Bugs on Dogs & Cats

Types of Bugs Found on Your Pets

Here is a handy list of common pests that are harmful to your pets. Learn what they are, how to identify them, and what harm they can cuase.

Why Does This Matter?

Pests Can Spread Disease
The spread of many deadly diseases, such as heartworms, tape worms, Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and numerous others, are expected to infect millions of our loving pets each year. And sadly, many of our loving little friends will face death due to these terrible parasites. Diseases like West Nile have also become a threat to both animals and humans in recent times.


Ticks are large fleas that are dark to light gray in color. These things attach themselves to animals or to humans. And once a certain amount of blood is sucked out of your pet’s body, they grow bigger in size. A lot of people mistake them as regular insects but they aren’t. They are more closely related to spiders and like them ticks have several legs too.

Ticks on Dogs

What do they look like?

tick closeup
tick closeup
tick engorged
tick id table

An adult tick has eight legs to be exact.

What are Dog Ticks?

dog tick size, image credit: ufl.edu

Ticks are the common name that people use to refer to the small rabbit arachnids that belongs to the superfamily Ixodoidea constituting Acarina. Ticks are ectoparasites, which mean that they are external parasites.

Pet owners would definitely do anything to keep their pets in pink of health at all times. However, some illnesses and health concerns may keep on showing up on their pets every now and then. While you can avoid most diseases, issues like dog ticks are just one of the few that may inflict your dog at least once in its lifetime.

How Do They Get Them?
If you enjoy a hiking trip with your dog every now and then, you have to realize that you are risking its health to dog ticks. Dog ticks are usually obtained in the woods and open fields, especially as you go into certain places where the trees are high and insects are many. If you happen to go to a spot where dark fleas lurk around, then your dog might go home with ticks that could make it utterly uncomfortable.

Most Troublesome Ticks
Certain species of ticks are likely to attack dogs and cats. However, humans can be infected with them too. But while ticks can irritate humans, they still prefer dogs to be their host.

Wood ticks and brown dog ticks are good examples of the ones that can be highly troublesome for dogs.

Wood ticks infest dogs as they go deep into the woods or fields.

On the other hand, brown dog ticks are the type that can build populations during the colder climates. They can be carried indoors by your pets but they rarely thrive inside covered areas.

rocky mountain wood tick
Image credit: Tickencounter.org

Diseases like Ehrlichiosis
Ticks can bring about a number of diseases that can propose major concerns to your dog’s health. One perfect example is Ehrlichiosis. This disease can cause fever, lethargy, lameness or even bleeding tendencies on your pet. The disease is known to be spread by the brown dog tick. Once the species land in the dog’s body, it will act like a parasite and kill the cells of the dog.

See lymedisease.org for more information.

These species can endanger the life of your pet. As such, pet owners take every precaution to avoid ticks from coming in contact with your dog.

  • If you still like to take your dog for a hike, make sure that you follow safety procedures so as not to take dog ticks home.
  • Talk to the vet about what should be done when going out on nature trips with your pet.
  • And if ever your dog became infected with dog ticks, make sure that you provide it with the necessary care and treatment.

Symptoms of Dog Ticks
It is very important for a dog owner to learn how to recognize tick bite symptoms during its early stages. Ticks can cause many weakening diseases. Determining the onset of a tick bite early on can help save your pet’s life.
Ticks come in varied types of species. And each of these species can bring about a certain type of disease. Several types of health concerns may be contracted as a result of a tick bite. These diseases can manifest different symptoms.

As a general guideline, here are some symptoms that pet owners should look out for in their dog:

  1. Fever
    Dogs suffering from severe tick bite may have its body temperature shot up to alarming degrees. The fever will also be associated with the other symptoms listed here.

  2. Loss of appetite
    Sick dogs can’t eat much. So if you notice that your dog is barely touching its food, it definitely is sick. Take it to the vet right away for proper diagnosis.

  3. Sore and swollen limbs
    Ticks can bring about soreness in the limbs area and almost anywhere else in the body. This is a result of too much blood sucking on that particular body part.

  4. Skin infections
    Aside from soreness and swelling, skin infections are also apparent on dogs infested with ticks. Try to determine what parasite had penetrated the body of your pet as skin infections may be caused by different organisms and insects.

