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How Long Can a Tick Stay on a Dog? When Do They Fall Off?

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

The time a tick stays attached to dogs depends on its biological stage. A tick larva can remain attached for about three days, a nymph for five days, and an adult tick for up to ten days. The longer a nymph or adult is attached to your dog’s skin, the greater the risk of transmitting dangerous diseases to your pet.

Dogs are entirely covered in hair, making them the perfect place for a tick to hide, feed, and reproduce.

Ticks feed until they become engorged (full of blood), then detach, drop off and look for a place to molt and evolve into the next biological stage or lay eggs and die.

A tick bite can cause your dog to become agitated. In the worst cases, ticks can make dogs sick. The sooner you remove a tick, the lower the risk of transmitting pathogens to your dog.

In this article, you will find out how long a tick can be attached to your dog, what happens if you let a tick stay attached for too long, and more.

How Long Will a Tick Stay On My Dog?

In general, tick larvae stay attached for 2-3 days, nymphs for 3-5 days, and adults for 7-10 days. The time a tick stays on your dog depends on the parasite’s life cycle, its species, and other factors. Ticks usually detach when they have finished feeding or if they are removed.

The period a tick can stay attached to your dog depends on several factors:

  • The tick’s species: Deer ticks or black-legged ticks are slow feeders, needing more time to become full of blood.[1]
  • How quickly you remove it: Ticks won’t stay attached for more than a day if you check your dog regularly.
  • The tick’s life stage: Larvae, nymphs, and adults have different time frames in which they feed and stay attached.
  • Your dog’s immune system: If your dog scratches intensely, it can make a tick come off faster.

How Your Dog’s Immune System Impacts Ticks

Ticks inject saliva at the bite site so they can feed[2]. Their saliva can be irritating, causing the organism to react (sensitizing). This sensitization of your dog’s body to the specific proteins in ticks’ saliva leads to an allergic reaction, causing your pet to itch.

As your dog starts to scratch the bite site or a larger area, the tick has a difficult time staying attached.

How Your Dog's Immune System Impacts Ticks

Attachment Time Based on Life Stage

Larvae, nymphs, and adult ticks spend a different amount of time on a host to feed. They stay attached until they finish feeding (become engorged). A tick can reattach to another host if its feeding was interrupted.

Tick’s life stage How long it can stay attached
Larvae 3-5 days
Nymphs 3-4 days
Adult females 7-10 days
Adult males Indefinitely – they alternate feeding and mating.

Ticks that did not become engorged before detaching will search for a new host to attach themselves to and finish their feeding cycle[3]. For this reason, it is very important to make sure you dispose of ticks properly after removing them.

Larva

Tick larvae are very small (~0.5 mm) and difficult to notice. They remain attached to your dog’s skin to finish feeding for about 3-5 days if they are not disturbed.[4]

Nymph

Nymphs are the size of a poppy seed before attaching to a dog. They become more visible as they feed on blood. They stay attached for an average of three days.

Adult

Adult ticks are the easiest to spot. They can stay on your dog for an average of 4-7 days to finish feeding. Adult ticks have been recorded living on dogs for up to ten days In some cases.

Tick life cycle
Image Source

How to Tell How Long a Tick Has Been Attached

Identifying ticks can be difficult because they change their appearance as they feed. You can tell how long a tick has been attached by its size, shape, and color.

Engorged ticks are the easiest to notice because they are large, globular, and have a characteristic hue. Ticks need at least 36 hours of attachment to reach this stage.

Related: How to tell how long a tick has been attached to a dog

Feeding stage Body size of the tick Attachment Time
Unengorged Small, flattened, and unattached. ~0 hours
Ungengorged Small, flattened, but attached. A few hours
Partially engorged Wrinkly appearance, green/silver hue ~24 hours
Moderately engorged Globular, green/silver/pink/yellowish hue ~48 hours
Very engorged Globular, green/silver/pink/yellowish hue At least 72 hours

You will never be able to say for sure how long a tick has been attached to your dog unless you have kept it under observation for the entire duration.

What Happens if You Leave a Tick on a Dog for Too Long?

Letting a tick stay attached to your dog’s skin for too long increases the risk of the tick transmitting diseases. A tick can transmit dangerous diseases to dogs within 36 hours of attachment. Remove a tick as soon as you notice it and keep your pet under observation.

Ticks are not born infected with various pathogens. They become infected in the larval stage during their first meal from an infected host. Larvae usually prefer small mammals, such as the white-footed mouse[5]. They rarely parasitize dogs at this stage.

Larvae won’t infect new hosts if they don’t finish feeding on their first infected host. The tick has to develop into the nymph stage to become infectious.

The most common diseases ticks transmit to dogs are:

  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Lyme disease
  • Babesiosis
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Anaplasmosis
dog on vet

How Does a Tick Bite on a Dog Look After It Detaches?

Tick bites look like most insect bites. They are red, swollen, and can be itchy. Some dogs can be allergic to tick saliva. These develop a generalized rash that manifests through intense itching, scratching, and large areas of skin inflammation.

You may notice a small bump or red rash at the bite site after a tick is removed or detached. This bump usually resolves itself in 2-3 days but can last up to a month in some cases.

Ticks can also leave a hard lump (granuloma) at the bite site if you failed to remove it properly.

When to Call the Vet

Contact your veterinarian in the following situations:

  • When you don’t know how to remove a tick properly.
  • If the tick’s mouthpiece remained attached to your dog’s skin.
  • If the tick bite has become infected.
  • When your dog is acting strangely after it was bitten by a tick.
  • If you notice any signs of tick-borne diseases.
  • Whenever you are in doubt.

FAQs

How Long Can a Tick Live on a Dog?

A tick lives on a dog until it finishes feeding. Tick larvae can live on a dog for about five days, a nymph for four, and an adult tick for up to ten days.

Can a Tick Die on My Dog?

Ticks can die within four hours of attaching themselves if your dog has an antiparasitic treatment applied. Otherwise, ticks need to finish feeding, drop off your pet, and then evolve. Female ticks die in nature after they lay eggs, while male ticks can die in your dog’s fur after they reproduce.

What Happens When a Tick Dies on a Dog?

The tick detaches if it dies while attached to a dog. Otherwise, nothing happens when a tick dies on your dog. Your dog will clean it off.

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.