Most pet guardians realize that deer ticks convey Lyme illness, however, these aren't the main eight-legged frightening little animals out to suck your dog's blood.
Ticks are members of the arachnid class along with spiders and scorpions. These tough customers have eight legs and a taste for blood. They like to hang out on top of grasses and other plants waiting to grab onto a passing human or animal and some species and life stages can survive up to two years waiting for a meal.
All ticks go through four basic life stages: egg, larva or seed tick (looks like a tick but only has six legs), nymph, and adult. Some species go through multiple nymphal stages. Each transition requires a blood meal for the tick to molt into the next stage.
As if all of that wasn't bad enough, ticks can also transmit diseases. When a tick bites a host (such as your dog), it remains attached for several days slowly sucking blood. During this time, blood-borne parasites can be transmitted from the tick to the host and vice versa.
There are more than 90 species of ticks in the U.S. Thankfully, only a handful of these are frequently found on dogs. However, each species is found in different areas of the country and can effect a dog's health differently, so it's useful to be able to recognize the various types when you notice your dog developing a tick-borne health condition.
There are several common types of ticks found on dogs in the U.S. Each one is unique in appearance and may have specific habitat preferences and behavior patterns.
Formally known as Dermacentor variabilis, the American dog tick is brown with white decoration (a half-circle shield on females and more elaborate patterns on males). It is prevalent in the eastern U.S., Midwest, and Northwest, and prefers open fields and grassy areas. Some of the diseases that it can transmit to dogs include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichia, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and tick paralysis.
Formally known as Rhipicephalus sanguineus, the brown dog tick is, well, brown. And it likes dogs. Dogs are the primary host for brown dog ticks, and they can live their entire life cycles on and near dogs … which unfortunately includes your house and car.
While they cannot survive outside during cold winters, they are perfectly happy to set up shop in your house or kennel snug and warm in your dogs' bedding. Some of the diseases that they can transmit to dogs include ehrlichia, babesiosis, bartonellosis, hepatozoonosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Formally known as Ixodes scapularis, the deer tick or black-legged tick is reddish-orange with a black shield and black legs. It is prevalent in the eastern and midwestern U.S. and fond of woods, but can thrive in a variety of habitats. These ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing, even in the middle of the winter. Some of the diseases they can transmit to dogs include Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichia.
Formally known as Amblyomma americanum, the lone star tick is reddish-brown and females have a characteristic white spot that gives them their name. These ticks are most common in the southeastern U.S. but also present in the East and Midwest. They are known for their aggression and can sometimes cause humans to become allergic to red meat. Some of the diseases they can transmit to dogs include ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tick paralysis.
Formally known as Haemophysalis longicornis, the Asian longhorned tick is red-brown in color with extremely long legs. This tick is a newcomer to the U.S. and was first found here in 2017. So far it has mostly been found in eastern states. We don't know much about what diseases it can spread to dogs (or if it brought some diseases found in Asia with it when it moved in), but we do know that females can reproduce without mating. This can lead to terrifyingly large infestations that can kill even large animals due to blood loss.
Formally known as Dermacentor occidentalis, the Pacific Coast tick is mottled brown in color. It is the most common tick in California but can be found throughout the West Coast. Its claim to fame is a nasty bite wound that can be mistaken for a spider bite. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is one of the diseases this type of tick can transmit to dogs.
Formally known as Dermacentor andersoni, the Rocky Mountain wood tick is brown with a white shield. As the name suggests, it is most common in the Rocky Mountain states and prefers scrubland in elevations over 4,000 feet. Diseases that it can transmit to dogs include Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tick paralysis.
Formally known as Ixodes pacificus, the Western black-legged tick is the deer rick's West Coast cousin. It has a red-orange body with black shield and black legs. It is most prevalent in the western U.S. and can be found in any terrain, particularly woods and grassy areas. Some of the diseases it can transmit to dogs include Lyme disease and ehrlichia.
According to the AKC Canine Health Foundation, the most common tick-borne diseases in dogs are:
- Lyme disease
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Canine babesiosus
- Canine bartonellosis
- Canine hepatozoonosis
Other less common diseases can also occur, including tick paralysis and a variety of different fevers.
If you find a tick on your dog, these are three steps you should take.
- Check your dog thoroughly for more ticks. Where there is one, there are often several. Don’t forget to check around the ears!
- Remove the ticks and dispose of them.
- Make sure your dog is on a preventive medication that is effective against ticks.
If you find an attached tick on your dog, especially if it is engorged, make a note of the day you found it. This will be useful information if your dog starts to show signs of illness down the road that could be caused by a tick-borne disease. Most diseases take time to be transmitted, so an engorged tick is more likely to have transmitted a disease than one that is still flat.
Most veterinary clinics have in-house tests that can screen for Lyme disease, anaplasma, and ehrlichia. It will take several weeks from the time of the tick bite before your dog will potentially have enough antibodies to show up on the test, so you don't need to schedule an emergency appointment.