Can dog and cat fleas live on humans?
The short answer is that fleas on humans may bite people but they won’t live on you. Fleas will seek out your dog or cat as their preferred host and blood meal.
Despite their names, the most common flea found on dogs and cats is the cat flea. That’s because fleas are not host specific, meaning that while their preferred host is a cat or dog, they will both happily feed on either cats or dogs, and sometimes humans!
The good news for pet owners is that while they may certainly bite humans, they won’t live on them. Scientific research shows that our relatively hairless bodies don’t make great hiding places, they’re difficult for fleas to attach to and they don’t provide enough heat for them to survive long term.
The dark, moist environment of fur is the perfect place for fleas to live. Because of this, fleas can’t breed on you either – they need a dog, cat or any other pet for that matter, so if you’re the only food source around, they’re unable to complete their lifecycle and multiply.
Take note though, fleas will often stay on our skin and inside our clothes in the short term, using us a ‘carrier’, waiting for a more suitable host, like your cat or dog, before jumping onto them. They can also infest our homes, laying their eggs on your pet, which fall into the environment onto furniture and on the carpet; the eggs can then lay dormant before hatching into larvae and developing into adult fleas.
Yes, but don’t fear. There are around 2,000 kinds of flea and luckily only one type, the human flea, Pulex irritans, lives on us and it’s rarely a problem in the UK.
To find out whether that itchy red spot you’ve found on your skin is just a spot, a bug bite or something more sinister, here are some ways flea bites appear:
- You’ve found a small scab on your skin which has a light red ‘halo’
- Very small red marks around a central red spot
- Clusters of red bite marks that have swollen in a similar way to mosquito bites
- You have been bitten on your ankles and legs, in particular
Other signs your household has fleas include:
- Found black specks, which look like ground pepper? This is called flea ‘dirt’ which is, in fact, flea faeces
- Your pets are scratching more than usual and could have fleas
Fleas don’t just bite, infected fleas can also spread diseases to humans.
- Flea-borne diseases
Ignoring a flea infestation is not wise and can risk your own and your family’s health. Even if you get over the discomfort of irritating bites, infected fleas can spread disease, which can result in serious illness in humans, such as typhus and the plague, although these are very rare in the UK. It’s more common that a person may contract Bartonella, often known as cat scratch disease, from infected flea faeces under the cat’s claws.
- Allergic reactions to flea bites
Some people may react to flea bites, their skin can become swollen, itchy and irritated, sometimes displaying red bumps, hives or a rash. If this happens, it’s best to visit a healthcare professional.
- Risk of tapeworm infection
Fleas can carry the tapeworm parasite and can pose a risk to your household. If a flea carrying the Dipylidium caninum tapeworm parasite is ingested by your pet, such as during grooming, or by humans accidentally although this is rare, it can develop into a tapeworm infestation.
If you’ve got a flea infestation in your home, as well as treating your pet for fleas, you’ll need to treat your household too to ensure you remove any hidden flea eggs and larvae that have the potential to re-infest it.
- Never use pet flea medicine on humans – Medicine for your pets should only be used on your pets as it can make humans very sick.
- Soothe the itch – The biggest complaint from fleas is the itchy bites. To get relief, speak to your pharmacist about over-the-counter options.
- Avoid scratching – As hard as it might be, try to avoid scratching the bite. This can open up the scab and take longer for it to heal. It also increases your risk of infection.
- Prevention is always better than cure – Treating your pet regularly with a flea preventative treatment is one of the most effective ways to prevent a flea infestation. There are many different types of flea control products on the market, including tablets, flea collars and monthly spot-on treatments to suit your pet and your lifestyle. Your vet will be able to recommend the right product for you to keep you, your pets and home flea-free. Seresto Flea and Tick Control collar is unlike any other flea treatment on the market. Seresto provides the longest lasting protection against fleas in one dose. Simply put the collar on your cat or dog and it will kill fleas and repel and kill ticks for up to eight months.
Whenever you’re treating your pet for fleas, you should also consider flea control in your home. This is because fleas love warm hidden places, making carpets, furniture and other soft furnishings the perfect habitat for their larvae and flea eggs.
To remove fleas in the home:
- Vacuum regularly – Thoroughly vacuum all carpets, rugs, sofas and other upholstered furniture, making sure you get into hidden places like underneath the sofa and bed, and behind furniture. Pay special attention to areas where your pet likes to sleep or play but ensure you cover the whole house, as fleas and flea eggs don’t just stay in places where your dog or cat has been.
- Clean linen – Wash all bedding and other linens, such as blankets, clothes and curtains on a hot setting, preferably at 60°C.
- Clean your pet’s bedding – Wash your pet’s bedding separately from your own and, again, wash it at a high temperature.
- Use a home flea spray – Use a vet-recommended household flea treatment to help you reach areas your vacuum can’t, such as cracks and any difficult-to-reach nooks and crannies.
Find out more about getting rid of fleas in the home.
It can take several weeks to fully tackle a flea problem, but so long as you’re patient and consistent, you’ll get there. To prevent re-infestation, it’s important to treat your pets regularly.