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What Do Ticks Look Like on Dogs? (5 Harmful Types of Ticks)

Depending on the biological and feeding stage, ticks range from 0.5 to 3 mm in size. They can be dark (black or brown) or light in color, flat or like a bump, smooth or wrinkly.

Ticks are found on our dogs almost all year round, but especially from March to October. 

They grab your pet’s coat and find an area to feed on. The most common areas where you can find ticks are ears, eyes, under the neck or armpits, between the skinfolds or toes.

All three stages of a tick can feed on the blood of your dog and transmit dangerous diseases and infections.

Dogs in poor condition may have a massive tick infestation, where ticks can be found in clusters from place to place in various areas of the body. Even if you take good care of your dog, you may still find a tick attached to its skin once in a while.

If you find a tick, don’t panic, remove it immediately and disinfect the bitten area.

In this article, you will learn what ticks look like, what types of ticks are harmful, how to distinguish them from each other, and more.

What Do Ticks Look Like?

Unfed ticks are dark and flat, while fed ticks are globular, light in color, and larger than unfed ones. Nymphs are smaller than adults.

A female tick lays thousands of eggs at once. The eggs are brown-red in color and translucent. They are sometimes easier to spot than ticks themselves. [1] 

If you find a batch of tick eggs, add salt to dry them out.

Tick larvae are smaller than a poppy seed (about 0.5 mm), dark-colored, and very hard to notice, no matter if they are fed or not. 

Tick nymphs are about 1 mm in size, dark-colored, and pretty easy to notice, especially if they are fed.

When it comes to adult ticks, depending on their species, they can be brown-red, black, and sometimes even lighter in color. 

Hard-bodied female ticks are larger than males. Only female ticks feed on blood and become engorged. 

You can also tell a larva and nymph from an adult by looking at its legs. Larvae and nymphs have six legs, while adult ticks have eight.

Many times we can’t see the ticks on our dogs. Feel for them with your fingertips.

Tick Mark on Dog skin

Tick or Mole on Dog

Ticks can easily be confused with dark skin tags, moles, and other hard lumps. You have to look closely to tell the difference.

Ways to differentiate a tick from a mole:

  • Color: Dark, prominent moles are softer and have a larger attachment base than a tick
  • Skin and fur color: If your pet has light-colored skin and fur, it is easier to distinguish between them
  • Placement: If the bump is between the toes, behind, or inside the ears, it is probably a tick

If you are unsure what the bump is, wait a while to see if it gets bigger or use a magnifier; if you see legs, it’s a tick. If you still can’t handle it, seek the help of a veterinarian.

What Does an Embedded Tick Look Like on a Dog?

A tick cannot embed itself completely under the skin, only with the mouthpieces. An embedded tick looks like a shiny bump if it’s fed.

An unfed tick can go unnoticed if it is embedded in the skin, but as it feeds, its body will enlarge and become visible.

There is not much difference between a fed tick that is normally attached and one that is embedded. The only difference is that an embedded tick buries a bigger part of its “head” in your dog’s skin.

Embedded ticks can be mistaken for a skin cyst, mole, or dark skin tag. They can be so deep in the skin that you can no longer see their feet.

Make sure you differentiate them properly before removal.

Engorged Ticks Fall Off the dog

What does an Engorged Tick Look Like on a Dog?

Engorged ticks are fully fed ticks. It takes them three to seven days of feeding to become engorged, depending on the tick’s biological stage. They are bigger, rounder, and lighter in color than unfed ticks.

For a tick to become engorged, it needs to consume blood for several days in a row depending on the evolutionary stage of its life:

  • 3-5 days for larvae[2]
  • 2-3 days for nymphs
  • 4-7 days for adult females[3]

Only female ticks feed. Male ticks do not feed, but you can still find them loose in your dog’s fur.

Engorged ticks look like a small grape; they are oval or round-ish and have a silver, green-gray, or even white hue. Partially engorged ticks look more like raisins.

Related: Engorged Tick on Dog

What does an Engorged Tick Look Like on a Dog

What Does a Flat Tick Look Like on a Dog?

A flat tick is one that has not fed and looks like a flattened mole or a dark skin tag. There are many species of ticks, and they come in many sizes and shapes. They are generally small, oval, dark-colored, and flat. 

Unfed, flat ticks look like a dark skin tag or a small mole. A tick can be easily differentiated from a mole by looking at its legs. Depending on the biological stage of the tick, you will see six or eight legs.

If the tick is embedded, you will only see its abdomen as the mouthpieces penetrate deep into the skin.

Make sure you differentiate flat ticks from moles or other skin marks properly before trying to remove them.

What Does a Dead Tick Look Like on a Dog?

Dead ticks on dogs can look dried, wrinkly, flat, or engorged. Their appearance mainly depends on how much they ate before dying and how long it has been since they died.

Tick species and life stages vary in size. You can find both dead larvae, nymphs, or adults on your dog.

If the tick fed before it died, it would look wrinkled as it began to dehydrate. The unfed ones are flat and dry if it has been a while since they died.

You can find loose or attached dead ticks on a dog.

To find out if a tick on your dog is alive or dead, you can look at its feet.

  • Dead tick: the legs are curled under its torso
  • Live tick: the legs can be seen immediately behind the mouthpiece, on the sides of the torso

Related: Dried Dead Tick on Dog

Bull’s-eye Tick Bite On Dogs

What Does a Soft-Bodied Tick Look Like?

