How to Identify Ticks to Keep Your Dog Healthy


Dogs are such common victims of some tick species that the ticks have the word ‘dog’ in their name.

Ticks carry many blood-borne diseases, transmitted when they attach to the host’s skin and staying attached until they’ve filled their bodies with blood.

When ticks first attach, they are almost impossible to find in a heavily coated dog because of their tiny size. But they swell as they become engorged with blood, and then appear to be a small cyst or blood blister.

In the process of feeding, the tick may transmit bacteria and disease directly into the host’s bloodstream.

Being able to identify a tick will help you prevent it from harming your dog. If one does burrow into your dog, knowing what kind it is will also help determine what possible diseases your dog may have been exposed to.

Ticks are small arachnids. Like spiders they have eight legs. Ticks vary in colour and in size, depending on the type of tick, whether it is male or female, and whether it is a baby (larva), juvenile (nymph) or an adult. The tick’s color and size also depends on whether it has fed or not.

They are very small, comparable in size to the head of a pin. Ticks also bite and transmit disease in their larval and nymph stages. In these early stages they will be even smaller and ressemble flecks of pepper or dirt. Adult females are the largest in size, but when not engorged with blood they usually are no larger than a sesame seed.

sizes of ticks in centimetres
Scale of deer tick in centimetres.
From left to right: adult female deer tick, adult male, nymph, and larva.

Some types of ticks have specific geographical areas where they live. Others are more common and widespread.

Depending on the climate ticks can be present in an area all year round. In other seasonal regions, ticks are most prevalent in spring and summer months.

With warmer climate patterns in recent years, tick populations are spreading into new regions and are around for longer periods of time. There are thought to be around 900 separate species of ticks in the world and at least 90 species in North America and the United Kingdom. Here are some of the most common tick species that are a threat to your dog:

Deer TickBlack-Legged Tick (Deer Tick)

The deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) is often referred to as the black-legged tick. The deer tick is commonly found in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic and upper mid western regions of the United States and Canada. It can transmit Lyme disease and anaplasmosis (thankfully rare). These are zoonotic diseases, meaning humans can be infected as well.

Western Black-legged TickWestern Black-legged Tick

The western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) can be found throughout California, but it has also been found in other western states along the West coast and inland, as well as in Canada.

The western black-legged tick can transmit Lyme disease and anaplasmosis.

American Dog TickAmerican Dog Tick (Wood tick)

The American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is found in most states east of the Rocky Mountains in North America. It is also commonly found in California, Idaho and Washington, and Canada.

The American dog tick is a known transmitter of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Tularemia (rabbit fever). This is a zoonotic disease, meaning humans can be infected as well.

Brown Dog TickBrown Dog Tick

The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) is found throughout the United States and Canada. Unlike many other kinds of ticks, and it is also likely to live indoors as well as outdoors. It can be found inside homes and kennels.

Dogs are the brown dog tick’s host of choice. The brown dog tick is a known carrier of hepatozoonosis, canine ehrlichiosis, Rocky mountain spotted fever and babesiosis. Ehrlichiosis and babesiosis are zoonotic diseases.

Lone Star TickLone Star Tick

The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) gets its name from the small white “star” that is visible on the backs of females. It also has a reputation for being one of the more aggressive feeders.

The lone star tick can transmit ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Bourbon virus disease, Heartland virus disease, and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). These are zoonotic diseases, so can infect humans as well as dogs. The lone star tick is commonly found in Texas, the middle-southern, central and southeastern regions of the United States, and the East Coast up into Canada.

Gulf Coast TickGulf Coast Tick

The Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum) is commonly found in eastern United States and Canada. It has spread northward to states like Virginia, and west to Oklahoma and Kansas. There are large populations in the middle-southern region of the United States. The Gulf Coast tick is known to transmit canine hepatozoonosis.

Sheep Tick or Castor Bean Tick

Sheep Tick or Castor Bean Tick

The Sheep Tick or Castor Bean Tick (Ixodes ricinus) is found throughout Europe and Britain and is the primary transmitter of Lyme disease on the continent and UK. The tick is also found in Russia, Iceland and North Africa. Lyme disease is zoonotic disease, meaning humans can be infected as well.

Rocky mountain wood tickRocky Mountain Wood Tick (Dermacentor andersoni)

The Rocky Mountain Wood Tick prefers to feed on large mammals (think moose, deer). Its range is, as its name suggests, throughout US states and Canadian provinces that are within the Rocky Mountains. The tick carries Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever and tularemia.

Taiga TickTaiga Tick

The Taiga Tick (Ixodes persulcatus) is found in Eastern Europe, China, Japan and can transmit Lyme Disease, relapsing fever, babesiosis and tick-borne encephalitis.

If a tick has already bitten your dog and has burrowed into his/her skin, they may look different than the photos above. They may appear to look like a round dark dot, as you likely will not see its legs and it will be rounder in shape from gorging on blood.

Be sure to inspect your dog’s fur for ticks if you live in an area where they live, and if you find one, take care to remove it safely. Read our article: How to Safely Remove Ticks from Your Dog.

If you are unsure what kind of tick you have found, or want to test it for tick-borne illnesses, please preserve the tick and bring it to your veterinarian for identification and testing.

Lyme Disease testing kits are also available for purchase for a reasonable price. Kits are available via Amazon. However, please note these tests are no substitute for clinical testing by a medical health authority or veterinarian.

Please note that the tick-borne diseases listed with each tick is by no means complete. There are a number of unusual and rare diseases carried by ticks that may not be mentioned. For example, Alpha-gal, is a tick-borne illness transmitted by the Lone Star tick that makes people allergic to most red meat.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases made via these links.


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