Contributed by Dr. Alison Birken, owner and DVM of Victoria Park Animal Hospital.
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. We commonly 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. Today, I would like to take a moment to discuss the differences between flea bites on dogs (and flea bites on cats) and tick bite symptoms, and what tick and flea treatment for dogs and cats are available 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.
Despite both fleas and ticks using your pet as their meals for survival, they bite and feed in dissimilar ways. In addition, they appear 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 bites on dogs and tick bites on dogs, 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. A flea’s lifespan is about 100 days, and if possible, they will happily spend their adult life on your pet, feeding, reproducing and laying eggs. They are wingless insects, black in color, and can jump extraordinarily 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 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.
If you’re looking for a dog and cat flea treatment, flea combs are a great option to start with. Flea combs are small, fine-toothed combs designed to trap flea dirt and fleas, and are an excellent way to see if your pet is infested (I use the Four Paws Flea Catcher Comb). Most flea bites on dogs 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 various ways to treat for fleas on your pet and at home. Flea collars are very effective in preventing fleas and ticks from infecting your pet and keeping infestations under control (Seresto 8 Month Tick & Flea Collars is a great option that provides continuous protections from fleas and ticks for up to 8 months). For a more natural treatment, 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. A tick feeds by burrowing or embedding its entire head into the skin of your pet, where it becomes attached, and then takes 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 bite symptoms include a bullseye-like appearance on your pet’s coat and more than likely will develop a scab or raised lesion, unlike flea bites on cats and dogs.
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, or tick bite symptoms are present, and make sure your pet has proper tick bite treatment and is placed on a monthly preventative.
I hope this helps to clear up some of the confusion between fleas and ticks, and provides insight on proper tick and flea treatment for dogs and cats. 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 (like flea collars or flea sprays) are imperative to their health and well-being and eliminate the need for flea and tick bite treatments. 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!