There are many species of fleas throughout North America, but the ones considered pests most often are dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis) and cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis), as these species will infest homes. Other species carry plague and other diseases, but they will not infest a home in large numbers. Dog and cat fleas prefer parts of the country that are humid. They are not established in the arid southwest, although they occasionally turn up when brought in on a dog that moved here from somewhere else.
We do have approximately 107 species of fleas in New Mexico and about 33 species that carry the plague. Pocket gophers are known to carry 7 species of fleas. None are known to carry the plague. Pack rats can carry 34 species of fleas. At least 4 are known to carry plague. Deer mice can carry 36 species of fleas and at least 6 are known or suspected of carrying the plague. The various species of squirrels can carry up to 14 species of fleas and at least 8 species can carry the plague and prairie dogs can carry 10 species of fleas. Only two species are known to be vectors of the plague and they kill the prairie dogs, so the prairie dogs can’t spread the plague. In other words, if you have a colony of prairie dogs near your property, they will not spread the plague. If plague fleas get involved with the prairie dogs, the animals will die. Ground nesting birds such as quail and chickens can carry sticktight fleas (Echidnophaga gallinacea), and they will get on pets. They are usually found around the eyes and ears and hang on tight to your pet. I put diatomaceous earth (DE) on my fingers and rub the fleas and they will drop off. Use food-grade DE only. It is available at most feed stores.
What else can you do you do about fleas? If you have ground squirrels, I would recommend dusting the burrows with diatomaceous earth. The DE will kill any fleas in the burrow but won’t hurt the squirrels. The fleas will get off the squirrel after feeding and will land in the DE in the burrow.
I never recommend using Frontline or Advantage for fleas in NM. If we had dog or cat fleas, then it might be okay, but still risky. According to Whole Dog Journal, a monthly dog care and training publication, the active ingredient in Frontline, which is fipronil, may not be safe for pets.
If you have fleas infesting your home, here is what you need to do: Steam clean the carpets. This will remove dried blood, carpet fibers and other debris, diluted excrement, some flea larvae, eggs, pupal cocoons, adults, feces and other food sources.
Put a goose-neck lamp 8” – 10” over a pan of “fizzy” seltzer water with a few drops of dish soap at night. The fleas are attracted to the heat and carbon dioxide and drown. Sprinkle salt where animals lie; salt dehydrates the fleas and they die.
To monitor infestations, slowly walk through suspected areas wearing white knee socks. When the fleas jump on you, you should clearly be able to see them on the socks. Or you can put some white pieces of fabric on the floor and the fleas will jump on them.
You can also dust the carpet with food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE). Also dust bedding, furniture and other areas your pet frequents. Let the DE set for four days and then vacuum it up. Also rub some DE through your pet’s fur to the skin, especially on the scalp and tail, behind the neck and in any area where your pet can’t bite or scratch. Caution: Diatomaceous earth can dry out your pet’s skin, so lightly use it no more than once a month. Borax powder used for boosting cleaning power in laundry can also be used to effectively rid your home of fleas. Borax powder is non-toxic and kills fleas by cutting into their exoskeletons. The powder can be sprinkled onto carpets and floors where flea infestations exist. Apply it to pet bedding and upholstered furniture where pets sleep, in addition to the flooring. Work the borax powder into the surface with a stiff-bristled broom, then vacuum it up. Even though borax powder is non-toxic, use caution when young children and pets are around as it can make them sick.