Soft-bodied ticks have a rounded body, are light-colored, and the head and mouthparts are hidden underneath the body. Their feeding usually lasts from a few minutes to an hour. Some species may produce large and painful bruises at the bite site.

Soft ticks have a variable number of biological stages. These depend on the species and the availability of food (blood).[4]

Soft-bodied ticks, such as Ornithodoros coriaceus, can cause painful bruising to their hosts. They prefer to feed mainly on the blood of bats and birds, but there are also rare cases when they parasitize dogs or cats.

Soft ticks have wrinkled bodies because they lack a scutum (back shell). They are lighter in color, and the males are almost the same size as females.[5]

From above, soft-bodied ticks look like they have no head, but their mouthparts are hidden underneath their body.

What Does a Hard Bodied Tick Look Like?

Hard-bodied ticks have a scutum on their back, like a plate, are oval, dark-colored, and their mouthpiece is visible. Adult males have a different coloration than females.

Hard ticks have three stages that feed on blood, no matter the species.

When they find a host, hard ticks attach to it and feed for approximately seven days, depending on their biological stage.

Hard ticks have oval bodies, are dark in color, and have visible mouthparts. Depending on the species, they can be brown-reddish or black. Male ticks are smaller than females, and do not feed on blood; their only purpose is to reproduce.

This type of tick is the one you commonly find on your dog.

How to Find Engorged Ticks on Dogs

Harmful Types of Ticks on Dogs

Ticks are known to transmit various diseases through their saliva to their hosts, especially humans and dogs. The dangerous ones are hard-bodied ticks. A tick can transmit more than one pathogen to your dog .

There are many species of ticks but the most common ones that parasitize dogs are:          

  • Black-Legged Tick
  • Brown dog tick
  • Lone star tick
  • American dog tick

Some of these species can transmit various diseases to dogs, especially Lyme disease.

Tick speciesTraits
Ixodes spp. (black-legged tick)– Black legs, oval and flat body
– Black, hexagonal mouthparts
– Females are brown-orange
– Males are brown with white margins
– Brown dot on their back – scutum
Rhipicephalus sanguineus (brown dog tick)– Flat, oval body
– Brown color
– Males are darker
Amblyomma americanum (lone star tick)– Not as round bodies
– Females have a white spot on their back that looks like a drop of paint
– Males are dark brown and rusty
Dermacentor variabilis (American dog tick)– Oval, flat body
– Males have a white and brown marbled pattern on the back
– Females have white to almost white markings

Black-Legged Tick

The black-legged ticks are ticks with black legs. This category includes the Ixodes species, named after their black legs.

Ixodes species have an oval and flat body that is brown-orange in color and black, hexagonal mouthparts. They are also identified by the brown dot (scutum) on their back.

Adult males are smaller than females and are brown with white margins.

Ixodes scapularis (also known as the deer tick), is the best-known species of tick that can transmit the spirochete bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) which is responsible for Lyme disease[6] and Anaplasma spp.[7]

Black-Legged Tick

Brown Dog Tick

Rhipicephalus sanguineus, known as the brown dog tick, is the most widespread tick in the world[8] and is responsible for transmitting Rickettsia rickettsii, the pathogen for Rocky Mountain spotted fever in dogs.

It has a brown color and a flat, oval body. Males and females adult ticks look alike, but the male is darker in color.

They are found in a variety of environments:

  • Houses
  • Dog shelters
  • Groomers
  • Fields and meadows

When checking for this tick, check the following areas where they commonly attach themselves:

  • Around the head
  • Ear
  • Legs
  • Between the toes

Lone Star Tick

Amblyomma americanum or lone star tick is a species of tick that hunts its host. They are found in fields and areas with bushes.

Their bodies are less rounded than in other species. The female has a white spot on her back that looks like a drop of paint. Males do not have a white spot and are dark brown and rusty.

Lone star ticks can transmit ehrlichiosis to dogs.

American Dog Tick

The Dermacentor variabilis, known as the American dog tick, is a tick species with an oval, flat body. Males have a white and brown marbled pattern on the back, and females have white to almost white markings.

Larvae and nymphs prefer to parasitize small mammals, while adults prefer dogs.

The American dog tick is considered a vector for Ehrlichia canis.[9]

How to Find Ticks on Your Dog?

The most common and effective way to find ticks on your dog is to check your pet after each walk from head to toe. The most visible and easy to find are engorged ticks. 

Engorged ticks are big and round and can stick up from your pet’s fur if it has a short coat. They can also hide in the fur, between the toes or skinfolds.

No matter the size of the tick, it is advisable to control your pet thoroughly after each walk, regardless if it has antiparasitic substances on it.

Check your dog from head to toe and inspect every little black or brown bump or mark.

Insist on searching in the following areas:

  • Around the ears
  • Around the eyes
  • Under the chin on the neck
  • Under the armpits
  • Between the toes or skinfolds

How to Remove Ticks From Dogs?

The most common way to remove ticks is by using tweezers:

  • Split the hair in two where you found the tick
  • Grab it with the tweezers as close as possible to the skin
  • Pull up with force and pressure
  • Do not jerk or twist
  • Make sure the mouthparts did not remain in the skin
  • Disinfect the area
About Dennis Stapleton

Dennis Stapleton has a passion for animals, especially dogs, and their relatives. He’s intrigued by their social structure and loves to write and teach about the world's most popular pet animal.

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