How to Tell the Difference Between Fleas, Ticks, and Mites

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There are a number of external parasites that may cause problems for your pet by not only irritating the skin but also potentially transferring disease. Correctly identifying the pest ensures you are giving the right treatment to get rid of the bugs and taking the right steps to prevent them from returning. While there are some things to look for to differentiate ticks vs. mites vs. fleas, if your pet has skin irritation or visible bugs, it is best to consult your veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis and treatment.


Correctly identifying the pest ensures you are giving the right treatment.
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Identify and treat fleas

If your dog simply won't stop itching, fleas are most likely the first culprit to come to mind. These small, dark-colored bugs can jump onto your pet and quickly multiply, infecting other pets in your home and even biting you. Fleas feed on blood but are so small that you may not even see them on your pet. A high number of fleas feeding on your pet can cause him to become anemic. Some pets are allergic to flea saliva, which can cause more severe skin problems, and fleas can transmit tapeworm to your pet.


Ideally, prevent fleas by regularly applying a preventative, such as a topical liquid or a flea collar. These treatments kill fleas before they can multiply on your pet. However, once your pet has become a host to fleas, you will need to take multiple steps to rid your home of these pests.

Treat your pet with flea shampoo or oral medication. In some cases, multiple treatments are necessary, as some options only kill fleas in certain stages of life. Next, thoroughly clean and treat your home. This includes washing all bedding and rugs with which your pet may have come into contact and vacuuming the entire home, including all carpeted areas and upholstered furniture. Use a flea control fogger or spray in your home and treat your yard as well.


Tick identification and treatment

A high number of fleas feeding on your pet can cause him to become anemic.
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Ticks are small arthropods that attach themselves to a host, feed on blood, and then drop off the host once they are full. They have a flat, oval-shaped body that swells up as they feed. Ticks can be difficult to see, especially if your pet has longer fur, but you can feel the tick with your hand. Some ticks feed and fall off, causing little damage other than some skin irritation, but ticks bites can become infected and can also cause tick paralysis and transmit serious diseases to your pet, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.


Ticks are usually found in wooded areas. If you have ticks in your area or if you hike with your dog, be sure to check your pet for ticks when she returns to the house. Some common places ticks attach include the neck, toes, ears, and between the legs. If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers. Pinch the tick as close to your pet's skin as possible and pull straight back.

Prevent ticks by regularly using a tick preventative. Many products protect against multiple pests, including fleas and ticks. You should also maintain a manicured, weed-free lawn to make it less hospitable for ticks.


Managing mites on dogs

There are several types of mites that may infect your pets. Ear mites are located in the ear and cause your pet to scratch and shake his head frequently. Dark-colored ear discharge is common, and your pet may also develop an ear infection. Your veterinarian can prescribe a medication to treat ear mites, and you should also clean your pet's ears regularly as recommended by your vet.

The other common types of mites are sarcoptic mange mites and demodectic mange mites, which typically affect dogs. Sarcoptic mange mites are easily transferred between dogs, and they cause scabies. Demodectic mange is not easily transferred and usually affects younger dogs. It causes scaly and red skin but does not usually cause itching. The lack of itching is a good indication of whether you are dealing with fleas or mites on your dog.


Check your dog for ticks if you live or hike in wooded areas.
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If you aren't sure whether your dog has fleas or mites, your vet can confirm a mange infection by examining a skin scraping under a microscope. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your vet will provide appropriate medication to rid your pet of the mites and treat the skin problem. If your pet contracted sarcoptic mange, you will also need to thoroughly clean your home.