Fighting fleas, one life stage at a time


June 23, 2023

Photo: Todorean Gabriel/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Photo: Todorean Gabriel/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) can be a notoriously challenging pest to manage. Infestations can appear suddenly and multiply rapidly, leaving clients frustrated and overwhelmed. Adult activity may even persist for months despite ongoing treatments.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for flea control, understanding three aspects of the cat flea’s life history can help avoid some of the common pitfalls that lead to treatment failure:

1. Cat fleas undergo complete metamorphosis; they transition through four distinct life stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. While adult fleas are the easiest to find, they generally represent the smallest percentage of an infestation. Your treatment program should include steps to controlling all life stages of fleas to be successful.

2. Developing fleas in both the egg and pupal stages are well protected from pesticides and other environmental dangers. That means applications made may not affect eggs and pupae, requiring multiple follow-up visits for reapplication.

3. Fully developed adult fleas can patiently wait in their protective pupal casings until they detect
cues — such as vibrations — that a future bloodmeal is on the way.

Dr. Michael Bentley, BCE

Dr. Michael Bentley, BCE

To sharpen your flea-fighting skills this season:

  • Review your treatment protocols to ensure you’re using a fully integrated approach to target all life stages.
  • Encourage clients to machine wash linens, pet bedding and any other fabric goods where pets frequent to reduce eggs and larvae.
  • Ask clients to vacuum frequently to stimulate “overly patient” flea adults to emerge from their pupal casings.
  • Include an insect growth regulator (IGR) in your chemical control arsenal to provide an additional layer of control by preventing immatures from reaching the adult stage.

About the Author

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Dr. Bentley is director of training and education for the National Pest Management Association. You can reach him at

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