Fleas are very common in Aotearoa New Zealand, particularly with cats and dogs. While they are a nuisance, they can also spread disease.

Health risks from fleas

Fleas can spread infectious diseases from one host to another. They are historically known as carriers of the plague. But today fleas are better known as pests and for the irritation they cause.


Fleas can be a host for tapeworms, which can cause infections in people. You can get tapeworm if you swallow an infected flea. This can be treated with medicine to remove the tapeworm from your body (antihelmintics). 

Treatment for flea bites

Treatments for flea bites are limited. Flea bites will usually go away on their own after a few days. You should avoid scratching flea bites because this can make it worse.

If you get a rash around the area of a flea bite, see your healthcare provider.

What fleas look like

Fleas range from about 1 to 5 mm in size — usually around 3 mm. Their bodies are flat, shiny and have a tough surface. These features mean the flea can move through the hair of their hosts without being dislodged.

Where fleas live

Several species are found on a range of warmblooded hosts, including humans. For example the:

  • cat flea
  • dog flea
  • bird flea
  • northern rat flea.

Adult fleas are found on the hosts themselves. Larvae and pupae live in places like the burrows or nests of hosts.

When fleas have not fed for some time they are likely to be less specific about their choice of host. This may involve having a human blood meal. While the human flea is rare in Aotearoa New Zealand, cat and bird fleas are very common.

How to get rid of fleas

There are things you can do to reduce the chances of having fleas.

  • If you have pets, make sure they are treated for fleas.
  • Vacuum the carpets and furnishings your pets use to remove fleas.
  • Clean or remove bedding and nests.

Use insecticide to kill fleas if you find them.

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