Checking for ticks on your dog after an afternoon at the park doesn’t sound like much fun, but the hassle is well worth it.
Ticks on dogs are bad news – for both you and your dog – and learning about them can help prevent them as well as help in the event your dog ends up being a tick victim.
What Are Ticks?
Ticks are parasitic arachnids. These eight-legged bloodsuckers live off the blood and tissue of their host animal.
Identifying them can be hard because they start the size of a pin-head, but knowing in general how they look can help.
Ticks have three life stages: larva, nymph, and adult. In general, ticks are the shape of a flat seed that’s semi-pointed at one end and rounded at the other and have eight legs.
They go through their life cycle by attaching to a different host at each stage and before the adult lays eggs and then feasting on blood.
The blood feast can last between 5-10 days, although ticks can live for several months without feeding if the environmental conditions are favorable.
What Do Ticks Look Like?
Yes, having to see pictures of ticks is probably going to turn your stomach, but it’s the best way to be able to identify a tick.
Here are the most common tick species in the United States and a little about each one.
The American Dog Tick
The American dog tick is found mostly in the United States, east of the Rocky Mountains. It carries the disease Rocky Mountain spotted fever. RMSF is caused by a dog being bitten by an infected tick.
The larvae and nymph ticks are less than 1mm and so small you can barely identify what they’d look like in detail without a microscope.
But the adults are easier to see. They are usually brown or reddish-brown with gray or silver markings. Adults start around 4mm long and can grow to up to 15mm long and 10mm wide when well fed.
Brown Dog Ticks
These ticks are found all around the world, especially in warmer climates, and are a unique tick variety because they can carry out their life cycle both indoors and out.
This makes them easier to host and harder to get rid of.
They feed on a variety of animals but prefer dogs.
The brown dog ticks are reddish-brown and longer. They are similar in size to American dog ticks, but females can reach the size of a raisin as they feed.
These ticks carry many diseases such as canine hepatozoonosis, canine ehrlichiosis, and canine babesiosis.
These ticks are found along the east coast of the United States.
Deer ticks are about 3mm in size as an adult and are dark brown to black. While they primarily feed on deer, they can choose a dog or human as a host.
These are the ticks that are known for transmitting dog tick fever (canine anaplasmosis) and Lyme disease.
The Lone Star Tick
Lone Star ticks are equal opportunists, feeding on various animals and humans, and are the most commonly reported tick bites to humans.
They can carry and transmit multiple diseases, such as STARI, Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia, and Rickettsiosis.
They are widely found in the eastern, southeastern, and midwestern parts of the United States. Adults are light to medium brown and have unusually long mouthparts. They are similar in size to dog ticks.
Gulf Coast Ticks
Gulf Coast ticks are primarily found in the gulf coast region of the United States. These ticks feast on birds and mammals, but will readily bite humans and can transmit Rickettsiosis and Tick Paralysis.
Adults are about 6mm in size and are similar in appearance to American dog ticks and Lone Star ticks before they feast.
Common Places To Find Ticks On Dogs
Ticks love dark, warm, and moist places on any host. They can be found on the entire body, but here are the most common areas you’ll want to search your dog.
In and Around The Ears
Look inside, behind, and in the general area of your dog’s ears. The entire head is a hot spot, but especially the ear canals.
Ticks Under Your Dogs Neck
Underneath your dog’s neck and around their chin are other places they like to hide. Be sure to also check under your dog’s collar.
In Armpits, Elbows, and Knees
These are notorious spots for ticks to burrow. They are easy access points with less fur, and thin skin, so they make a good feeding ground.
Near The Tail and Inside The Groin Area
This area meets all the requirements of a good feeding spot. You may have to get up close and personal with your dog, but it’ll be worth it.
Ticks On Your Dogs Nose
If you see a small bump on your dog’s nose, it might be a tick.
Dogs continuously sniff their surroundings and it is an easy way for these little parasitic arachnids to attach themselves.
Ticks Between The Dogs Toes
This is a place often forgotten when searching for ticks, but it’s one of the easiest places for a tick to attach.
Removal Of Ticks On Dogs
To remove a tick, you need to find it. Do a thorough sweep of your dog each time after being outside.
Move along the fur with your hand, making sure you check down to the skin if you feel any bumps large or small. An embedded tick (when its head pierces the skin surface) will need to be removed carefully.
This is best done In a well-lit area before coming into your home. Some people prefer to wear gloves.
If you’ve been out with your dog, you’ll also want to change once you come in, especially if you live in an area with brown dog ticks.
To get the tick out, follow these steps. Be sure there is no tick-related matter still under your dog’s skin when you’re done. The head often gets stuck inside and can cause problems.
- Spread your dog’s fur to get close to the tick.
- Using fine-point tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the entry point as possible.
- Gently, with steady hands, pull straight upward.
- After you’ve removed the tick, flush it down the toilet, or put it in a jar for your vet. Clean the site with rubbing alcohol or soap and water so as to prevent any skin infections. Disinfect the tweezers and wash your hands.
