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Engorged Tick on Dog: What To Do (Removal & Symptoms)

This is not medical advice. For medical advice regarding pets, see your veterinarian.

Engorged ticks are ticks that are full of blood. If you see an engorged tick on your dog, make sure to remove it. You can either kill it or put it in a container and send it to a testing lab. Watch your dog for any symptoms following the bite.

Most of us can’t wait for the warm weather to come. More walks in the park or hiking in the woods for us and our dogs. But this is also the time when ticks come out.

Having a dog can be one of the most wonderful things in the world. They are loving and caring, they protect us and make us laugh. Unfortunately, they get sick too.

Knowing what to do when you find a tick and how to prevent your dog from getting more ticks when you go for a walk should be a part of any dog owner’s life.

In this article, you will find information about what an engorged tick is, what to do if you find one on your dog, if engorged ticks are dangerous, what diseases they transmit, and much more.

What Is a Tick?

A tick is an external parasite that can transmit certain bacteria that are dangerous to humans and pets. There are many species of ticks, and only a few can be infected.

The tick is a mite that parasitizes humans and other animals. Certain species of ticks can be infected with specific bacteria that are dangerous to humans and pets, especially dogs.

When the warm weather comes, ticks start to roam into the grass, waiting with their arms wide open (literally) for the next host that will provide them with shelter and food. 

Once they climb onto the host, ticks find an area and start to feed, growing in size. After several days of feeding, once they are engorged, they fall onto the ground. They then shed their skin (molt) to move on to the next stage.

A female tick lays up to 5,000 eggs at a time. After the eggs hatch, the biological cycle differs depending on the species. Most tick species have a three-phase cycle (three hosts): larva, nymph, and adult.[1]

Tick Mark on Dog skin

How Do Ticks Become Engorged?

A tick becomes engorged when it is full of blood. This happens in 3-5 days to larva[2], 2-3 days in nymphs, and 4-7 days in adult females[3]. Males do not become engorged because they do not feed.

Ticks do not have a head but a mouthpiece, which consists of several segments – the feeding tube is the most important.

Only ticks in the larva, nymph, and adult stages feed on blood. They climb on the host, cut the skin, and insert the feeding tube. 

Before they start to feed, ticks release saliva to numb the bite area. Their saliva is both an anesthetic and anticoagulant. Ticks release saliva and feed alternately through the same feeding tube.

Engorge is defined as “to suck blood to the limit of body capacity”.

Engorged ticks are globular and have a silver, green-gray, or even white hue. The unengorged ones are small, flat, oval-shaped, black, or brown.

Related: Engorged Deer Tick vs. Engorged Dog Tick

Engorged bean Tick close up

Are Engorged Ticks Dangerous to Dogs?

Engorged ticks are external parasites that can be dangerous to dogs. They look for dogs or other hosts to feed on. Through their saliva, they can transmit various diseases to pets and humans. Not all ticks are dangerous (infected with various bacteria).

An unfed or underfed tick cannot transmit diseases. It must pass a few days since it climbed on the host to become engorged and potentially dangerous.

Engorged ticks are dangerous, especially if they are infected. The bacteria they can transmit are numerous, but the most common are:

  • Anaplasma spp.
  • Ehrlichia spp.
  • Babesia spp.
  • Borrelia burgdorferi

Uninfected and infected engorged ticks can also cause local reactions (rashes) or granulomas if they are not removed properly.

Granuloma is a reaction of the immune system that occurs as a result of an irritating factor. In the case of ticks, granuloma occurs due to long-term exposure to its saliva. Granuloma can be successfully removed surgically.[4]

In general, most tick bites are harmless and do not require medical treatment.

Related: Can Ticks Kill Dogs?

How Do Engorged Ticks Transfer Diseases to Dogs?

It is important to note that only adult nymphs and females can transmit infectious diseases through their bites when they feed.

