Pests That Affect Your Pets: Fleas vs. Ticks

Outlines of a flea vs. tick
Outlines of a flea vs. tick

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night to your animal incessantly scratching? Your dog could be scratching because of a common pet pest. The scratching can be from a pest, but is it a flea vs. a tick bothering your pet?

Fleas and ticks are tiny parasitic bugs that can cause people and animals irritation and transmit diseases. Though both fleas and ticks are tiny parasites, irritate, and transmit disease, they have more differences than you would think.  

If your home is teeming with tiny parasites, contact Environmental Pest Management for a successful pest control service.

Pests that Affect Your Pets: Fleas vs. Ticks

Three small dogs itching for fleas vs. ticks.

The most noticeable difference between fleas and ticks is that fleas like to invade. Fleas will infest your pets and invade the inside of your home. 

In contrast, ticks prefer to stay outdoors and will latch on to your pets if a suitable host wanders by. Both of these bugs have differences in characteristics, habitats, behaviors, bites, and how they spread disease.

Let’s dive into the differences!

Characteristics

Fleas

A large closeup shot of a flea to show the difference between flea vs. tick

Fleas are a dark reddish-brown color. They are easy to mistake as dirt in your pet’s coat.

They have tiny backward-pointing hairs that extend from their exoskeleton. They use their extended mouthparts to feed on their host’s blood. 

Although they may appear to be flying, this is not the case. They do not have wings.

Fleas use their strong hind legs to leap up to 13 inches or 200 times their body length.

Ticks

An enlarged photo of a tick on a white background

Depending on the species, ticks are usually larger than fleas. There are more than 850 species of ticks, and 90 of them can be found within the United States. 

Ticks can be a black, brown, reddish-brown, grayish-white, or yellowish color. They are more of a teardrop or oval-shaped bug with a large abdomen used for feeding. 

Adult ticks will have eight legs, while tick larvae will only have six. Ticks have three life stages: Larval, nymph, and adult- all of which are capable of biting. They are a close cousin to spiders. 

Habitats

A shaded area with tall grass is the perfect habitat for fleas and ticks

Fleas prefer to live in shaded areas with lots of tall grass. Since ticks cannot fly or jump, they prefer to live closer to their hosts. 

They will live in wooded or grassy areas close to homes or near rat burrows or bird nests.

What weather can they tolerate? Most of the time, we think of “flea and tick season” as the warmer months. 

While it’s true for fleas, they thrive in warmer environments. On the other hand, while yes, ticks thrive in warmer weather, they can survive the colder months. Some even hide underneath the snow.    

Behaviors

A tick biting human skin.

Fleas usually avoid biting humans unless there are no other suitable hosts nearby. Fleas will find one host, usually a dog or cat, and live there until they die.

On the other hand, ticks are not as particular. 

Ticks will attach themselves to multiple hosts and feast for a few days until they are engorged with blood, then move on to the next. Ticks will feed on pets, deer, opossums, rabbits, rodents, and even humans. 

 Fleas use their powerful hind legs to jump to and from their hosts.

Since ticks can’t fly or jump, many species of ticks wait for their hosts in a position called “questing.” When questing, the tick will hold onto a leaf or grass with its hind legs with its front legs outstretched.

Then once a host wanders by that area, they will quickly climb aboard and search for a place to latch.

Fleas vs. Ticks: The Bites

Flea bites on a leg.

When a flea bites its host, they inject their saliva into their skin. This can cause your pet to experience skin irritation, rash, and itchiness. 

When a tick bites, it is usually painless, and the negative symptoms will not appear until the tick has finished feeding. The symptoms of a tick bite can include pain at the site, swelling, rash, headache, sore muscles, or fever.

How They Spread Disease

A doctor removing a tick from a person's hand.

Fleas

Fleas can spread diseases such as typhus and plague. Fleas become infected when they bite an infected animal such as a rat, opossum, or stray cat. 

