Dr. Juli, DVM @itsdrjuli
Your four-legged companion is your loyal best friend, cuddle buddy, and hiking partner. Dog owners enjoy sharing time and special treats with their pets, which is vital to maintaining a strong human-animal bond. However, sharing hitchhiking pests, like ticks, can be an unpleasant part of responsible pet ownership. There are more than 200 tick species throughout the United States, and many carry dangerous infectious diseases that can affect a variety of animals, including humans and dogs. Ticks can thrive in a variety of environments, including woods, beaches, lawns, forests, and some urban environments, and most are active during the spring, summer, or fall seasons.
How do I recognize common dog tick types? And what does a tick look like?
Like people, your dog may have a variety of lumps, skin tags, freckles, and distinguishing marks that make them unique and special. It is not uncommon for pet owners to mistake a pet’s nipple, or skin tag, for an engorged or dried dead tick. So, ensure to carefully examine the suspicious lesion before attempting to remove a part of your dog’s body. Ticks can range in size from barely visible to the size of a small grape when they are engorged. They are typically brown or black, and some may have distinguishing marks or spots, depending on the species. Additionally, ticks will have 6 legs in the larva stage and 8 legs in the adult life stage. The most common disease-carrying ticks that are a threat to your dog’s health include:
- Deer tick – These ticks are also known as black-legged ticks and are characterized by black legs, a reddish-brown colored body, and a dark brown or black shield-like shape located between their mouth parts and body. The adults are most active in the spring and fall seasons and are mostly found in wooded areas of the Midwest and Eastern U.S. The deer tick can transmit Lyme disease to dogs and may also transmit Ehrlichia and Anaplasma.
- American dog tick – Also known as the wooded tick, adults have a chestnut brown body with white spots or streaks and brown legs. They have a wide distribution and can be found in the Midwest U.S., the Pacific Northwest U.S., and the Eastern U.S. These ticks are present year-round but are most active in the spring and summer. They can infect dogs with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF).
- Brown dog tick – These reddish-brown ticks are also called kennel ticks or house ticks because they tend to move indoors and inhabit dog kennels. They are found year-round and in most U.S. locations. Dogs who are bitten are at risk for RMSF and Ehrlichia.
- Lone star tick – These ticks can be tan or brown. Female lone star ticks are distinguished by a single silver-white spot on their back, and male ticks have scattered white spots. Lone star ticks are a year-round danger and are found mostly in the underbrush near creeks or rivers in the Eastern U.S, the Southeast U.S, and the Midwest. These ticks can spread RMSF and Ehrlichia to dogs.
Why is there a dried dead tick on my dog, and what do I do?
It is critical to check your dog's fur if you live in an area where ticks are prevalent or if your dog has spent time in a wooded area. Ticks can attach to any part of your dog and are often found on their paws, belly, head, neck, ears, nose, and mouth. Ensure to part their fur, as smaller ticks can be challenging to spot on thick-furred dogs. Many pet owners mistakenly believe that a tick will fall off their dog once it has died; however, it is not uncommon for a tick to die while it is still attached to your dog’s skin. The sharp mouthparts attach to your dog's skin to allow them to take a blood meal for days or weeks. Dogs who have an engorged tick attached to their skin for more than 24 hours are at risk for tick-borne diseases. Dried, dead ticks may be found on dogs who are on regular tick prevention medication, like Seresto, because these medications require the tick to bite your dog so that the insecticide will kill the parasite. Additionally, ticks can be irritating, and some dogs may kill these hitchhiking pests by scratching or biting them to alleviate the irritation. Dead, engorged ticks will appear silvery-white, with curled up, stiff legs that are not moving. Always check for movement when you find a tick on your dog. Although some live ticks may not immediately move, their legs will be flattened to the side. Dried, dead ticks are less dangerous than live ticks because they will not actively transmit dangerous bacteria to your dog. However, they can still cause skin irritations or infections and should be immediately removed from your dog’s skin.
What are the steps to remove a dead tick from my dog?
Removing a dead tick is similar to a live tick removal. Always consult your veterinarian if you are uncomfortable removing a tick or are unsure if the dark spot on your pet is a tick before attempting to remove anything from their skin. Never use soap, petroleum jelly, nail polish, matches, or other chemicals to remove a live or dead tick. These methods can cause harm and potential injury to your dog. Wear gloves and take the following steps to safely remove a dried, dead tick from your dog’s skin:
- Part your dog’s fur and place fine-point tweezers, or a tick removal tool, like Tick Tornado, around the tick, as close to your dog’s skin as possible.
- Gently pull upward, and slowly apply pressure. Avoid squeezing the body of the tick too hard, to prevent the engorged body from rupturing, which can spread infectious bacteria.
- Continue to pull gently until the mouthparts have dislodged from your dog’s skin. Avoid twisting or moving the tweezers in a side-to-side motion.
- Place the dead tick in a ziplock bag with a moistened paper towel to preserve the body for examination, and possible analysis, by your veterinarian.
- Clean the removal tool with rubbing alcohol.
What is the aftercare following removal of a dead tick from my dog?
It is not uncommon for a small amount of skin to be removed with the tick. If you are unsuccessful in removing the tick head or mouthparts, gently make a second attempt to grab the remaining part with your tweezers. Although there is no immediate danger from the mouthparts remaining in your dog’s skin, they can cause discomfort, irritation, infection, and abscesses in severe cases. Following tick removal, ensure to clean the area with 70% isopropyl alcohol or 3% hydrogen peroxide. If the tick was located near an area that your dog can easily scratch or lick, consider placing an Elizabethan collar on them to prevent further infection or irritation, which can delay healing. Native Pet’s Allergy Chews can help alleviate some of the discomfort caused by a tick bite, and Native Pet’s Omega Oil can support your dog's skin, which may be inflamed from a tick bite.
Should I bring my dog to the veterinarian after removing a dead tick?
Mild redness, a small bump or scab, and hair loss are normal findings at the bite area, following removal of a dead tick. Ensure to closely monitor the area, and note the day and condition of your dog’s skin. Bring your dog for immediate veterinary care if there is any pus, extreme redness, or dark skin in the area where the tick was removed. Your veterinarian will perform a nose-to-tail examination and may recommend tests to check for tick-borne diseases. Additionally, ensure to discuss with your DVM the best options for tick prevention medication and if a Lyme disease vaccination is recommended.
What are the signs of tick-borne disease?
Disease transmission does not occur until more than 24 hours after a tick has attached to take a blood meal. It can take weeks to months for dogs to show tick-borne disease signs following a bite. Signs are variable depending on the disease type and can mimic other dog diseases. Common signs of tick-borne diseases include:
- Joint pain
- Decreased appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Swelling of the limbs
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Neurologic problems
Immediately seek veterinary care if your dog is showing any tick-borne disease signs. All dogs who enjoy outdoor activities are at risk for a tick bite, and it is critical to remove ticks from your dog’s body as quickly as possible, to prevent them from becoming infected with a potentially deadly bacteria like Lyme disease.