  5. Lethargy
    Dogs that are less jubilant than they used to be can be an indication that they’re suffering from something. Always check your dog for fleas, ticks, and other health concerns every time it feels lethargic and sad.

  6. Arthritis
    Arthritis can be a symptom of tick-related diseases too. Ticks can invade the body of your dog and then localize themselves in the joint area. As a result, your pet would develop weakened muscles. Try holding your dog up and check if it winces in pain as you do so. However, arthritis in older dogs can be a common thing. This symptom of dog tick is usually associated with other relevant signs suggesting the disease.

  7. Abnormal changes in the blood count
    While this symptom is fairly hard to detect at home, the veterinarian can check for it. Ticks suck up blood from your pet. As such, they disrupt the normal flow of blood into the bloodstream and towards the rest of the body. Anemia, low blood count, and abnormal platelets count are yet indications of the presence of dog tick diseases in your pet.

If you see any of these symptoms in your pet, it is best that you take it to the vet right away for proper diagnosis. A lot of pet owners mistakenly think that dog ticks are not serious health concerns. Keep in mind that dog ticks can lower your dog’s immune system, thus making its entire body exposed to a host of other diseases.

If left untreated, the effects of dog ticks can be very hard to reverse. In its advanced stages, it becomes harder for the vet to provide the necessary treatment. Dog ticks may even cause death to your pet in worse cases.

Ticks on Cats

cat scracthing
Cats are also infested by Ticks. They tend to attach themselves on soft areas such as on a Cats face or neck. Tick bites cause skin irritation, itching and scratching. They may also cause diseases such as Lyme disease, Babesios, Ehrliochisis and Anaemia.

Removing Ticks

There are many ways available on how to get rid of your cat’s tick. Most of them are very hazardous and even make things worse than before.

Below is a step by step that you can do on how to remove ticks on a cat, recommended by veterinarians.

  1. Wear safety gloves
    There are possibilities that ticks carry a lot of diseases. Removing tick on your cats makes you get closer contact on them so make sure to wear gloves. After removing those ticks wash your hand properly.

  2. Use tweezers to grab the tick’s head
    removing tick

    Your goal is to get the whole tick off on your cat. If you just pull by the body, you can only take away half of the tick. Use tweezers to get closer to the body. Remember that burning, drowning, and suffocating a tick is useless because the dangerous part of the tick is in its saliva. This saliva might already penetrate your cat’s body. If the ticks on a cat get irritated it makes this small creature inject more saliva in the body. So, you have to get rid of that tick quickly before it notices that something’s going on.

  3. Pull the tick immediately without twisting
    The head of these pests are implanted on your cat’s body. So, if you accidentally twist it, the head remains and only the body is removed. The tick went in straight so you must have to remove it straight. Again, it is not the head that give danger to your pet, it’s the saliva.

  4. Drown the tick into alcohol
    Ticks are tough and very flexible. It can survive in anything including drowning it in the water. Their air sac helps them to survive. However, they cannot get way with alcohol. Drop the whole tick into a container filled with alcohol and let them get toast.

This step by step process on how to remove ticks on a cat is proven to be effective. Many rely on this process because it ensures the elimination of ticks.


flea magnified
Fleas are small, wingless insects that feed off of a host’s blood to stay alive and reproduce. The most common flea is the cat flea, but unfortunately for dog lovers, there are fleas that bite dogs, and humans, too.

Fleas are capable of jumping from 14 to 16 inches, and can be spread at a very rapid rate. If you frequently visit dog parks or live in a warm, humid climate, it is important to check regularly to see if your dog has fleas.

Flea Life Cycle
Female fleas can begin to lay eggs after only 48 hours of feeding. Females can also lay up to 50 eggs in a single day! It is important to diagnose and treat your dog for fleas as soon as possible and rid your home and yard of fleas to avoid a serious problem. A flea infestation in the home will keep going until measures are taken to break the life cycle.

Fleas have a life span of between 6 to 12 months.

Fleas on Dogs

Dog fleas are known as Ctenocephalides canis. Dogs are not born with fleas, but they can be born with an allergy to fleas. Adult fleas are only about 5% of the population living on your dog. Females feed on the blood of your dog and lay up to 500 eggs each. There are over 2,000 species of fleas and can transmit various diseases, including tapeworms.