When the fleas bite their host, it causes a break in the skin. When the fleas feed, they poop. 

The poop is called “flea dirt.” The flea dirt from the infected flea can get rubbed inside the wounds. 

It is also possible for people to inhale in the infected flea dirt or rub it into their eyes.

Ticks

Ticks can transmit diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and tularemia through feeding. 

Depending on the species of tick and which life stage it’s in, it can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours to find a feeding spot on its host’s skin. Once the tick has found its feeding spot, it cuts into the surface of the skin and inserts its feeding tube. 

Many species of ticks have a barbed feeding tube that helps keep them in place while feeding. They can also secrete a sticky substance to help keep themselves attached to their meal.

Before ticks bite, they can secrete a small amount of saliva that contains anesthetic qualities. The host will be unaware of the tick’s attachment.

The tick can go unnoticed in a hard-to-reach or out-of-the-way spot. Then the tick will feast on the blood slowly for a couple of days. 

If the host has any bloodborne pathogens, the tick will ingest them with the blood. Tiny amounts of tick saliva can enter the host during the feeding process. 

The infected saliva from the tick can transmit pathogens to the host during the feast. Once finished feeding, the tick drops off to prepare for its next stage of life. 

Any acquired pathogens or diseases can be transmitted at the next feeding. 

Protect Your Pets    

A pet owner applying flea medicine to a dog that has flea dirt in its fur.     

Preparing yourself for fleas and ticks is the best way to protect you, your home, and your pets from fleas and ticks. When it comes to fleas and ticks, it is best to use prevention methods. 

Keep your yard mowed and landscaped to help keep them from living in your backyard. Do not leave out any pet food that may attract unwanted animals, such as opossums or raccoons.

Talk to your veterinarian about a flea and tick treatment for your pet. And keep your pet’s bedding or carpets and rug clean to prevent flea infestations. 

If you think you have a tick infestation or live near a wooded area where ticks love to hang out, call Environmental Pest Management for help. We will prevent pet pests from infiltrating your home.

I Have Flea Bites! Now What?

A close-up of a flea
A close-up of a flea

Nothing puts a damper on summer fun like insect bites. But if you’re still getting itchy red bumps after going indoors, you may be dealing with flea bites.

Fleas like to hitch a ride on furry pets. When your dog lies in the yard, he’s an easy target. After your pet comes inside, you’re an easy target, too. 

If you need help debugging your home, contact Environmental Pest Management today. Our pest control experts will provide a solution that works for you. Get your free quote today.

The Basics About Fleas

A flea life cycle diagram

Fleas are parasites that hop onto any warm-blooded host available. Their strong claws make them difficult to dislodge. Hair or fur can make them difficult to spot.

Fleas have strong hind legs that give them the ability to jump about 12 inches vertically. Bites on your lower legs and feet are often caused by fleas. 

Fleas reproduce by laying eggs. Eggs can take anywhere from 2 days to two weeks to hatch. 

After hatching, flea larvae grow in dark, humid environments. The dark and humidity under a carpet is a perfect habitat for them. 

After another 1-2 weeks, the flea larva spins itself into a cocoon. It emerges as an adult about four days later.

The adult flea lives about 2-3 months and may lay about 5000 eggs in that time. An adult flea can bite and feed up to 400 times a day. 

How Do I Know If I Have Flea Bites?

A closeup of flea bites on a human leg

Fleas are tiny – about the size of the tip of a pencil. They are small enough that you might not notice them if you aren’t looking for them. 

Fleas can’t fly, but they jump. This little bug packs a big bite. A flea will continue to bite until it is gorged and leave a raised, itchy welt.

Take a good look at your pet. Brush his fur and look for small, black dots. 

Unlike other bug bites, flea bites are likely to occur on your lower legs and feet. A series of red bumps may be the outcome of walking through a flea-infested area. 

Scratching the bite may cause increased itching. Treat bites with an itch cream containing hydrocortisone. Many creams are available without a prescription. 