Depending on the species and the evolutionary stage of the tick, the preparation for feeding can take from 10 minutes to two hours. During this time ticks can:

  • Find their feeding place
  • Grab the skin
  • Cut into it to insert their feeding tube

To keep themselves firmly in place, certain species of ticks secrete a substance like cement or have barbs on their feeding tube.

Ticks are not born infected. If the host they feed on is infected, ticks will suck infected blood. The pathogens get in the tick’s body, in the midgut and salivary glands.[5]

Next time they feed on another host, the tick will inject the dangerous bacteria along with the saliva.

Engorged Ticks are Dangerous to Dogs

What to Do After Finding a Tick Full of Blood on a Dog

When you find a tick full of blood on your dog you have two options:

  • Send the tick to a lab for testing[6]
  • Kill the tick and note any symptoms in your dog (if any)

Do not wait for the tick to fall off on its own. It has to be removed as soon as possible.

Sending the tick to a lab for testing is a good choice because it can detect if the tick was infected fast. 15-20% of nymphs and 50% of adult females are infected with Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease pathogen). 

The tests have an accuracy of 99.9%. 

If you want to send it to a laboratory, carefully put the tick in a container or ziplock bag. Do not put ticks in alcohol, formalin, or saline. Ticks must be sent to the laboratory as soon as possible after removal.[7]

Problems and Diseases Caused by Engorged Ticks on Dogs

The most common diseases that ticks can transmit to dogs are anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, hepatozoonozis, and bartonellosis. 

All of the above-mentioned diseases are transmitted in the same way – a bite. One tick can transmit more than one disease.

The diseases that ticks transmit are called tick-borne diseases and pose a threat to both human and canine health.

Related: Ticks on Dogs Symptoms

1. Lyme disease

The infectious agent responsible for this disease is Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete bacterium that can be found in various tissues.

95% of dogs infected with Borrelia show no symptoms. Lyme disease symptoms appear about 2-5 months after a tick bite, but it can be treated with antibiotics if it’s detected in time.

If left untreated, Lyme disease can progress to kidney disease, which can be fatal to dogs. Dogs do not develop the characteristic bull’s-eye tick rash that is seen in humans.

sick dog on vet

2. Ehrlichiosis

Several species of ticks are infected with the pathogen that causes ehrlichiosis, Ehrlichia canis. This bacterium lives and infects white blood cells (leukocytes).

Ehrlichiosis has three phases: acute, subclinical, and chronic.

Symptoms occur in 1-3 weeks after the tick bite and include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Enlarged lymph nodes (sometimes)
  • Fever

In severe cases, dogs can show:

  • Uveitis
  • Neurological signs
  • Glomerulonephritis 
  • Increased globulin levels

Uveitis or the inflammation of the cornea can occur, as a result of prolonged stimulation of the immune system.

Glomerulonephritis can also occur and lead to significant protein loss through the urinary tract.

Increased globulin levels are almost always observed at this stage, while albumin levels are low.

Dogs diagnosed and treated early can have a good prognosis. Those who go through the chronic phase will have a difficult recovery.

3. Anaplasmosis

Anaplasmosis is transmitted by Ixodes ticks and is caused by two bacteria:

  • Anaplasma phagocytophilum or
  • A. platys – it was called Ehrlichia platys

The signs of the disease are similar to those of Borrelia spp. infection (Lyme disease). It is worth mentioning that in anaplasmosis, the number of platelets may decrease, which can cause bleeding disorders.

4. Rocky Mountain spotted fever (rickettsiosis)

This is one of the most common tick-borne diseases in humans and pets and is caused by the bacteria Rickettsia rickettsii.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Joint pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Neurological signs (occasional) – tremor
  • Cough
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling of the face or legs
  • Depression
  • Platelet counts may also decrease.

If the disease is diagnosed in the early stages and antibiotic treatment is started immediately, the recovery is favorable. If the diagnosis is delayed, or if the dog is infected with a large number of rickettsia, recovery becomes less favorable.

