Dog Skin Parasite: Dogs and Ticks


The topic of dogs and ticks is a problem across the United States. Ticks are small gray dots that appear on the skin and can spread from dog to human. There are several tick species that cause problems in dogs, wit the Deer tick best known because of its relationship to spreading Lyme disease. As ticks take a blood meal they become enlarged, making them easier to spot on the skin. Not all ticks carry Lyme disease and not all exposed dogs become ill. Problems usually occur from May through August, but can happen on any day that is above the freezing mark.  Treatment involves removing the tick as quickly as possible. Dogs can be protected via the use of a spot-on.

dog and tick attached to skin
Picture of Engorged Tick on Dog Skin

Species of Ticks

Several types of ticks that attach to dogs. These include:

  • American Dog Tick: Found in the Eastern U.S. and the Plains States. It can also be found on the West coast. Diseases associated with the American Dog Tick are:
    •     Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever ((Rickettsia rickettsii):  bacterial disease that causes fever, lethargy and respiratory issues such as cough
    •     Ehrlichiosis: bacterial disease causing lethargy, appetite loss, fever
    •     Babesiosis: caused by protozoa which cause jaundice/yellowing of the skin, vomiting, fever and weakness
    •     Tick paralysis: paralysis starts with hind legs and then causes paralysis of the chest and diaphragm.  This toxin will cause death if the tick is not removed

    tick dog parasite
    Magnified Picture of Dog Tick
    Source: American Veterinary Medical Association
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Tick (also called Wood Tick): found in the Western United States. Can cause tick paralysis (see below).
  • Lone Star Tick: Found in the South, Midwest and Eastern U.S. More closely associated with human diseases.
  • Gulf Coast Tick: Carries a disease called Canine Hepatozoonosis when the tick is ingested.
  • Deer Tick (also called Lyme Disease Tick, Black legged Tick): Can cause tick paralysis and canine lyme disease.
  • Brown Dog Tick: Found in Hawaii and throughout North America. This tick is the only kind of tick that can be found indoors such as kennels. Can carry the diseases Canine Monocytic Ehrlichiosis and Canine Babesiosis.
  • Spinose Ear Tick: Found in dry parts of the United States. This tick does not carry disease, but can harm a dog's ear.


Ticks and ticks do not cause many if any symptoms. Most are found on the ears, neck and head since it is harder for the dog to scratch or itch these areas of the body. When a tick attaches itself to the skin it can cause some skin irritation and an allergic reaction where the tick is feeding. The spot where the tick was removed might leave a small hairless area.

If you believe your dog has been bitten by a tick, watch your dog for changes in behavior (energy, appetite) over a 3 week period.  If you see any change, see your veterinarian.

Dogs and ticks usually need to be attached to each other for 24 hours in order to spread Lyme disease, however disease can be spread in 5 to 20 hours.  If ticks are removed sooner, then the disease will not have had time to transfer to the dog.

Canine Lyme Disease

Symptoms of Lyme disease, the disease transmitted by ticks include leg pain or lameness, which comes on suddenly. This is usually the most noticeable dog Lyme disease symptom. Other symptoms are a lost desire to eat, tiredness, cough, depression and enlarged lymph nodes.  There may or may not be a ring on the skin (known as a bulls-eye rash). Lameness can last for an extended period of time.  Dog kidney disease is another problem associated with Lyme disease dog. Blood tests can detect if a dog has been exposed (Western Blot, ELISA). X-Rays are also used to look at joint swelling. Dog Lyme disease treatment involves the use of antibiotics for 2 to 4 weeks.

Dog Tick Bite Paralysis

Dog tick bite paralysis is a condition that can be caused by over 20 types of ticks. It only occasionally infects dogs. It is caused by a protein neurotoxin that is produced by ticks when biting a host. It is more common during warm weather months and appears 5 to 9 days after the bite occurs. Symptoms of dog tick bite paralysis are normal temperature, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) and vomiting. A dog will also have trouble walking and appear paralyzed or in a weakened condition. 

As the disease progresses a dog will stop moving and find breathing difficult. If the tick is not manually removed from the body, a dog could die from the condition. After tick removal it takes a dog 1 to 3 days to fully recover. A veterinarian can diagnose the disorder based on the clinical symptoms (paralysis).

Diagnosis of Dogs and Ticks

A veterinarian will see ticks on the skin.


Treatment for ticks requires manual removal using tweezers held close to the skin at the head. When removing ticks, do not twist. Instead pull straight from the body with steady pressure. If the head is not removed, it can cause infection or the occurrence of a skin granuloma (raised skin nodule or bump). Do not remove ticks with Petroleum Jelly or Alcohol.

Video On Removing Ticks From Dogs

Video: How To Remove Dog Ticks

For more information see our guide to dog tick removal.

Dog Tick Prevention

There are collars and spot-ons such as Frontline (fipronil) available for tick prevention. Other steps are to keep grass in yards short or to remove it all together. There are several insecticides available for outdoor tick control.

References for Dogs and Ticks

External Parasitic Diseases of Dogs and Cats
P.A. Payne1, M. W. Dryden2 and G.R. Carter3
Department of Diagnostic Medicine-Pathobiology
College of Veterinary Medicine, Kansas State University, KS, USA

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