Though uncommon, flea bites cause an allergic reaction in some people. Symptoms range from hives to difficulty breathing. If you have severe itching, swelling, or shortness of breath, seek medical attention.

Flea bites can last up to three weeks but normally disappear within several days if you refrain from scratching them. 

Fleas can transmit diseases, including plague, tapeworms, and typhus, but this is very unusual. It is more likely that scratching those itchy red spots will break the skin, resulting in an infection.

What Do I Do If I Have Fleas?

Couple cleaning their dog and house from fleas

If your home is infected, there are steps you can take to get rid of fleas:

1.Treat your pet and your home at the same time. Bug control requires a blitz attack. If you treat Rover this weekend but don’t vacuum until next weekend, bugs will re-infest in short order. Treat your pet with a flea shampoo, and follow up with preventive treatment. Talk to your veterinarian about the best product for your pet.

2. Vacuum. Do the floors, the furniture, the baseboards, and any other small areas of your home that fleas or their larvae could be tucked into. Take your vacuum outside to empty it.

3. Steam clean the carpets. 

4. Wash all the bedding in hot water, including your pet beds and blankets. Dry them at the highest setting the items can handle.

5. Apply an insecticide that kills both adult fleas and eggs. Wear gloves and a face mask, and leave the area until the spray dries. 

6. Vacuum again to get any remaining fleas or eggs. 

Keep in mind that flea larvae may be dormant for weeks or months, waiting until the temperature is ideal. If you miss any eggs, you could be starting this process again soon.

Fleas In Your Yard

A man mowing his lawn to prevent fleas

If you’ve just eliminated fleas from your home, you don’t want your pet to carry fleas right back in. Don’t wait to discover another round of flea bites. Take action to keep fleas out of your yard.

Fleas prefer shady, humid spaces. Your pet might also consider that shady spot a good place to relax and nap. 

If Fido has fleas, and he likes to lie under the elm tree, odds are you will find fleas living under that tree.

Take these steps to reduce insect bites in your yard and new infestations in your home:

  • Mow the grass. Fleas like to hide in tall grass. Grass that is less than 2 inches tall deters their natural predators, so aim for 3-4 inches.
  • Clean out any areas of damp leaves or other debris. Fleas love to hide and lay eggs in these deposits.
  • Don’t overwater your yard. Fleas love soggy ground and compost.
  • Apply a flea killing treatment. There are several sprays and pellets on the market. 

If you’re uncomfortable using an insecticide, a natural alternative is to release the fleas’ natural predators into the environment. Nematodes can be purchased at your local garden store. These tiny organisms live in soil and help control many garden insects. 

  • Add cedar mulch around plants and in shady areas. Cedar is a natural flea deterrent.

Once your flea infestation is under control, apply a preventive treatment o a regular basis to keep them from coming back.

Consider Professional Help

Portrait of confident pest control worker wearing cap against truck

Flea control requires a targeted approach. 

Be flea-free without tearing your hair out (or shaving your pet’s hair off.) Contact Environmental Pest Management today. We’ll provide a solution that takes the stress off. Get your free quote today.

A Dog’s Least Favorite Friend…Fleas

fleas
fleas

Approximately one-third of Minnesota’s households have a canine in residence, is yours one of these dog-friendly homes? If it is, your veterinarian probably warned you about your dog’s least favorite friend… Fleas. 

But your pup shouldn’t be the only one in the house dreading these invaders. The entire family can be affected. Let’s take a closer look at fleas, and see how they compare to similar bugs, like mosquitoes, ticks, and bed bugs.

fleas

What are fleas?

Fleas are tiny, non-flying insects. They’re often not any more substantial than the tip of a pen. They are generally brown or black. 

Much like bed bugs, ticks, and mosquitoes, fleas feed on blood. They often invade your home or business via a pet or rodent, and they don’t like to stay on furry animals. They can also feed on humans. 