5. Babesiosis

This disease is caused by Babesia canis and is one of the most common diseases transmitted by ticks to dogs. Babesiosis can also be transmitted through:

  • The bite of an infected dog that has oral lesions or abrasions.
  • The placenta of a mother to her unborn puppies.
  • Transfusion with contaminated blood.

The main problem in babesiosis is the destruction of red blood cells.

Symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Jaundice
  • Coffee grounds urine – occurs due to the destruction of red blood cells.

If it is not intervened with the treatment in time, the dog may die.

How to Find Engorged Ticks on Dogs?

Engorged ticks are large, round, and easy to spot, especially in short-haired dogs. Do not confuse them with moles.

Even if they are large and it’s easy to notice them, engorged ticks can hide in the fur, between the skin folds, or toes.

All you have to do to find them is to check your dog from head to toe and insist on searching in the following areas:

  • Ears
  • Around the eyes
  • Under the chin on the neck
  • Subaxillary
  • Tail
  • Between the toes or skinfolds

Related: How to Find Ticks on Dogs

How to Find Engorged Ticks on Dogs

How to Remove Engorged Ticks from Dogs

Ticks are easy to remove once you know what to do. Tweezers are mostly used for removal, but there are other methods.

Use fine-tipped tweezers or special tweezers for ticks as follows:

  • Grab the tick as close as possible to the surface of the skin 
  • Pull up with constant and uniform pressure
  • Do not jerk or twist as you may break its mouthpiece in the skin.

You can remove the remaining tick pieces with tweezers or leave them there until the body removes them on its own (there is still a risk of infection).

Soaking a piece of cotton in alcohol

  • Soak a piece of cotton in alcohol 
  • Cover the tick with it
  • Leave it there for a few minutes 

The tick should come out on its own.

Related: How to remove a tick from a dog

How to Tell How Long a Tick Has Been on a Dog?

It is complicated to tell how long a tick has been on your dog, but not impossible. A tick needs at least 36 hours of feeding to be engorged. If you see an engorged tick on your dog, it means that it has been there for at least three days.

Body size of the tick Time
Small, flattened, and free (unattached) It just got on the animal
Small, flattened, and attached A few hours
Not very big, but it looks like it’s fed Up to 2 days
Engorged At least 1.5-3 days

Do Engorged Ticks Fall Off by Themselves?

Yes, engorged ticks tall off by themselves. They return to the environment once they finish feeding. The feeding period can last up to 10 days.

No matter its evolutionary stage, the tick falls back into the environment after it feeds to move on to the next phase.

Adult female ticks detach from the host and fall into the environment to look for a mate after they feed. After it reproduces, it lays eggs and dies soon.

Engorged Ticks Fall Off the dog

How to Prevent Engorged Ticks on Dogs

It is better to prevent than to treat. There are all kinds of methods to prevent engorged ticks, the most popular being the use of antiparasitic products monthly.

To prevent ticks you can:

  • Buy antiparasitic collars or other products for your dog
  • Look for ticks on your dog after every walk
  • Mow the lawn
  • Use antiparasitic substances in the yard and the dog’s cage

Related: How to Prevent Ticks on Dogs

FAQs

What Does an Engorged Tick Look Like on a Dog?

An engorged tick is large, round (globular), silver, gray-green or white. It likes to feed in the ear area, around the eyes, between the skin folds, subaxillary, or on the neck. It is easy to differentiate them from the unengorged ticks, which are small, flat, black, or brown.

What Do I Do If I Find an Engorged Tick on My Dog?

If you find an engorged tick on your dog, make sure to remove it as quickly as possible. Not all engorged ticks are dangerous, but the ones that carry diseases are. Consult your vet if your dog shows any symptoms following the bite.

About Iulia Mihai (DVM)

Dr. Iulia is a certified veterinarian with more than 10 years of experience in the field. With extensive knowledge of diet, care, and medication, she helps Misfit Animals provide readers with accurate knowledge on technical topics.