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Can Fleas Live on People?

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Dog at home with owner Dougal Waters/Photodisc/Getty Images

Question: Can Fleas Live on People?

Answer:

If you've ever had flea bites, you've probably wondered whether fleas can live on people. The good news is fleas don't live on people (literally on our bodies), with very few exceptions. Human fleas (Pulex irritans) prefer to feed on humans or pigs, but these parasites are very uncommon in homes and more often associated with wildlife.

The fleas that invade our homes and feed on our pets are almost always cat fleas, Ctenocephalides felis. Despite their name, cat fleas are just as likely to feed on Fido as they are on your cat. And while they don't usually live on non-furry hosts like humans, they can and do bite people.

Less often, dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis) infest homes. Dog fleas aren't picky parasites, either, and will gladly draw blood from your cat.

In either case - cat fleas or dog fleas - the adult fleas are built for hiding in fur. Their laterally flattened bodies help them navigate between pieces of fur or hair. Backwards-facing spines on their bodies help them cling to Fido's fur when he's on the move. Our relatively hairless bodies don't make great hiding places for fleas, and it's much harder for them to hang on to our bare skin.

Still, people living with pets eventually find themselves faced with a flea infestation. As they multiply in number, all those bloodthirsty fleas are competing for your pet, and may begin biting you instead. Flea bites typically occur on the ankles or lower legs. And yes, flea bites do itch, especially if you're allergic to them.

One word of caution, though. While fleas rarely take up residence on human skin, they can and will live happily in a human home with no pets present. If fleas find their way into your house and don't find a dog, cat, or bunny on which to feed, they will use you as the next best thing.

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