Fleas cause itching and discomfort in your dog. The itching can range from mild to severe, and can be difficult to treat. Fleas are not only annoying for your dog, but they also pose serious health risks.

Dog flea problems can lead to skin disease and infection, and even anemia in very serious cases. Dog fleas can also transfer other diseases such as Lyme disease and Ehrlichia. It is important to know what to look for when it comes to treatment of fleas in dogs.

Dog Fleas Symptoms

Here are some things to look for:

  • Itching/Biting
    Constant itching and/or biting are the most obvious symptoms. Most common areas are the head, above the tail and around the neck. The infected areas will usually be red and inflamed, sometimes flakey from constant scratching.

  • Flea allergy
    Some dogs are actually allergic to flea saliva. This is called flea allergy dermatitis. The reaction can be very similar to a mosquito bite on a human. The areas infected on a dog with a flea allergy will usually be more noticeable, and often times will result in bald spots from excessive scratching and chewing on the fur.

  • Hot spots
    dog hot spot
    Hot spots are open sores or wounds inflicted by a dog’s biting or scratching of the skin. Hot spots can be very unpleasant for the dog as well as for the owner. If hot spots become infected, they require medication and ointments to treat. The skin may develop a foul odor from hot spots.

  • Flea dirt
    flea dirt
    Flea dirt may be visible on your dog’s fur or skin. Other areas to check for fleas or flea dirt are on his bed or other common resting areas. Flea dirt looks like little black specks. This is a combination of dried blood from bites and flea debris. Often times you will be able to see fleas moving about on the skin. Carefully comb back your dog’s fur and you may be able to see fleas.

Did You Know?
The most common areas to check for fleas are above the tail, under the belly and around the neck.

Fleas on Cats

What do you do about Cat Fleas?
Cat fleas are often more easily avoidable than with other animals – an easy method of cat flea control is simply to make sure that your cat is an indoor cat. Generally, you shouldn’t ever let cats outside anyway – they don’t need to go out, and they will live much longer if kept indoors. The average life span for an indoor cat is 14 years, as opposed to three years for a cat that goes outside. Cars, diseases, accidents, and other animals are all good reasons to keep your cat inside even aside from the cat flea problem.

How to Detect Them?
Cats actually do have fleas specific to them (Ctenocephalides felis), and these small, black fleas like to target cats specifically. You can usually tell if your cat has fleas easily – if you run a comb through its hair, and you get little pieces of small, black dirt, then it probably has cat fleas. This dirt is actually flea excrement, and you will need to adopt a flea control program.

Most of the other suggested methods work for cats as well – vacuum and use flea control products on any area where your cat sleeps or hangs out, because there will be flea eggs and adult fleas there. Steam clean the carpets, which will kill most of the eggs. If you must let your cat outdoors, you might get a professional to clean the yard, or you can apply products to the area that you think will be within the cat’s territory.

Dog Flea Treatment is Not for Cats!
You also need to make sure that your flea control product is approved for cats. Don’t EVER just go grab a dog flea control method and use it on a cat – they’re different animals, and it can cause serious health problems sometimes if you do. Run anything with chemicals by your vet – usually all it takes is a quick phone call, and you can get recommended cat flea control products to get rid of cat fleas.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis

So how do you know if your dog or cat has flea allergies? Your pet will feel it with an intense itching, more so than a flea bite would feel like without the allergy. This usually causes them to obsessively bite and scratch at the area that is affected.

You should check the hair of your animal for any thinning spots – usually this will show up around the base of the tail, because that is where a lot of the flea bites are concentrated. You can be sure that this is being caused by fleas by looking for the tell-tale signs – comb through your pet’s fur, and you will usually find a flea or two.

If not, you will find little black specks that turn red if you get them wet – they are the feces of fleas, and because they are dried blood they will show up as red when you put water on them. If the allergies are severe, you will see hair loss on various places around the animal and also inflamed red spots.

If you still aren’t sure, your vet can give the animal a test to determine whether these symptoms are being caused by flea allergies or not. There are other things besides flea allergy dermatitis that can cause this (animals have a surprising number of skin conditions they can be subject to).


Dog lice is a rare condition in which one of two types of lice latch onto a canine and begin a colony, using your dog’s blood or dead skin for nutrition.

