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4 min read

How to Tell the Difference Between Fleas and Ticks

Content Marketing Manager

Jocelyn Stange, MA

When you add a new pet to your family, it's easy to forget that you're taking care of an animal. An animal that loves to play outside, roll in the grass, and dig in the mud.

All places where dangerous parasites like fleas and ticks can lurk and find their way to your dog or cat. But how do you know what type of insect you're dealing with if you find one and what should you do?

In this article, you'll learn what parasites to look for, how to spot the difference, and how to control pests from feeding on your pet in the first place.

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What parasites should I look for

Whether you have an indoor or an outdoor pet, insects will find a way to annoy you and your furry friends. While bugs like ants and beetles are unpleasant to find on your pets, they aren't as big of a threat as others.

Ticks and fleas are the most common pests to keep an eye out for on your pets.


Ticks are small, oval-shaped parasites with eight legs. Ticks feed on the blood of animals like dogs, cats, and even humans. They can't jump but can crawl and seek out their hosts via smells, sounds, and body heat.


There are a few common types of ticks in the United States — the American dog tick, the blacklegged (deer) tick, the brown dog (kennel) tick, and the lone star tick. All can carry a variety of diseases from Lyme disease to Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF).

A few common places to look for ticks on your pet include:

  • Ears and eyes
  • Neck and under their collar
  • Groin, armpits, tail
  • Paws and between toes


Fleas are wingless insects that also feed on the blood of animals. There are several species of fleas, but the most common are cat fleas (ctenocephalides felis) and dog fleas (ctenocephalides canis).


Fleas have six legs and irritating bites that can often carry disease. Fleas are so tiny they can be hard to see with the naked eye, making it hard to differentiate cat fleas vs dog fleas. But, fleas can jump extremely high and all types can find their way to your pets.

If your pet has a flea infestation you'll probably notice a few signs:

  • Flea dirt (dark brown specs of flea feces)
  • Full-grown fleas
  • Excessive scratching
  • Redness and skin irritation
  • Hair loss
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What's the difference between fleas and ticks

Fleas and ticks can both pose large threats to your pet. But, that isn't the only similarity.

Similarities between fleas and ticks

Some commonalities between fleas and ticks include:

  • The number of hosts
  • Their preferred season
  • Their ability to transmit illness


Both pests begin their respective life cycles by feeding on their host, reproducing, and laying eggs. For convenience, both tend to stick to one host or two throughout their lifetime and usually prefer animals.


The seasonality of fleas and ticks is generally the same. So, are fleas active in winter? And can dogs get fleas in the winter?

Yes they are, and yes they can. Depending on where you live, tick and flea season can last the entire year.



Both pests are carriers of disease that can be harmful to your pets. Fleas and ticks bite to latch onto their host and feed on their blood. Their bites create an open wound on your pets which can become infected. And, susceptible to various illnesses.

Differences between ticks and fleas

To identify a flea vs a tick — you'll want to identify a few of their differences. The most significant differences between ticks and fleas are:

  • Their appearance
  • Their lifespan
  • Preferred climate
  • Diseases they carry
  • Type of treatment


It can be hard to tell the difference between a flea and a piece of dirt because fleas are much smaller in appearance than ticks. Even adult fleas don't surpass the size of a black peppercorn.

On the other hand, ticks (even nymphs) are visible to humans. In fact, an engorged tick can reach up to 1/4 of an inch — roughly the size of a small grape.


The life cycle for fleas usually lasts a few weeks and adult fleas can only survive for about two to three months. A tick's life cycle can last an entire year or more and some types of ticks can live for two to three years in their environment.



Fleas prefer dark, damp climates and tend to find their way to your attics, floorboards, and basements. In fact, flea eggs can survive entirely indoors for up to a year. Ticks primarily stay outdoors and prefer warm, wooded, or grassy areas. They'll usually crawl around in their environment until they find a viable host.


Both carriers of disease, fleas and ticks cause a variety of different health problems for your pets. Fleas can cause Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD), cat-scratch disease, murine typhus, and give your pet tapeworms from a flea bite.

Ticks can transmit Lyme, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, rocky mountain spotted fever, and tularemia.


Fleas can take weeks to get rid of. If you're dealing with a flea infestation it can often take up to 30 days to completely stop fleas from reproducing in your home. On the other hand, ticks are easy to remove in a few minutes or less.

How to get rid of fleas or ticks

Prevention! The best way to treat your cat or dog for flea and tick bites, and keep them pest-free, is by avoiding them altogether. Here are a few tips for battling a flea infestation:

  1. Call your veterinarian for recommendations.
  2. Know what kills fleas on dogs instantly.
  3. Treat your pet with a topical flea & tick preventative right away.
  4. Spray your home with a household spray that contains an IGR.
  5. Wash your pet's belongings and bedding.
  6. Vacuum any carpet and dispose of the contents right away.
  7. Hire a pest control service to treat your home in severe cases.
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Meet Jocelyn Stange

As a Content Marketing Manager, Jocelyn is committed to creating expert content to help pets stay healthy and keep their humans happy. She received her MA in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. When she's not zeroed in on content strategy you can find her attempting to teach her goldendoodle Murray a new trick.