As the weather turns warmer, pet parents are ready to venture into backyards and backwoods with their four-legged besties. The warmer weather also coaxes fleas to hatch from their eggs. As anyone who has ever dealt with a flea problem knows, they are tricky pests to beat.
Fleas reproduce at lightning speed. A single flea can lead to a full-blown infestation in just a few weeks. Because fleas and their eggs are so small, many people don’t notice them before they become a major problem.
Here is everything you need to know to eliminate flea eggs and prevent an itchy invasion.
What Do Flea Eggs Look Like?
Flea eggs look like very tiny grains of rice. They are tiny ovals, rarely bigger than 0.5 mm (1/50-inch)—about the size of a grain of sand or salt. They can be bright white, off white, or translucent.
It is common for people to confuse flea eggs with dandruff, but there are telltale differences. Unlike flat flakes of dandruff, which are irregular in shape, flea eggs are uniformly oval-shaped. Dandruff sticks to pets’ hair and is hard to remove, whereas flea eggs are more slippery and spread easily from place to place.
It is also important to note that flea eggs are different from “flea dirt”—the digested blood that is left as waste from adult fleas. Flea dirt looks more like flecks of black pepper than the salt-like flea eggs. Flea dirt clumps easily and sticks to dogs’ fur and skin. Like flea eggs, flea dirt is an urgent signal that fleas are not far away.
Can You See Flea Eggs on Dogs and Cats?
Because they are so tiny, it is very difficult to see flea eggs on a cat or dog—especially if they have light-colored fur. And, since flea eggs fall from animals so easily, pets don’t usually have large numbers of flea eggs on them at one time.
There are a few tricks you can use to confirm whether there are flea eggs on your dog or cat. First, having a magnifying glass handy can help you know what you’re looking at. Start by checking fleas’ favorite places to hide: the haunches, the base of the tail, the nape of the neck, and between the shoulder blades. If you’re having difficulty spotting the tiny white eggs on your dog or cat, use that magnifying glass to check your pet’s favorite lounge areas.
Using a flea comb can also be helpful to track down flea eggs on your pet. Its long, fine teeth get between hairs to filter out the tiny white eggs. A flea comb will also reveal flea dirt on your pet.
To use a flea comb, run it gently but firmly through the fur to separate the hairs. Go slowly so you can see the skin beneath. Begin by checking the areas in which fleas love to hide, between the shoulder blades and near the base of the tail. Make sure to do this outside if possible, so eggs don’t spray onto the floors and carpet while you comb. Flea eggs on cats are usually easier to comb out due to the softer fur. They can be a little tougher to see and extract from dog fur.
How Long Does It Take for Flea Eggs to Hatch?
Adult fleas can only lay their eggs after they’ve bitten an animal. This little snack is charmingly known in the pest world as a “blood meal.” After that, the eggs can take anywhere from two days to two weeks to hatch.
“The warmer and more humid it is, the faster the life cycle will go,” says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a staff doctor at NYC’s Animal Medical Center, who specializes in small animal internal medicine and oncology. “If it’s cooler and dryer, the process slows down until the temperature goes up.”
According to the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service, temperatures of 75 to 85 degrees and over 50 percent humidity accelerate the life cycle from egg to larvae.
Where Do Fleas Lay Eggs?
Fleas like to lay eggs near their primary food source—your dog or cat. Fleas can’t produce eggs from a diet of human blood. So, even if they bite people, they almost never lay eggs in human hair. About 36 to 48 hours after making a meal of your poor pet’s blood, a female flea will deposit her eggs into your pet’s fur—but that’s not where they stay.
“Flea eggs are like ping pong balls,” describes Dr. Michael Dryden, who recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, where he was known as “Dr. Flea” for his expertise. “They roll right off your dog or cat and bounce into carpets, between floorboards, in upholstery and in your pets’ bedding,” where they like to hide until they are ready to hatch.
The time it takes eggs to fall off your pet depends on how long their fur is and how active they are, but most of the eggs will fall off within a few days. The itchiness from flea bites naturally encourages scratching, which contributes to faster shedding of dry eggs. You’ll find the most eggs in the areas of your home where your pet spends the most time.
How Many Eggs Does a Flea Lay?
An adult female flea can lay anywhere from 20 to 50 eggs a day, depending on how much she has eaten, the temperature, and whether there are any pesticides in the environment. Over the course of a lifetime (just a few months), a single flea can lay as many as 2,000 eggs. That means that a single female flea can cause a serious infestation in a matter of weeks.
How Often Do Fleas Lay Eggs?
As long as a female flea has a steady supply of blood for food, a female flea will lay several eggs after each feeding, meaning every 3-5 hours.
How Long Do Flea Eggs Live?
Flea eggs can survive for about 10 days, tops. “If they don’t hatch in 10 days, they won’t,” Dryden says.
Flea eggs need a warm, humid environment—anywhere from 70 to 90 degrees and 75 to 85 percent humidity. Under ideal conditions, flea eggs can hatch their larvae in as little as 36 hours. In a less favorable environment, the eggs take longer to hatch.
What Is the Difference Between Flea Eggs and Flea Larvae?
Once the flea eggs hatch, flea larvae emerge. They look like tiny worms, about 2-3 mm long (1/12- to 1/8-inch), with a yellowish-white, segmented body and black head. Flea larvae are born blind and avoid bright light, so they quickly burrow deep into carpets, cracks, and grass, where they feast on flea dirt. Flea larvae make up approximately 35 percent of the total flea population in any given area.
