Both bed bugs and fleas feed on their human hosts’ blood, leaving them with tiny, itchy red marks on their skin. Oftentimes, people don’t know what tiny insect is biting them. Understandably, we receive several phone calls a year where a client requests a flea inspection and we find bed bugs—or requesting a bed bug inspection, and we find fleas. While we can take care of both problems, here are some tips for how to tell the difference between bed bugs and fleas.

How do you tell if it’s bed bugs or fleas?
Both adult fleas and adult bed bugs are tiny, wingless, hard-shelled, reddish-brown insects that are visible to the naked eye. While an adult bed bug can be up to 5 mm long (about the size of an apple seed), an adult flea is smaller, typically up to 3 mm long. The easiest way to tell the difference between fleas and bed bugs is that fleas jump. Fleas can jump several inches high and sideways.

What do flea or bed bug bites look like?
Both fleas and bed bugs feed on human blood and leave bites that itch and, when scratched, can lead to secondary skin infections. Fleas generally bite on the feet, ankles, armpits and waist, while bed bugs generally bit on the face, neck and arms.

Also, pay attention to who is being bitten. Fleas love to feed on cats and dogs as well as humans. Bed bugs, though, feed on humans and leave the pets alone. If your cat or dog is constantly scratching, or if you find flea excrement (tiny black spots) on your pet or its bedding, or if you find a flea on your pet, then suspect fleas.

How do bed bugs or fleas get into the home?
Both fleas and bed bugs hitch rides to get into your home. Fleas usually get into the dog or cat’s fur and come into the home that way. Bed bugs often get into homes on luggage or overnight bags of travelers or in furniture. A general rule of thumb is that if you have pets, suspect fleas. If you’ve traveled and stayed overnight in motels or other places where other people sleep, or if you’ve recently purchased a piece of used furniture, suspect bed bugs.

Are bed bugs or fleas dangerous?

While bed bugs do not spread diseases to humans, fleas can transmit diseases.

How do you get rid of fleas and bed bugs?
Professional pest control is always recommended for getting rid of bed bugs.

Getting rid of fleas is often a multi-step process that can take weeks, and often months. Pet owners should work with their veterinarians to set up a flea prevention program for their pets. A licensed pest control company can help determine the best way to treat for fleas in the home and yard.