What do they look like?
They are generally quite small, growing a maximum of one-twelfth of an inch in length. They are flat in shape, and move very slowly. The parasites themselves are grey, and have no wings.

How can I keep my dog from becoming infected?
As mentioned earlier, lice is rare among dogs, and not something that requires constant inspection. However there are a few measures you can take to help prevent the contraction of lice. Try not to share grooming supplies with other dog owners, as this is one of the more common ways lice is contracted. If your dog comes into contact with a strange dog, make sure to give them a visual inspection. If you have to leave your dog at a kennel or at a friend’s house, inspect your dog after bringing them home. If you can catch lice early, before they breed, it will save you a lot of trouble.

How can I tell if my dog has been infected?
One external sign of lice on a dog is excessive scratching. If you think your dog may have been infected by lice, take a comb and go through their fur.

lice on dog
lice in fur

They will either be attached to the hair follicles, or directly on your dogs skin.

You may see eggs as well, which are small, white and usually sticky.

Lice are small, but can be seen by the human eye. They look like little black dots with a clear lining over them.

They may resemble dirt, since they do not move frequently.

If you are in any way unsure about if your dog has lice, take your dog to a professional groomer and they will be able to identify if your dog is infected.

What can I do if my dog has become infected with lice?
If you have confirmed that your dog has indeed contracted lice, you have a couple of treatment options available. There are many over-the-counter lice shampoos available at many stores that will clear up the infestation. Likewise, some professional groomers are able to remove lice for you, if you are unable or unwilling to do so yourself.

Causes and Transmission of Dog Lice

The condition known as dog lice is very rare in the United States, although it has been known to happen. The chances of a healthy family dog becoming infected are almost nonexistent. However, coming into contact with lice is possible in places such as dog parks, walking trails and even another dog’s bedding.

There are two types of lice your dog can come in contact with. Fortunately both are fairly easy to spot, and treatment is affordable. Both types of lice can only be transferred by direct contact with another dog, and neither can infect any other animal or human. These types of lice are canine specific.

Biting Mallophaga
The first type of lice your dog may come in contact with is Biting Mallophaga, sometimes simply referred to as “biting lice”. This type of lice feeds on dead flakes of skin residing on your dog. Out of the two, these are easier to spot on a dog as they tend to cling onto your dogs fur.

Sucking Linognathus Piliferus Setosus
The second type of lice your dog may come into contact with is known as Sucking Linognathus Piliferus Setosus, sometimes referred to as “sucking lice”. This type of lice feeds on the blood of your dog, and tends to be the more irritating to your dog than the biting kind. They are also much harder to spot because they attach themselves directly onto a dog’s skin.

How can my dog contract lice?
The only way for your dog to become infected with lice is by direct contact with it. Be particularly careful when sharing grooming supplies with other dogs, as this is a common form of transmission. If your dog plays with other dogs at parks or over a friend’s house, be wary of the possibility. A quick scan of their fur once they are done is simple and fast. If you take your dog for walks, be mindful of filthy areas your dog may be exploring.

Where can my dog contract lice?
Unfortunately, the answer is potentially anywhere. However, your dog is much more likely to contract lice in an environment where there is a daily abundance of dogs. Kennels, dog parks, training schools, and walking trails are all prime areas that may possibly have lice. It is important to give your dog a quick check anytime he or she plays in any of these environments.

Symptoms of Dog Lice

A clean and healthy dog has almost no chance of contracting lice in the United States. However, if it does happen, there are several visible symptoms you can easily recognize. Although lice are easy to see once you know your dog is infected, the initial recognition can be difficult for a typical pet owner. Luckily your dog will be well aware of the infestation, and will begin displaying symptoms.

As with any medical condition, it is important to keep watch over any changes in your dog’s normal behavior, as this could possibly be indicative of a medical problem.

Excess Itching and Scratching
Excess itching and scratching may be one sign of a lice infection. However, this symptom may also be indicative of other medical conditions (such as skin disorders). The best way to ascertain the cause of your dog’s itching is to perform a visual inspection. If you notice your dog scratching more than usual, take a moment to inspect their fur. Most skin disorders manifest primarily as flaking, red, bumpy or abnormal skin. However, even if you are not able to spot a potential problem, excessive itching is enough reason to bring your dog in for a veterinary checkup.

