

Fleas are a type of wingless parasite found worldwide. They always feed off the blood of humans and animals such as dogs and cats. Fleas use a wide range of hosts a diseases can be transferred from one host to another and another. The fleas are known to transmit tapeworm larvae and very rare the disease murine typhus. Fleas are most notorious for transmitting bubonic plague from wild rodents to humans in certain parts of the world

There are three main type of flea that infest humans:

  • Cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis)
  • Dog flea (Ctenocephalides canis)
  • Human flea (Pulex irritans)

The cat and dog flea are common in Australia. Flea bite is intensely itchy and secondary infections caused by scratching are very common.

read more about A Flea Bite: Treatments and Symptoms

Symptoms of a flea bite

The bite of a flea has certain features:

  • It is extremely itchy.
  • A red and swollen wheal develops within half an hour of the bite.
  • After a day or so, the wheal (lump) may develop into a blister or small wound.
  • The legs and feet are often targeted.
  • Secondary infections caused by scratching are common.
  • Some people may become hypersensitive (very sensitive) to bites.

Physical characteristics of the flea

A flea:

  • Is wingless, oval shaped and around 2 to 8mm long
  • Is light to deep brown in colour
  • Has a disproportionately small head
  • Has six legs
  • Has large hind legs that enable to jump a far distances.

Blood feeding

Adult fleas can survive for some months without feeding. The flea uses its saw-like mandibles (jaws) to cut through skin especillay on accessible parts of the body such as the legs or feet. Flea saliva contains anticoagulants to encourage the blood to keep flowing. The Female fleas are prompted to lay their eggs after feeding. Thier eggs are light in coloured and oval shaped. The larvae cocoon themselves within weeks of hatching. A simple vibration such as footsteps, prompts adult fleas to emerge from their cocoons. That is why you may be bitten after entering a house that has been unoccupied for some time.

read more about Flea Bites: A red halo on a flea bite

Household pets

Dogs and cats are common ‘reservoirs’ for fleas. Your pet can & may be irritated by flea bites and scratch more often. Check for a fleas by parting the fur, especially around the rump and ears. Look for the fleas themselves or for flea faeces (poo). Flea faeces look like miniscule dark specks. For a simple identification, place a specks on a piece of lightly moistened white tissue. Flea farces will leech a ring of blood into the tissue.


Suggestions for treating a flea bites include:

  • Resist the urge to scratch.
  • Wash the flea bites with antiseptic soap to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Apply an ice pack to help relieve swelling.
    Use anaesthetic creams, calamine lotion or similar to treat the itching.
  • See your doctor for advice on appropriate antihistamine medications to reduce the swelling.
  • Look for treatment for possible tapeworm infection, since fleas can transmit this parasite through their bite.
  • See your doctor if the symptoms persist or if a secondary infection develops (indicated by discharge of pus from wounds).

read more about Flea Bites: Symptoms, Pictures, Treatments and Prevention

Treating your pet

Infested animals should be treated fortnightly for several weeks. Suggestions for treating your pet include:

  • Ask your veterinarian for a range of appropriate flea-killing products.
  • Treatment include tablets to be swallowed by the animal, and solutions or powders to be applied to their fur.
  • Treat your pets for tapeworm while fleas can transmit this parasite through their bite.

Treating your house

Your local council can offer information and advice on dealing with a flea infestation. Some suggestions on eliminating fleas yourself include:

  • Clean animal bedding and the surrounds thoroughly.
  • Vacuum the carpets. Throw away the vacuum cleaner bag it will contain fleas and eggs or you can use a surface spray into the bag.
  • Use an appropriate spray or ‘flea bomb’ in your house, taking care to follow the label directions carefully.
  • Treat outdoor areas usually used by your pet, such as kennels, with appropriate insecticides, wearing gloves and long-sleeved protective clothing as instructed on the label.
  • Repeat the procedure twice since flea eggs can survive for some weeks.
  • Maintain hygiene practices (regular vacuuming, keeping pets free of fleas and so on) to prevent another infestation.
    A persistent infestation is required to be treated by a qualified pest controller.

Professional pest control treatment

A qualified pest controller can determine the source and extent of the infestation and use registered insecticides to control the fleas. Observe hygiene practices, such as frequent house overall cleaning to reduce the risk of further infestations.

read more about Bed Bug Bites: Learn the Treatment and Outcome

Things to remember

  • Fleas are a kind of wingless parasite that feeds off the blood of humans and animals such as dogs and cats.
  • Flea bite is red swollen and intensely itchy, and secondary infections caused by scratching are common.
  • Treatment options include anaesthetic creams and icepacks to reduce the swelling.
  • Persistent flea infestations may required to be treated by a qualified pest controller.