Fleas are small, biting, parasitic insects that feed on the blood of other animals. Fleas can breed incredibly quickly, and their eggs can lay dormant for an extended period of time. Fleas are a bad problem in Houston.
Houston has an unfortunately large stray animal population and many wild animals like rats, mice, and possums, all of which will come close to human homes and can easily spread fleas. Fleas can jump for incredible lengths, and will seek out body heat and new hosts. In area like Montrose or the Heights where older buildings are raised off the ground or have crawlspaces, a single stray cat sleeping under the house for just one night can result in a massive flea infestation.
A flea infestation is incredibly unpleasant and often dangerous. Fleas can drink enough blood to cause anemia in pets, and fleas spread disease. Fleas also have a complex lifecycle which is important to understand when treating flea infestations.
It's no surprise to any of us who live here that Houston is hot. But Fleas are able to take advantage of this warm climate in ways that us poor humans who take shelter in the air conditioning can't. Houston's warm climate gives fleas an unusually long window for breeding. Fleas are extremely susceptible to cold weather, adult fleas will die if exposed to temperatures colder than 40° Fahrenheit. Fleas thrive between temperatures of 65 and 80 degrees, and the average yearly temperature for Houston comes right in at 68 degrees.
Houston's geography also contributes to the flea problem. Houston has some of the most green space of any major city in the US, with 30% of the metro area being covered by trees. On the one hand, this is great, it helps cut down on air pollution and we could definitely use the shade. But these green areas also give animals shelter and a place to reproduce. Rabbits, squirrels, possums, rats and raccoons are all commonly found in Houston. These animals all carry fleas, and their abundance also means that fleas have more opportunities to feed and more opportunities to breed.
Adult fleas only represent about 10% of the total flea population in the infested area. This means that with any flea infestation, for every adults flea seen there could be hundreds of other fleas in various lifecycle stages waiting to reach adulthood. What kills adult fleas may not kill these other stages of flea life.
A veterinarian can recommend a flea treatment for your animal is part of the solution. But be aware that it's only the adult fleas that you're likely to see and recognize, since all the other life stages are too small to easily see with the naked eye. The key to eliminating colonies of fleas is to get the fleas before they become adults. Fleas can only lay eggs and reproduce when they reach adulthood.
Destroying the eggs, killing the larvae and pupae before they reach adulthood breaks the cycle of flea reproduction and brings the infestation under control. For major infestations, professional pest control is often needed.