In comparing these “blood-sucking” bugs, we can look at their physical attributes to set them apart. Mosquitoes are the only insects in this group of “biters” that fly, so they’re the only ones with wings. 

Fleas are generally flat with a tough shell. The shells are so hard that you may need to smash them between two fingernails or hard surfaces to squish. Bed bugs are generally reddish-brown in color and more round. Ticks come in a variety of shapes and colors but are usually flat until they fill as they feed.

Flea bites are often found in groupings on the skin. They appear as small, red, raised bites. You may also see a halo around the bumps. 

These bites will look much the same on your dog as they do on your skin, but they can be tougher to see on your dog because of the hair. A quick comb through your dog’s hair will give you a better look if there are fleas.

Since fleas don’t fly, they get from place to place, or more accurately from body to body, by jumping. If an infestation in your home or business gets terrible enough, you may even see fleas jumping on furniture or the carpet! 

Before it gets that bad, though, reach out to Environmental Pest Management for a free quote today to get rid of these pests.

fleas on dog

If a flea bites you, can you catch any diseases?

While flea bites are red and very itchy, catching a disease from a flea bite is very unlikely. However, bacteria can become a source of infection in and around the bite itself. 

The best way to prevent these types of infections is to not scratch at the bites. Of course, that’s easier said than done since the bites can get very, very itchy. 

If you have flea bites, the best thing to do is wash the area with cool water and soap. Hot water can aggravate the itchiness. If you are very itchy or think you may be allergic, you can take a dose of Benadryl to help.

If it’s been a few days and your bites aren’t healing or are getting worse, the best thing to do would be to see a doctor, as you may have a bacterial infection in the area and need antibiotics.

Are fleas a big problem in the Minneapolis area?

Definitely! 

Statistically, your dog will probably have fleas at least once while they’re in your home. 

Your dog may pick up fleas from other animals, from pet facilities, or the outdoors. Fleas are most prevalent in wooded or tall grass areas, but could be found anywhere – even in your backyard!

While fleas can be found year-round, they are most common during warmer months. Here in Minnesota, fleas are generally the most active April through November.

Tell-tale signs of fleas on your dog or in your home or business include:

  • Little dots, like spots of pepper, on your dog’s skin. These are flea droppings.
  • Bites on your dog’s skin or your own, usually in groupings. These will be VERY itchy.
  • Black or brown “spots” on socks when you walk across the floor in your home or business. If you look closer, you’ll see these spots are fleas.

Can you prevent fleas?

There are a few things you can do to prevent a flea infestation in your home or business:

  • Keep your lawn mowed to prevent taller grass and more breeding grounds for these little insects to hop onto your dog.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about a flea collar or topical flea treatment that s/he recommends for your dog type.

If you suspect your dog has fleas or have already found some in your dog’s hair:

  • Vacuum your home or office thoroughly – including the upholstered items.
  • Steam-clean carpets, rugs, and any upholstery that you can.
  • Wash your pet with soap and water. 

While these steps will help contain an infestation once you’ve found fleas, they are practically impossible to get rid of without pesticide treatment. However, treating a home or business isn’t something that one should tackle on their own. 

fleas

Which is worse – Bed bugs vs. fleas? Mosquitoes vs. fleas?

Both bed bug bites and flea bites display as a cluster of small dots on your skin. Mosquito bites are generally larger and usually aren’t clustered together.

Those clustered bites aren’t often found in the same spots on your body, either. 

On humans, bed bugs often bite on the top half of the body, whereas fleas usually feast on the bottom half of the body. 

You have proof of an invasion; now what?

Fleas are very tough to get rid of and can multiply very quickly. It’s close to impossible to get rid of an infestation without pesticides. You would do best to call the professionals instead of trying to take this on yourself.

If you’re in the greater Twin Cities area and you’ve been noticing these clustered bites on your dog’s skin or your own, reach out to Environmental Pest Management for a free quote. End the cycle of itching and irritation for you and your pet.