Fleas vs. Ticks vs. Mites: What’s the Difference?

Fleas, ticks, and mites are all parasites that feed off a dog’s blood. While they have many similarities, there are some key differences.

May 16, 2024By Sara Payne
fleas ticks mites difference

Fleas, ticks, and mites are some of the most common external parasites dogs can get. These creatures can cause many issues for your dog, such as itchiness, fur loss, and illness. They can also spread diseases.

Read to learn more about the difference between fleas, ticks, and mites. You can also learn how to treat and prevent infestations to keep your pet healthy.

How to Spot Fleas on Your Dog

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Fleas are small, wingless, black or brown insects that suck blood from animals. They use body heat, movement, and breathing to detect a host because they cannot see well or fly. They are incredible jumpers and use their long, hind legs to launch onto a host.

It only takes a couple of fleas to start an infestation. Adult fleas mate and lay eggs in your dog’s fur. These eggs fall off onto bedding or other surfaces. Once they hatch, they become hard-to-see larvae that stay hidden away until they make a cocoon and become adults. Then, the fleas jump onto your pet and repeat the cycle.

Fleas can be hard to see if you have a dark-colored dog, like a Newfoundland or Black Russian Terrier. Usually, you can tell you have an infestation by their feces. “Flea dirt” is flaky, black debris you may see on your dog’s bedding, skin, or in the carpet. Other signs of a flea infestation include scratching constantly, losing fur, and irritated skin, among other common skin conditions.

What Do Ticks Look Like on Your Dog?

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A tick is an arachnid that bites an animal, attaches itself to the skin, and drinks blood. Ticks have flat bodies about the size of an apple seed, tiny heads, and eight legs. Once they’ve drunk blood, their abdomen swells, and they become engorged. Ticks can be gray, brown, black, reddish-brown, or yellow.

Ticks are the cause of several diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Symptoms of a tick-borne illness can show up anywhere from seven to 21 days after a tick bite. Tick bites can be difficult to identify. The bites are small and red, similar to a mosquito bite. Most people know their dog has been bitten by a tick when they find the arachnid still attached.

You can remove a tick on your dog by using a pair of tweezers. Be sure to remove the tick’s head, as this can cause an infection if you leave it behind during removal. If you’re concerned about Lyme disease (an illness ticks transmit), bring the specimen to your dog’s vet. Ask your vet questions about how to prevent future ticks during your visit.

Signs Your Dog Has Mites

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Mites are tiny, often microscopic, arachnids. Canine scabies is a highly contagious parasite that causes mange. Typically, a dog with this mite will have itching, small bumps, and crusted sores. They may develop a secondary infection from the sores.

Ear mites, Otedectic cynotis, infest the external part of the ear and cause inflammation in the ear canal. Dogs with ear mites will shake their head, scratch their ears, and may experience drooping ears. Severe cases may have pus and damage to the eardrum.

Demodex Canis mites live on hair follicles and sebaceous glands of all dogs, and typically, do not cause issues. However, dogs with compromised immune systems (like senior dogs) are more likely to develop mites than younger, healthier dogs. Dogs with Demodex mites have inflamed foot pads, enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy, fever, and pus-fill inflammation in the skin.

How Can You Treat These Parasites?

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Flea treatments include oral and topical medications, shampoos, and sprays. You can attempt to control fleas at home by washing and cleaning all your pet’s bedding to destroy eggs and larvae. You can also get a specialized dog brush, like a flea comb, to remove the pests from your dog’s fur.

As noted, if you see a tick on your dog, take a pair of tweezers and gently lift the arachnid up and away from the bite. Be sure to get the head out. Some people use a small cotton swab of alcohol to get the tick to release its grip. Then, place the tick in a plastic bag and stick it in a freezer. If your dog develops symptoms, take the tick to your vet for evaluation. Clean and monitor the bite area for the next few weeks.

For mites, you can purchase medicated shampoos and dips. However, some dogs may need prescription medications from the vet. If mites have caused a secondary infection, your dog will need additional care.

How Can You Prevent These Parasites?

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The best way to get rid of fleas, ticks, and mites is to prevent them in the first place. Your veterinarian can recommend preventative flea and tick medications at annual vet visits. These can help parasites infestations before they begin.

If you regularly go on hikes with your dog (especially during the summer months), check them for ticks after each adventure. It takes a few hours for a tick to latch onto a dog’s skin, so if you catch them quickly, you won’t have to use tweezers to remove them.

Regularly grooming your dog and washing their bedding goes a long way in preventing mite infestations. If your dog is susceptible to mites, you can use some anti-parasite shampoos as a preventative. Be sure to read the labels on these shampoos carefully and consult your veterinarian before trying new treatments.

Only You Can Prevent Fleas, Ticks, and Mites

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Fleas, ticks, and mites are external parasites that can make your dog uncomfortable. They are similar in many ways, but you can tell them apart by observing their appearances and habits. Fleas leave behind “flea dirt,” are small, and jump. Ticks are flat-bodied and have eight legs, like a spider. Mites are typically microscopic and cause red sores.

Consult your vet on the best ways to treat and prevent parasites to ensure your dog is happy and healthy.

Sara Payne
By Sara Payne

Sara is a mother of two and a high school English teacher who rediscovered her love of writing during the pandemic. She has 5 rescue cats: Neville and Luna, who are white cats with black and grey spots, and Ginny, Blue, and Fairy, who are calicos. Besides taking care of humans and fur babies, Sara enjoys gardening, crafting, and spending time in nature.