Fleas can be a problem for every dog and cat owner. Adult fleas feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals. While they also bite people, we are not their preferred host. Flea bites cause swelling and itching on both us and our pets. Immature, or larval, fleas look like small white worms. They don't bite but instead feed on hair, shed skin, and dried blood in the animal's bedding. See this page for photos of adult and larval fleas.
Below is an inexpensive flea control program that works very well; it can be time consuming but all the steps are important. If you skip any of the steps fleas may be a recurring problem. For methods that are easier but more expensive see flea control at 'Bugs.
Inexpensive flea control
(1) Vacuum rugs, drapes and furniture thoroughly . Pay particular attention to areas where pets sleep. Discard the dust bag outside because it contains fleas, flea larvae and eggs that may re-infest the house. Vacuuming is an important first step!
(2) Treat rugs, drapes and furniture, and any outdoor sleeping areas like a dog house, with methoprene (IGR; see below). Use these products according to label instructions. Some methoprene products also contain other insecticides like pyrethrum.
Insect growth regulators (IGR) act by disrupting normal flea development -- non-biting larvae never develop into adults and eventually die. IGRs are virtually non-toxic to humans and pets and are long-lasting, up to 7 months by some reports. The downside of IGRs is that they are slow acting.
(3) Shampoo your pet with a good quality flea shampoo at the same time as steps 1 and 2. Repeat the shampoo in a few weeks when you notice adult fleas again.
Use of flea collars
Flea collars do pretty well at keeping ticks off the front half of dogs; however, they don't have much value against fleas -- especially if the home is infested.
According to the best information we have, outdoor insecticide treatments are not needed and of little value. This is because fleas live in the animal's nest or bedding. They don't survive for long away from their animal host. So, you can skip the general lawn treatments for fleas.
Use of foggers or "bombs" (total release aerosols)
Aerosol foggers or "bombs" are popular with some homeowners. The idea is that the aerosol insecticide somehow penetrates into cracks and crevices that you couldn't reach by other means. In fact, total release aerosols do a poor job of coverage because they essentially throw insecticide into the air thereby treating only exposed surfaces as it lands. On the other hand, liquid formulations, carefully applied with some type of pressure applicator, will achieve much better coverage and might even be less expensive.
See the flea control articles below for more detailed information.