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What's the Difference Between Fleas and Ticks?

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Fleas and ticks are common bugs that cause irritating bites and can transmit diseases to your pet. Here's what you need to know about each.
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A Shiba Inu scratching himself outside on a grass field.

As warm and snuggly as our pets might be to us, their soft fur also provides a great environment and hiding place for some nasty bugs. That's right, we're talking about two of the most common threats for both pets and their owners: fleas and ticks.As warm and snuggly as our pets might be to us, their soft fur also provides a great environment and hiding place for some nasty bugs. That's right, we're talking about two of the most common threats for both pets and their owners: fleas and ticks.

Fleas and ticks are similar in that:

  • They feed on your pet's blood.
  • They can transmit diseases.
  • They use sharp mouthparts to cut into the skin where they access blood vessels, often leaving red irritated skin behind.
  • They can spread disease to humans and pets.

But that's where the similarities end.

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A zoomed-in image of a flea jumping off of the carpet.

Flea vs. Tick

There are many differences between fleas and ticks, including:

  • The type of parasite they are: A flea is a wingless insect with six legs that can jump. Ticks, on the other hand, have six to eight legs and are arachnids, which means they're related to spiders.
  • The hosts they look for: Adult fleas find one host, usually a dog or cat, and stay there until they die (their lifespan on a pet can last two to three months). Ticks feed on multiple hosts (rodents, rabbits, deer, and pets) up to two weeks at a time throughout the different stages of their development and can live up to three years in various environments.
  • The weather they can tolerate: In most cases, we think of flea and tick season as the warmer months, and for fleas, that's true. Warm environments are ideal for them. Ticks thrive in warmer environments too, but are better adapted to survive the cold weather, even hiding under snow.
  • Their tendency to infest your home: Fleas are more likely to infest your house. They multiply, they bring along friends and they can get on your clothes and your furniture. Ticks typically just wait around and latch onto their host as they walk by.
  • The way you treat them: If you have a flea infestation, you'll most likely need to use a premise product to clean and treat the areas of your house exposed to the infestation, as well as give your dog a flea bath, or treat your pet with a preventive. With ticks, you will want to remove them as quickly as possible and even give the pet a bath if they are heavily infested. To avoid ticks in the future, be sure to apply a preventive.
  • The diseases they carry: Fleas can cause skin issues, flea allergy dermatitis, and carry tapeworms. Infected ticks can transmit potentially deadly diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.
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A zoomed-in image of a tick crawling on a green leaf.

Avoiding Fleas and Ticks

Always check your dog or cat after they have come in from a romp in the woods or tall grasses. If you do find a tick on your pet, get rid of the parasite as quickly as possible, clean the area, and monitor your pet for any changes in behavior. And if you find fleas, clean, bathe, and treat your pet appropriately. Consult your vet if you have any specific concerns.

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