Dog: Ticks

General information

Other common/scientific names: tick infestation, Amblyomma americanum, lone star tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus, brown dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis, American dog tick, Ixodes scapularis, deer tick

Ectoparasites are parasites that live on the exterior or surface of an animal. The common canine ectoparasites include fleas, ticks, lice and mites. They can transmit various diseases and cause hypersensitivity and skin disorders in animals. Ectoparasites can also cause life-threatening anemia in young and debilitated animals. Some ectoparasites (mites and lice) spend their entire life on the dog while other ectoparasites (fleas and ticks) spend part of their life cycle in the environment. Fleas, ticks and mites are not species specific, meaning they can infest animals of different species, i.e., canine mites can cause symptoms on humans. Lice on the other hand only infest a specific species, i.e., dog lice only infest dogs.


Ticks are ectoparasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. Ticks pierce the dog’s skin and attach tightly while sucking blood. The tick’s saliva can contain and transmit diseases. While ticks vary in size and color depending on the species, they all have eight legs attached to an oval-like body. Ticks move onto their hosts by crawling and are more active during warmer temperatures.

Most types of ticks have four life stages: egg, larva, nymph and adult. Each tick stage requires a blood meal before it can reach the next stage. Most common dog ticks wait in the vegetation and forested areas for a host and then attach themselves to the host. Once a female tick reaches the adult stage and has a blood meal, it detaches from the dog and deposits thousands of eggs in the environment. A female tick, engorged with blood, can increase her weight by more than 100 fold.

The white-tailed deer is the preferred host for many of the common ticks found on dogs. However, numerous other wildlife and rodent hosts also spread ticks. While the tick bite itself is not painful, ticks can transmit many diseases, in addition to causing tick paralysis and triggering hypersensitivity reactions. Tick species, disease occurrence and peak activity of each tick life stage varies depending on the geographic and climate location.

The tick population in the United States is exploding due to changing climate (less harsh winters), suburbanization and the increase in the deer population. While there are at least 15 diseases spread by eight different tick species in the United States, those listed below are the most common ticks and their associated disease(s):

Abb. GGNEDJ1L: Photograph of a tick.
The tick is engorged and full of blood.


Dogs acquire ticks by coming into contact with ticks residing in a wooded environment, tall grass and weeds. Dogs can contract ticks from wildlife and rodents.


A tick bite can cause local area of skin inflammation which is characterized by redness and a scab. Occasionally, the bite area can become infected if part of the tick is left in the skin.


Diagnosis of tick infestation is made by finding ticks on the dog.


If a dog has only a few ticks, these should be removed manually. The tick should be grasped as close to the skin as possible with fine forceps or tweezers. A slow, steady pull should be used to extract the tick. Avoid crushing, twisting or jerking the tick since this can cause the head to become detached and left in the skin. While the chances of the disease transmission to humans are low when removing a tick, gloves should be worn to be absolutely safe. After removal, the tick should be placed in alcohol or insecticide to kill it.

If the skin becomes irritated from the tick bite, a topical antibiotic ointment can be applied. If part of the tick remains in the skin, it will eventually fall out. No treatment is necessary.

Abb. GGNELZ7E: Proper removal of a tick.
Grasp the tick close to the skin with fine forceps. Pull slowly and steadily, avoid squeezing the body of the tick.


Dogs which go outdoors in wooded, tick infested areas should have some form of tick protection such as:

  • Topical antiparasitics commonly referred to as spot-on products. These monthly applications can be a combination of medications used to prevent tick, flea, mite, heartworm and endoparasite infections.
  • Liquid spray insecticide.
  • Insecticide impregnated collars.

Because of the warmer winters, tick protection is recommended year around.


When applying the topical, spot-on medications, be sure to part the hair and apply the medication directly to the skin. Do not bath or allow your dog to swim for 2 days after application. The product may need to be re-applied more often than every 30 days.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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