It’s summertime! The fleas and ticks are celebrating this time of year and are out in abundance. Being a small animal veterinarian in South Florida, we see these pesky parasites all year long, but more so during the summer. So commonly we have pet parents bringing their beloved pets into the animal hospital in a panic when they see fleas or ticks on their pets. Even more commonly, my pet parents get fleas and ticks confused and are not sure which parasite they are seeing on their pet. So today, I would like to take a moment to discuss the differences between ticks and fleas, how they bite your pets differently, and what we can do to protect our pets from these parasites.
Although fleas and ticks are completely different species of insects, they do have some similarities, and very commonly get confused. Both are parasites, which mean they are an organism that live in or on another organism, a host, and benefit from deriving nutrients at the expense of their host’s blood. Now perhaps you can understand why so many people come to me in a panic that they see fleas or ticks on their beloved pet?! Despite both fleas and ticks using your pet as their meals for survival, they bite and feed in very different ways. In addition, they appear very different to the naked eye. Many monthly preventatives treat for both fleas and ticks and are grouped into the same preventative, further confusing people between their differences. So, what are the main differences between fleas and ticks and how can you help to keep your pets safe from these pesky parasites?
Fleas. To the naked eye, adult fleas are visible, about the size of a pinpoint needle, and enjoy living and feeding on their dog and cat hosts. A flea’s lifespan is about 100 days, and if possible they will spend their adult life on your pet, feeding, reproducing, and laying eggs. They are wingless insects, black in color, and can jump very high. To determine if your pet is infested with fleas, it is important to be able to identify whether what you are seeing is truly a flea. Adult fleas tend to move very quickly, and can even jump when seeing them on your pet. In the early stages of infestation, you may not be able to find one, but may see “flea dirt” which is the common name for flea feces. If small black speckled “dirt like” material is obvious on the skin of your pet, this is usually a sign that fleas are present. Flea dirt can be easily detected on light colored pets, by parting the fur and looking at the skin, but it may be more difficult to find on pets that have darker pigmentation. Fleas combs, small fine toothed combs designed to trap flea dirt and fleas, are a great way to see if your pet is infested. I use the Four Paws Flea Catcher Comb. Most flea bites produce a localized redness with possible swelling, similar to other insect bites. Always contact your veterinarian when fleas are seen on your pet and make sure your pet is treated property and placed on a monthly preventative. There are many ways to treat for fleas on your pet and at home. Seresto preventative flea and tick collars are very effective in preventing fleas and ticks from infecting your pet. I highly recommend Richard’s Organics Flea and Tick Shampoo to treat your pets at home for parasite infestation.
Ticks. Ticks are a close cousin to spiders and are in the arachnid family. They have eight legs, which may be difficult to see with the naked eye, and are bigger than fleas. There are many different species and sizes of ticks. Unlike fleas, ticks will live their adult lives on multiple hosts, and are not tied down to one. There are many different sizes and species of ticks and they can have a lifespan of anywhere between 3 weeks to 3 years. When found on your pet, ticks are generally stationary and feeding, unlike fleas. Ticks feed by burrowing or embedding their entire heads into the skin of your pet, where they become attached, and then take a blood meal. Ticks can be a bit more daunting for my pet parents than fleas. In addition to their scary appearance, they can cause some very serious diseases. Sometimes tick bites can develop a bullseye-like appearance and more than likely will develop a scab or raised lesion, unlike flea bites. I always inform my pet parents to take caution when removing a tick from your pet. I recommend wearing gloves, and applying rubbing alcohol to the exposed body of the tick. Using steady pressure, pull the tick out with tweezers using a straight motion, making sure not to twist or jerk. Do not squeeze or crush the tick while removing the tick from your pet. After removing the tick, make sure the head and mouth parts were removed. If not, take your pet to the veterinarian to remove what is left in your pet’s skin. If multiple ticks are noted on your pet, speak with your veterinarian regarding a tick dip to try and remove multiple ticks. Always contact your veterinarian when ticks are seen on your pet, and make sure your pet is treated property and placed on a monthly preventative.
I hope this helps to clear up some of the confusion between fleas and ticks. Both are pesky parasites that not only feed on your pet and cause irritation, but also can transmit different diseases. Making sure your pets are free of parasites and on the proper preventatives are imperative to their health and wellbeing. If you see any fleas or ticks on your pet, contact your veterinarian immediately. They are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets!