Home » Fleas vs Ticks: Here’s How to Know for Sure

Fleas vs Ticks: Here’s How to Know for Sure

Fleas vs ticks? It’s a warm afternoon and your pet has been scratching incessantly. You part their fur and spot some tiny invaders lurking around. Are they fleas or ticks?

These blood-sucking parasites have a lot in common but they’re quite different in appearance, behavior, and the risks they pose. The best way to deal with them is different as well, so it’s important that you figure out which vampiric pest you’ve got on your hands.

Here’s how to tell these tiny troublemakers apart.

What do they look like?

fleas vs ticks

Fleas vs ticks are so small that at first glance, they can easily be mistaken for one another. But once you know the main characteristics to look for, identifying them on sight is a breeze.


  • Size: Tiny, about 1-3 mm long.
  • Color: Reddish-brown.
  • Shape: Flat and narrow bodies, allowing them to move easily through fur.
  • Legs: Long hind legs adapted for jumping, up to 150 times their body length.
  • Wings: Wingless, despite their incredible jumping ability.


  • Size: Varies from a few millimeters to 1 cm when fed.
  • Color: Ranges from brown to reddish-brown or grayish.
  • Shape: Oval and flat when unfed; balloon-like when engorged with blood.
  • Legs: Eight legs as adults (ticks are arachnids).
  • Wings: Wingless, slow-moving compared to fleas.

The key thing to be aware of is the fact that fleas are really, really tiny. Even fully grown, they are about the size of a pin. So the easiest way to know if it is fleas is if they look like tiny specks of pepper jumping around.

Ticks, on the other hand, are larger, around the size of a sesame seed. Even worse, they can swell to a whopping 10 mm long when they’re engorged with a blood meal. Imagine finding that sucker feasting on you! Shudder.

flea vs tick

Ticks, on the other hand, When they’re engorged from feeding, they can be as big as a coffee bean.

How do they behave?

In case the looks (namely, size) don’t give it away, you’ll be able to tell by its behavior. Because fleas vs ticks may share one goal: drink your blood. But how they do it is wildly different.


  • Jumping: Can jump great distances relative to their size.
  • Speed: Move quickly and are often seen darting through fur.
  • Feeding: Feed on blood but can survive for weeks without a meal.
  • Life Cycle: Lay eggs in the environment, which hatch into larvae that feed on organic debris before pupating and becoming adults.


  • Crawling: Move slowly, crawling rather than jumping.
  • Attachment: Attach firmly to their host with their mouthparts, often unnoticed until they become engorged.
  • Feeding: Attach and feed for several days.
  • Life Cycle: Life stages include egg, larva (six-legged), nymph (eight-legged), and adult. Ticks need a blood meal at each stage to progress.

Fleas live a very active lifestyle. They don’t fly but fleas can jump so high and so far – up to 50 times their body length – that it can seem like they do. They’re busy, fast-moving pests that feed quickly and efficiently.

Ticks, on the other hand, like to take their time. If left undisturbed, tick larvae remain attached and feeding on their host for around 3 days. For nymphs, feeding lasts around 3 to 4 days.

As for adult female ticks? These leisurely diners feast for a good 7 to 10 days on their host.

So if you find a pest that’s attached to you or a pet – you can bet that’s a tick, not a flea. Because sure, fleas are jerks that will consume up to15 times their own body weight in blood daily, but at least they have the decency to space out feeding times!

Where do they live?

Fleas are disgusting little squatters who set up homes in the hair of our beloved furry friends. But it’s got to be said that fleas at least have stringent requirements.


  • Hosts: Prefer mammals, commonly found on pets like cats and dogs.
  • Environment: Thrive in warm, humid environments and can infest homes.


  • Hosts: Infest a wide range of animals, including mammals (including you), birds, and reptiles.
  • Environment: Live in wooded areas, tall grasses, and leaf litter.

Fleas prefer dark, warm areas to live and breed on, which is why they tend to stick to furry animals like dogs, cats, as well as wildlife like foxes, raccoons and opossums.

Whereas a flea may bite a human, our mostly hairless bodies don’t meet their standards for a suitable host.

Ticks, on the other hand, are undiscerning and open to many more options of hosts: bird, rodents, snakes, dogs, cats, cattle, rabbits, squirrels, deer, foxes, raccoons, and of course, humans.

What’s more dangerous?

If you aren’t already thoroughly disgusted by now, here’s something to turn your stomach: fleas and ticks don’t just take our blood, sometimes, they leave a little something behind. 