Visible Lice
When you inspect your dogs fur, be on the lookout for a lice infection. Lice are small, flat light brown spots on or close to your dogs skin. They are very slow moving, and cannot jump or fly due to their lack of wings. Sometimes owners mistake them for dirt, so be thorough in your examination. If possible, take a blow dryer and go over your dog with it on high-power. This separates the fur and reveals the skin, making it much easier to identify the lice.

Visible Eggs
During your inspection of your dog, you may come across small white dots held on to your dogs fur by a sticky glue-like substance. These are lice eggs, and their presence may indicate to you that your dog has been infected for some time. These are often the hardest to remove from your pet, so if you see lice eggs, be sure to be very thorough when performing treatment.

One female lice can lay up to one hundred eggs on a single dog. The average lice organism lives for a short 21 days. However, with their active reproductive rates, your dog can contract thousands of lice in almost no time at all.

Related: Gnats vs Fleas


mosquito facts
Mosquito Bites Can Cause Heartworm
Heartworms are among the most dangerous parasitic worms that infect dogs. Hundreds of thousands of cases of canine heartworm disease are reported in the US every year. The disease is passed from infected dogs to other dogs by mosquitoes. That means all of these dogs are at risk for heartworm disease.

The disease is spread when a mosquito, previously infected by biting an infected (“reservoir”) dog, bites a dog and deposits tiny immature heartworms, called larvae, near the bite wound. Then, the larvae enter the wound and migrate beneath the skin, eventually reaching the heart and lungs. These unwelcome intruders can grow up to 12 inches in length. Heartworm disease is debilitating, and may even prove fatal.

All dogs are potential targets for heartworm disease. In fact, canine heartworm disease has been detected in all 50 states.2

Clinical Signs
An infected dog may cough or wheeze occasionally, and may seem unusually tired and unwilling to play, but these early signs of heartworm disease can easily be missed, and may be mistaken for something else. The only way to tell if your dog has been infected is to have a veterinarian administer a heartworm test.

Treatment for heartworm disease is difficult, expensive, lengthy and may be traumatic to dog and owner. Dogs receive a series of arsenic-based shots to kill the worms and must spend up to 6-8 weeks in an environment that will not tax the dog’s heart and lungs any further. This may call for crating the animal to limit activity and prevent overexertion.

A number of effective heartworm preventives have been developed to combat heartworm disease. It is important to consult with your veterinarian about the heartworm preventive that is appropriate for your dog. Before making a decision, be sure to understand that other parasites can threaten dogs and that some of them can even be transmitted to people.

For continuous protection, it’s imperative that you give your dog the preventive dose monthly as directed. A single lapse in compliance could give mosquito-borne heartworm larvae the small window of exposure they need to infect your dog.

For more information, ask your veterinarian. More facts about mosquitoes.

When you visit your veterinary clinic—just as when you visit your own physician—it is often helpful to write down any questions you may have for the doctor. Here are some questions about the basics of dog and puppy care:

  • How often should I bring my dog to the clinic?
  • How soon should I begin giving my dog a heartworm preventive?
  • Will the recommended heartworm preventive also treat and control intestinal parasites?
  • How often must I give my dog this preventive?
  • Should I give my dog this preventive all year ’round?
  • Is my puppy likely to take this preventive willingly?

Many veterinarians recommend an annual heartworm test to ensure that a dog hasn’t been infected with heartworm larvae during possible lapses in prevention. While a negative result is good news, it may not be definitive because heartworm tests detect the presence of adult females. Depending on how many doses of heartworm preventive may have been missed during the year and when, a dog could actually be infected with immature larvae (or, more rarely, only male worms) that are not yet perceptible.

Bed Bugs

bed bug small
While humans are preferred, bed bugs have been known to feed on pets.

Bed bugs have a long history of feeding on warm-blooded mammals such as humans. Bed bugs on pets can be a serious concern as well. While bed bugs prefer humans, perhaps due to the body temperature, chemical makeup, and opportunity, bed bugs will feed on pets.

Prefer Short Hair
Studies have shown that bed bugs will readily feed on animals with limited fur. That is, the bed bug does not navigate well in fur. Perhaps as hair is sensitive to foreign objects, the bed bugs are too easily discovered as their flat bodies push hair aside. Bed bugs will feed readily and undetected on areas of animals which have no fur. The hosts can include rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, and cats.

