How to Identify Fleas & Ticks
Though many people know that ticks and fleas are harmful to a pet's health, not everyone knows how to identify these parasites. Identification is important, since different parasites require different removal and treatment techniques. Pets should be checked for ticks and fleas after time spent with other dogs or outside, because even if you brush and bathe your animal regularly, it is still possible for him to get fleas or ticks. When you first spot a small insect crawling in your pet's fur, you'll need to check him thoroughly---if you've seen one bug, chances are that there are more hiding in the fur.
Skim a comb over the top of your pet's hair, moving slowly from back to front. Only comb deeper into the fur if you don't notice any ticks on the first shallow pass. Shallow combing is important because you don't want to accidentally touch a tick with the comb, as you may crush the tick's body; the Camino Animal Clinic explains that this can "force harmful bacteria to leave the tick and enter the [pet's] bloodstream."
Look for insects attached to the animal's skin as you're gently combing. Ticks latch on to your pet and typically don't move once they are attached. Ticks have small heads and spindly legs. The body will be flat if the tick has just recently latched on, or it will be puffy and engorged if the tick has been feeding on the animal's blood for a while. Ticks may be black, red, or brownish, ranging from 1/8 to 1/2 inch in size. The deer tick, which carries Lyme disease, is especially tiny and hard to detect. All adult ticks have eight legs, making them easy to distinguish since most insect species only have six legs.
Remove the identified tick by grabbing the insect's head with a fine-tipped tweezers. As with combing, you'll want to avoid the tick's body; if you grab the body with your tweezers, you risk forcing bacteria into the bloodstream.
Kill the removed tick by placing it in a container of rubbing alcohol.
Clean the area where the tick was attached using a disinfectant. Also apply an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin.
Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and water.
Consult a veterinarian if the tick you removed was engorged; this means that the tick had been attached and feeding for quite a while, so your pet should be checked for Lyme disease and other illnesses.
Examine your pet's belly, where fur is thinner, to get a good look at the animal's skin. Look for small red or pinkish circles measuring anywhere from 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch in diameter. These circular discolorations are most likely flea bites. Locating the bites is an easy way to initially identify a flea problem before you've located the fleas themselves.
Comb the animal's hair from back to front to get a better look at your animal's skin. Keep an eye open for small, oval-shaped specks. Fleas are very tiny, measuring less than a 1/4 inch long, and even if you're looking directly at the flea, it can be hard to tell if the small brown object is truly an insect or if it is just a piece of soil or flea feces.
Watch for movement to confirm that the brown speck is really a flea. Fleas often scurry from exposed skin to more furry areas of the animal to hide. In addition to preferring thicker fur, fleas tend to hide near "crevasses" in the animal, such as near the animal's joints, near the base of the tail, or in neck folds. Even if you find a dead flea, you should still continue searching for movement until you identify a live flea infestation.
Wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap after you've positively identified the fleas and consult a veterinarian immediately, as recommended by the FDA. In almost every situation, you'll want to give the animal a flea bath using a flea-removal product, but a veterinarian's advice is necessary for selecting the best product for your animal.