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Dogs and Ticks

Dogs and ticks seem to be "inseparable". Ticks attach to dogs for their blood and, while having a blood feast, ticks can transmit diseases to the dogs through the ticks' saliva. This page looks at the life cycle of ticks, some common tick-borne disease, and dog tick prevention.

Two dog buddies
We love our dogs and ticks do too! Ticks are parasites so they feed on the blood of their hosts. They do not run and jump as fleas do, but rather tend to hide out in tall grass or plants and hold their legs up to sense passing hosts. They are attracted to warmth and motion and are often seeking out mammals, including dogs.

When they find a warm-blooded mammal, they crawl on to them, attach their mouth-parts into the host's skin, and start to feed on blood. Once attached to the host, they will not separate from the host until they finish the blood feast. Depending the type of tick, the feast can go on for a while (from several hours to several days).

On dogs, ticks can attach themselves to any part of the dog's body, but they are mainly found around the ears, between the toes, within skin folds, and sometimes in the armpits. It may be revolting but a heavily infested dog can have over hundreds of ticks all over his body!

Dogs and Ticks - Types and Locations

Ticks are found in nearly all parts of the USA and are especially prevalent between spring and fall.

The most commonly seen ticks in North America include:

Tick Type Description
Brown Dog Tick Brown Dog Tick: Can transmit canine ehrlichiosis; found throughout the southwestern and Gulf Coast states.
Deer Tick Deer Tick (aka black-legged tick): Can transmit Lyme disease and canine anaplasmosis; found mostly in states in the north-east, mid-Atlantic and upper mid-west.
Lone Star Tick Lone Star Tick: Can transmit canine ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever; found mostly in states in the south and south-west.
American Dog Tick American Dog Tick: Can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever; found in most states east of the Rocky Mountains, and parts of California, Idaho and Washington.
Western Black Legged Tick Western Black-Legged Tick: Can transmit Lyme disease; commonly found in states in the west.

Picture Source: http://www.dogandticks.com

The most common ticks, such as the dog tick, have males about the size of a match head and females that can expand to the size of a pea after feeding. Deer ticks are smaller and are about the size of a pinhead.

Life Cycle of Ticks

Typically, there are for life stages in a tick (eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults). All stages (except the eggs) attach to a host for blood:
  • Male and female ticks mate on the skin of a dog. The female, after mating and after feeding on the dog's blood, drops off to lay eggs. (This usually happens 5 to 20 hours after the dog acquires the ticks).
  • Eggs hatch into six-legged larvae which live and feed on the dog for about a week.
  • The larvae then detach and molt into eight-legged nymphs.
  • The nymphs feed on the dog's blood for 3 to 11 days.
  • After that, the nymphs detach and molt again into adult ticks.
The life span of a tick can be several months, but in some species, it can last for several years.

Dogs and Ticks - Health Problems Caused by Ticks

Ticks are vectors for various diseases in dogs, such as:
  • Lyme disease
  • Canine ehrlichiosis
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Babesiosis

These diseases are transmitted by ticks through their saliva while feeding on the host's blood. However, most of these tick-borne diseases will take several hours (24-48 hours) to transmit to a host, that's why it is so important to check your dog carefully for ticks immediately after having an outing in the woods or other tick-infested areas. If you see any ticks, remove them immediately to minimize the risk of your dog getting infected with any tick-borne disease.

Signs and symptoms of most tick-borne diseases typically include fever, weakness, and lethargy. Some diseases can also cause lameness, joint swelling and/or anemia. Depending on the type of disease, these symptoms may take days, weeks or months to appear.

The saliva of ticks can also cause allergic reactions in some dogs. In addition, some ticks (the female wood tick, lone star tick, and Gulf Coast tick) can cause tick paralysis, in which the affected dog gradually develops difficulty in walking and eventually becomes paralysed. These signs are fortunately temporary and will start to disappear after the tick is removed.

Dogs and Ticks - Prevention and Control

Here are some ways to prevent tick-borne diseases in dogs:
  • The best way to prevent tick-borne diseases in dogs is of course to avoid letting your dog roam in tick-infested areas.
  • Ticks must attach themselves to a dog for several hours (24-48 hours) before they can transmit diseases. Therefore, check your dog for ticks daily, and immediately after your dog has been out running in the woods or fields. If you find a tick on your dog, remove it right away.
  • Use a tick preventive on your dog. There are quite a few products and medications that can prevent ticks on your dog. Check our page on Dog Tick Medicine for more information.
  • For outdoor control, cut tall grass, weeds, and brush. Treat your yard with an insecticide that is safe for use with animals.
  • Have your dog undergo annual tick-borne disease screening tests.
  • Watch out for symptoms of common tick-borne diseases, and seek veterinary attention if your dog shows such symptoms.
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