  • Diseases: Can transmit tapeworms and diseases like flea-borne typhus.
  • Allergic Reactions: Cause flea allergy dermatitis in pets and humans.
  • Nuisance: Infest homes, leading to persistent itching and discomfort.


  • Diseases: Can transmit serious illnesses like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis.
  • Bite Reactions: Can cause localized skin reactions and, in some cases, tick paralysis.

Fleas can cause more than itchy discomfort – fleas are the number one cause of skin disease in pets, which can cause a wide array of problems from hair loss to weeping sores.

In addition, fleas can cause severe anemia and transmit parasites and bacteria like tapeworm and bartonellosis.

But when it comes to parting “gifts” – ticks definitely win. Ticks can transmit many potentially deadly diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever through their feeding process.

Overall, when it comes to danger, ticks are the scarier blood sucker.

Fleas vs ticks: What’s worse?

If you’ve read the above, you know that comparing fleas vs ticks is a little like trying to decide which steaming pile of crap smells slightly worse. Either way, you have a fast-proliferating pest to deal with.

But the comparison can be done and there is a clear winner.

Both species of blood suckers are terrible house mates, to be sure, but when it comes to the battle of fleas vs ticks, ticks are the reigning champion of suckiness. Except for in one area – here’s what you need to know.

Lifespan matters

When it comes to ticks, there’s actually plenty of time for them to do lots of damage. Whereas adult fleas can live more than 100 days without a blood meal, seed ticks can live 540 days without food!

Even worse? Tick life cycles vary and a tick can live anywhere from a few weeks to up to 3 freakin’ years!

The babies bite, too

Fleas are annoying little buggers, but at least they have the decency to only bite when they’re old enough to do so!

flea vs tick

Fleas go through four life stages – eggs, larvae, pupae and adult flea. The fleas that you see and feel biting you and your pets? They’re only the adult fleas and they make up only about 5% of a flea infestation.

The rest of a flea infestation are in egg, larvae and pupae form and lie dormant and inactive around your home, making it easier to seek and destroy them.

fleas vs ticks

Ticks also have four stages to their life cycle – egg, larvae (seed tick), nymph and adult. But unlike fleas, ticks develop their biting ways early on in life.

That means it’s not just the adult ticks that are after your blood – larvae, nymphs and the adults all feed on hosts. In fact, they need that blood meal to progress to the next stage of development.

They breed like it’s their job

One commonality pretty much all pesky pests share is that they all breed like crazy. But the way they do it differs.

Female fleas, for example, can lay up to 50 eggs per day. She requires a blood meal to begin laying eggs, though, and the egg laying period only lasts for several weeks.

Female ticks, on the other hand, lays thousands of eggs – up to a whopping 5,000 – and then dies. This is really crappy news because the female tick typically lays these thousands of tick babies after she has fed.

It goes something like this: female tick is engorged from her blood meal, detaches herself from the host, lays eggs wherever she falls off, then dies. If she decides to do this while in your house, you’re stuck with thousands of new tick babies even if the mama tick only recently entered your quarters.

Seek and destroy

Adult fleas like to live on their host. And why wouldn’t they? It’s like a sprawling mobile home with a constantly stacked fridge.

While this tendency to remain squatting – and biting – on your pets is extremely annoying, it also makes it easier to kill off huge portions of the adult flea population.

You simply use a flea shampoo, spot-on treatments or oral meds to quickly extinguish the fleas living on your pet.

When it comes to ticks, though, they can be trickier to seek and destroy. That’s ’cause ticks spend most of their lives living off and away from hosts.

Patient predators, they hide out in nooks and crannies where you’re least likely to look for them and wait until the right host comes along.

Infestation Insanity

About the only arena in which fleas are way worse than ticks are when it comes to infestation. Ticks may be scarier to deal with, but fleas are downright annoying. They’re tiny, they breed like it’s going out of style and they’re amazing jumpers that can easily switch between hosts.

Thanks to all that, fleas spread quickly and can be an unbelievable nuisance once they get inside your home.

Most species of ticks, on the other hand, at least have the saving grace of preferring the great outdoors. In fact, most tick species don’t survive well indoors and prefer to lay their eggs on soil.

But that doesn’t mean a tick infestation in your home can’t happen – there are always exceptions, like the brown dog tick, which does very well indoors. And if you’ve got a few of these on your hands, an infestation in your home is very, very possible.

So, of course, you want to wipe out the few ticks that manage to sneak into you house before they become a problem. The best way to do that? Start at the most likely source of ticks: your dog. Here’s how to get rid of ticks on your dog!

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