Be sure that you do not try to twist or burn off the tick or use any alcohol or agent to release it. These can cause more harm than good.
Do not pull too hard or you could cause the tick to burst and blood to enter the bite area or cause the head and mouthparts to stay lodged in the dog’s skin.
Will My Dog Get Sick If A Tick Bites It?
Not all ticks carry a tick-borne disease, and finding ticks on dogs doesn’t guarantee sickness.
Although some dogs do have an adverse reaction from tick borne pathogens, the average number of deer ticks that carry Lyme disease is 1 in 5 nymph ticks and 1 in 2 adult ticks.
It also takes more than 24-36 hours of being attached before a deer tick transmits the bacteria.
For American dog ticks, only about 1 in 200 carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in most locations.
Fewer than 1 in 100 Lone Star ticks carry Ehrlichiosis. While infection rates can vary by location, this should be somewhat comforting.
To put it in human terms, the CDC reported that for the 2018 season, nearly 60,000 cases of tick-borne disease were reported by health departments in the US.
Treatment For Ticks On Dogs
There are a few different tick control products available on the market.
You can choose from tick collars, oral medications, or topical treatments (creams or lotions applied to the outside of the body like the skin). By using Topical Or Systematic Tick Control Treatments regularly, you can lower your dog’s tick risk.
Speak to your veterinarian about tick preventatives so they can help you to make an informed decision.
Where Are Ticks Found?
Besides finding ticks on dogs, ticks can be found in many other places, most commonly in areas close to where their hosts reside. Here’s a list of common places and how to avoid the ticks in them.
Ticks love a good hiding place. Tall grass can be kept trimmed short to help remove their hiding place and their access to your dog. While they can’t jump or fly, higher grass makes it easy to fall onto their prey.
Just as with long grass, wooded areas provide an excellent breeding ground for ticks in the leaf litter and an easy place for them to snag a host.
This is similar to the above and is a breeding ground for adult ticks to lay their eggs.
Around Trash Cans
Younger ticks feast on rats and mice, which make trash can areas their home.
Dog Runs and Kennels
Especially with brown dog ticks, enclosures are a breeding ground. Always check your dog for ticks after a visit to a kennel.
Dog Bedding and Furniture
Again, brown dog ticks can live indoors on bedding and furniture, so be sure to check here if you find a tick on your dog, to make sure none have made it inside.
How Can I Avoid Ticks On Dogs?
The best way to protect your dog – and you – against ticks, is by using preventative measures. A tick infestation can be extremely hard to eradicate. Instead of using a tick treatment once your dog is already infected, use these tips for the best chance to avoid them:
- Avoid areas with high grass or leaf litter
- Wear long pants on hikes
- Use an insect repellent that works on ticks
- Use tick prevention on your dog
- Always do a check of your dog and yourself when you come back indoors
- Clothes and equipment should be washed immediately after a trip outdoors
- Take a bath or shower after being outdoors in a tick-prone area
- Use tick collars on your furry friend
- Encourage any wild animals on your property to move on, as they are efficient carriers and a large number of them have a tick problem
What Season Are Ticks Most Prevalent?
Generally speaking, tick season – or the time when ticks on dogs are the most prevalent – is from mid-Spring to mid-Fall in most places in the USA.
This is the time most people associate with tick season, and it gets the most attention, most likely because ticks are usually in the nymphal stage and harder to see.
But ticks like to come out anytime the temperatures are above freezing, so while there are specific tick seasons for each type of tick and each area of the US, ticks can be a pest almost year-round.
Ticks will remain inactive when the temperature falls below 35*F, but on warmer days where the soil is not covered by snow, ticks will be out searching for blood – literally.
Ultimately, every season is tick season. Understanding the types of ticks that live in your area will also help you identify the time of year they are in season.
For example, adult deer ticks are active and begin feeding around October and will latch onto a host on days where the temperature climbs above freezing.
Lone Star and dog ticks typically become active in late March or early April through mid-Fall.
How To Get Rid Of Ticks In The Yard Naturally
If you’re looking for a way to remove ticks naturally from your yard, there are a few things you can do.
First, buy beneficial nematodes, which eat ticks, from your local garden center, and add them to your soil.
You can also sprinkle your yard with diatomaceous earth, a natural powder that kills ticks by dehydrating them.
Try creating a wood chip or gravel barrier, especially if you live next to a wooded area. Another idea that works is to introduce ground-feeding birds to your yard. Birds such as chickens make an excellent choice in this case.
No matter what you decide to do, ridding your yard of ticks can be a significant step to preventing ticks on dogs.
Ticks On Dogs Doesn’t Have To Be Scary
Although ticks on dogs is a common occurrence, a severe tick infestation can cause anemia and in extreme cases, possibly death. The good news is they are easily preventable and treatable.
Simply use the advice above, and make sure to add a tick comb to your camping checklist. With this guide, you will be equipped to handle any tick nature throws your way.