About 5 to 20 days after hatching, if they have the right warm and humid environment, a flea larva will spin a pupa, which is like a cocoon. The pupa is very hard and has a sticky outer coating that helps it hide deep in carpets and fabrics. The pupa stage can last as little as a week or up to a year. Fleas will not emerge from the pupa stage until they sense body heat and carbon dioxide, signaling that a host is nearby. When your pet walks by, the flea will emerge from its cocoon to begin feeding and the whole cycle starts over again.
What Kills Flea Eggs?
Killing flea eggs is a two-phase process. First, you need to eliminate any flea eggs and adult fleas on your pet. Then, you need to get rid of the flea eggs in your home.
The very first step in this process should be to bring your pet to see the veterinarian. The veterinarian will examine your dog to understand the extent of the flea problem and determine the right treatment for your pet.
Not all products that kill fleas work to kill flea eggs, so your veterinarian can help you choose the best product and course of action for your pet.
If you get rid of flea eggs and adult fleas on your pet, you need to focus your attention on getting rid of flea eggs in your home. Here are some steps to take:
“The most natural, most effective way to get rid of flea eggs in your home is to vacuum,” says Dr. Laurie Leach, of Beverly Oaks Animal Hospital and Emergency Animal Clinic. “Before you start, put some mothballs inside the vacuum bag. When you’re finished, take that bag out immediately to the trash can, so those eggs don’t hatch inside your vacuum cleaner.”
Make sure to use a vacuum with good suction and a rotating brush. Start with the baseboards and thoroughly vacuum the floors, carpets, and upholstered furniture, paying extra attention to corners and crevices. A good vacuuming every other day can remove the majority of flea eggs and also helps to eliminate adult fleas, larvae, some pupae, and flea dirt.
Go through the areas of your house where your pet spends the most time, and gather all the linens, upholstery, and bedding that may have been exposed to flea eggs. Wash them with detergent or bleach, using the hottest cycle the fabric will tolerate. Flea eggs will not survive the extended exposure to the hot water and laundry detergent in the washer. It’s even better if you can also throw the linens in the dryer.
There are a lot of flea products on the market, but many are aimed at killing adult fleas and are not effective for killing eggs. Your veterinarian can guide you as to the right combination of products to address your pet’s specific needs.
The most effective products to kill flea eggs include insect growth regulators (IGRs). These compounds, called isoxazolines, are safe for pets. They work by mimicking a hormone that stops fleas from maturing into adults—including preventing eggs from hatching. Some IGRs also work to sterilize female fleas so they can’t lay viable eggs.
You can find IGRs in a variety of products, including oral medications, spot-on skin applications for animals, and in spray form to safely target eggs in your pet’s bedding.
“The right product for your home depends on where you live and your pet’s lifestyle. Your veterinarian will be able to counsel you on the right formula,” says Dr. Dryden.
As for a flea dip or bath, Dryden says they do not kill flea eggs and are no longer recommended for the treatment of adult fleas. If you are unsure about whether a product is safe, be sure to consult your pet’s veterinarian.
Do Home Remedies Kill Flea Eggs?
A quick internet search for “how to kill flea eggs” will yield several other homespun approaches. However, veterinarians say that although some of these can repel adult fleas, most home remedies are not effective to kill the flea eggs.
The best way to get rid of flea eggs without medication is through diligent vacuuming and washing. In cases of serious infestations, medication will be needed to destroy flea eggs. Be sure you speak with your veterinarian about the safety of any at-home remedies you choose, no matter how benign they seem.
Dish soap can kill some adult fleas, but it is not safe for your pet’s skin because it can remove the natural oils, making it more prone to infection—especially if there is already irritation from fleas. Dish detergent is also not effective since it kills only adult fleas. Some eggs will wash off during a bath, but this will not address the majority of flea eggs in your home, and you should never bathe your dog with dish soap.
Washing linens and bedding in water that is 140 degrees or hotter will be effective to destroy most flea eggs that have made their way into fabrics and upholstery. Steam cleaning carpets after vacuuming can also help to kill remaining flea eggs.
Coconut oil can help improve certain skin problems or a dry coat in dogs, and it is safe for animals. However, there is no evidence that it does anything to kill flea eggs.
Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
Some advice on the internet recommends sprinkling diatomaceous earth on carpets and pets’ bedding. According to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), “Diatomaceous earth causes insects to dry out and die by absorbing the oils and fats from the cuticle of the insect’s exoskeleton. Its sharp edges are abrasive, speeding up the process.”
However, some veterinarians warn that it can harm pets’ respiratory and digestive tracts and advise pet parents to steer clear of using it in areas where pets could inhale or ingest it. If you are interested in using diatomaceous earth to kill fleas and flea eggs, ask your veterinarian about best practices.
Like diatomaceous earth, some people recommend sprinkling salt in areas settled by flea eggs. However, using salt to kill fleas or their eggs is dangerous and ineffective. The amount of salt required to kill flea eggs and larvae is toxic to your dog or cat if he licks it or inhales it.
Vinegar does nothing to kill eggs, but adult fleas despise the taste and smell, so a solution of vinegar and water may assist as a homemade repellent for adult fleas.
In short—flea eggs are a stubborn problem to get rid of, and it can be tempting to try any method possible.
Before you forge ahead, make sure your flea control program is veterinarian-approved and that it addresses the entire flea life cycle, so you can be sure the little bloodsuckers will leave your pets and your family alone for good.