Large Animals
Studies conducted in the early 1900’s observed bed bugs feeding on domestic animals such as pets, but also on cows and other large animals if there were places of minimal hair or fur. Bed bugs will readily feed on birds if there is access to open skin for feeding. Infested homes sometimes can be traced to infested pet areas and rabbits are particularly well known for hosting bed bugs.

Cold Blooded Animals
Cold- blooded pets such as snakes and lizards might not escape hosting bed bugs. Studies have shown that bed bugs, if hungry, will feed on just about any animal with blood. Research has been conducted that showed that snakes, lizards, and geckos have hosted bed bugs. While the nutritional makeup of the blood might not be ideal for bed bugs, these insects are opportunistic and will feed on even these cold- blooded animals.

Injuries or Wounds
If a pet is injured and leaves a blood trail due to a scratch, it is unlikely that bed bugs will feed on the blood that is dropped. This might be because the blood naturally clots hindering the ability of the bed bug to draw the blood through their sucking mouthparts. Moreover, since they are used to feeding by piercing skin, it is possible that bed bugs do not recognized clotted blood drops as a potential food source.

Owners should examine their pets for bed bugs when they check for fleas and ticks. If bed bugs are found, the area where the pet lives should be inspected for signs of infestation.

More info on getting rid of bed bugs.


A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism. Parasites are dependent on other organisms for their survival. They derive food and nourishment from organisms which host them. The relationship between a parasite and its host favors the parasite while the latter doesn’t benefit.

Parasites may be classified into two categories as follows:

External parasites
They live on organisms i.e externally e.g on fur and hair.Such parasites include Fleas, Ticks, Mites, Lice.

Internal parasites
They live within the organisms body e.g in the intestines, In the heart. Such parasites include Roundworms, Hookworms, Dirofilaria Immitis.

Parasites may seem harmless but if not checked and treated, they harm and damage their hosts health which may eventually cause death. Cats are animals which can host various parasites within and on on their bodies.

local parasites map
parasite prevalence map from petsandparasites.org

Common external parasites which harm cats

External parasites derive nourishment from cats by sucking blood, water and other body fluids via the skin. They cause discomfort by irritating the skin.

  • A parasite infested cat will shake various parts of its body or shake its head from time to time.

This is mainly because of the discomfort brought about by parasite infestation. External parasites are also responsible for transmitting several diseases and ailments to cats.


This mites invade the ear canals and areas that surround the ears. They are especially common in kittens. They are difficult to see since they are tiny and the use of a microscope may be required. A sign that your cat is hosting earmites is that it will keep shaking its head from time to time or it will scratch about its ears due to the irritation caused by the earmites.

  • Serious earmites infestation may cause bleeding of the ear canals.
  • Also, a cat may scratch its ears to the point that it causes bleeding wounds around its ears

If not controlled and treated, earmites can damage the ear canal and ear drum causing partial or permanent hearing loss to cats.


They invade the cat’s skin. They cannot be seen easily since they hide in the fur that coats cat’s bodies. Fleas sometimes can be seen when you turn your cat on its back. They can be identified as black or dark drown specks on the cat’s belly.

A sign that your cat is flea infested is excessive scratching on its body especially where the fleas are biting to suck blood. Fleas cause mild irritation to severe itching and cat scratch disease.

A cat may also scratch itself to the point that it causes open sores on its skin.

Fleas may cause diseases such as:

  • Anaemia
  • Rickettsioss
  • Bubonic plague
  • Septimetic plague
  • pneumonic plagues


Cats are also infested by ticks. They tend to attach themselves on soft areas such as on a cats face or neck. Tick bites cause skin irritation, itching and scratching. They may also cause diseases such as Lyme disease, Babesios, Ehrliochisis and Anaemia.

Fly Larvae

The larvae is deposited under the skin’s surface. This causes a hole over a lump that contains the larvae.

  • A sign that your cat is infested is that one finds a hole situated within a lump on the cat’s skin or beneath its feet.

Other Parasites

  • Coccidia
  • Giardia
  • Heartworms
  • Hookworms
  • Mange
  • Roundworms
  • Scabies
  • Tapeworms
  • Whipworms

For more about these parasites, check out petsandparasites.org/