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How to identify and remove ticks on dogs in 6 steps

The essentials 

  • Ticks can carry diseases — Lyme disease is the most notorious tick-borne pathogen, but many others may negatively impact your dog’s health. 
  • It’s important to remove your dog’s tick ASAP —  Carefully follow the steps for removal and use soothing products once the tick is gone.
  • Ticks are preventable— Use tick prevention products and check your dog’s body daily.

Ticks are small disease-carrying parasites typically found in woodland and tall grassy areas. Contrary to what you might think, ticks are considered arachnids — not insects — since they have eight legs and no antennae. Ticks need a host body to feed, and they attach to either humans or animals to consume blood. 

If your dog spends lots of time outdoors in brush and woods, they may be more prone to ticks. The best way to prevent a tick bite is to keep your pet on flea and tick prevention year-round.

Different types of ticks

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 15 different kinds of ticks in the United States alone. Some ticks are more harmful to dogs and people than others because of the specific diseases they carry. The severity of the damage a tick can do to a dog also depends on the gender and how mature the tick is. 

The following species of ticks are hazardous to dogs because they can carry infectious diseases:

Type of tick Where they live Most active time of year
Blacklegged/deer ticks Eastern US Spring, summer, and fall in the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and mid-Atlantic
Brown dog ticks Worldwide Dogs are the primary hosts, risk of bites year-round
American dog ticks East of the Rocky Mountains, limited areas of the Pacific coast Spring and summer
Lone Star tick Southern and Eastern United States Spring through fall

👉 Familiarize yourself with the common tick species for your area, including information such as what they look like and when they’re most active. 

Tick life cycle

Ticks go through four distinct stages in their life cycle: 

  1. Egg
  2. Six-legged larvae
  3. Eight-legged nymph
  4. Adult 

Ticks can live anywhere between a few months to a few years, depending on the species. As arachnids, full-grown ticks possess eight legs. However, they only have six during the larvae stage. Thus, it is possible to only find six legs on a tick when you pull it off your dog.

While many don’t live long, females may lay between 3,000 and 6,000 eggs. They usually breed right after a full meal and then lay eggs on their host, which is another reason to remove them immediately.  

How dogs get ticks 

Ticks are more likely found in moist regions with brush, tall grass, and woodlands. They tend to live in vegetation so they can latch onto dogs, cats,  or humans as they walk by. Depending on where you live, tick season occurs at different times of year.

On the West Coast, you should look out for ticks all year. In the North and Midwest, tick season tends to fall between spring and fall. Warmer weather and rural living conditions breed a continuous tick season for much of the southern United States. 

Thankfully, flea and tick prevention works against all species of ticks. Most veterinarians recommend using flea and tick control year-round just to be safe.

Watch out for these common signs of a tick

Since ticks are so tiny, you may not notice the physical parasite on your dog’s body. There are several other signs your dog may exhibit if they have a tick:

  • A small bump or blood on the skin (where the tick buried itself)
  • Excessive licking, scratching, or head shaking
  • Trouble walking
  • Lack of appetite or difficulty eating
  • Paralysis

👉 Most commonly, ticks attach to your dog’s neck, ears, or between their toes and limbs.

How to remove a tick in 6 steps

If you spot the tick itself, you should remove it right away. Removing a tick from your dog as quickly as possible could protect them from developing a dangerous disease, like the ones listed below. Remain calm and soothe your pup while following these steps:

  1. Wear gloves to protect your skin from potential contact with disease.
  2. Locate the tick and gently part the hair around it.
  3. Use a tick removal tool and fasten it firmly underneath the tick.
  4. Twist clockwise until the tick is loose.
  5. Count the legs to make sure the tick is completely removed.
  6. Dispose of the tick in rubbing alcohol.

👉 Don’t use tweezers or your fingers to remove a tick from your pup. You can put both yourself and your pup at risk. And don’t attempt to kill the tick when it’s still on your dog’s skin!

What diseases can ticks cause?

Ticks are dangerous because they can carry the following potentially life-threatening diseases:

  • Lyme disease. This is one of the most common bacterial infections that ticks carry. If you notice your dog has lost their appetite, has a fever, or displays overall weakness after contracting a tick, it could be Lyme disease .
  • Cytauxzoonosis . This is a lethal infection caused by ticks. Your pup will likely have a high fever or loss of appetite and these symptoms will rapidly progress.
  • Anaplasmosis . You may also hear this referred to as “dog tick fever.” In addition to fever and lethargy, it can cause your dog to vomit or, in dangerous cases, experience seizures.
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever . When treated, this particular illness doesn’t typically last too long. If your dog has a fever or develops skin lesions, they may have this disease transmitted from the Rocky Mountain wood tick.

🚨 If you notice any symptoms that could signal one of these tick-borne illnesses, you should get your dog to the vet as soon as possible. The sooner you get them checked, the more likely you could save them from life-threatening consequences.

How to protect your dog from tick bites

There are things you can do to prevent your dog from becoming a host to a pesky tick. Although ticks prefer the woods, pet owners should still be concerned with tick prevention during tick season, even in urban areas. Follow these steps to prevent your dog from contracting dangerous ticks:

Keep up with parasite prevention — Give your dog flea and tick medicines as recommended by your vet. Vets recommend long-lasting oral products that kill ticks before they spread disease.

Use pet-friendly pest control — Treat the yard or outdoor area for ticks with pet-friendly pesticides.

Watch the woods Keep an eye on dogs when they’re outside, especially around tall grass and woodlands.

Monitor your dog It’s a good idea to check your dog’s coat for ticks daily (especially after coming in from outdoor activities) and feel for hard bumps around their neck, ears, and joints. Also, notice if they’re scratching or showing signs of illness. 

Unfortunately, wooded areas are usually crawling with ticks. Most dog owners encounter this eight-legged parasite at least once in their dog’s life, but knowing what to do beforehand can help you not panic. 

Consistently giving your dog their parasite prevention and fully removing ticks as soon as you spot them are some of the best ways to protect your pup from tick-borne diseases. If your dog was bitten, you should take them to the vet just in case.

Frequently asked questions

What should I do if I find a tick on my dog? 

Try to stay calm. While ticks are dangerous, you’ll need a steady hand to pull them off. Wearing gloves, gently part your pup’s fur where the tick sits. Use a tick removal tool to gently and firmly lift them off your dog’s skin. Remember to count the legs to make sure you extracted all parts of the tick — adult ticks have eight legs, but larvae only have six. If the tick was attached to your pet’s skin, you should call the vet to take precautions against potentially diseases. Your vet will clean the bite area and may recommend testing for tick-borne diseases in a few weeks.

Are ticks deadly?

While a tick bite isn’t venomous, these tiny parasites can be deadly due to potential pathogens. Always remove ticks immediately before they have a chance to attach and count the legs to make sure you removed all eight. If your dog has been bitten, you should take them to a veterinarian to make sure they haven’t contracted any diseases.

Should I take my dog to the vet if I find a tick?

If your dog has been bitten by a tick, you should take them for a vet visit even if you have removed the tick and think your dog is healthy. Your vet will be able to make sure that the tick’s body was fully removed and clean the bite area. They may recommend testing for tick-borne diseases about 3-4 weeks after a tick bite. 

How common are ticks?

Ticks are very common in wooded, grassy areas, especially in the spring, summer, and fall. The CDC monitors tick activity in the United States. To learn more about which types of ticks are in your area, check out their tick surveillance resources .