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Wood Ticks on Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

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Wood ticks, also known as American dog ticks, are the main spreaders of Rocky Mountain spotted fever disease in dogs and humans. This species of ticks have a specific pattern on their back, making them easy to distinguish. Wood ticks can be removed with common tweezers or tick tools.

There are many species of ticks, but only a few can parasitize your dog, including wood ticks. 

Ticks can transmit a variety of diseases to pets and humans. Wood ticks are carriers of the pathogens that cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

It is important to apply antiparasitic substances regularly and check your dog for ticks after each walk, especially during the months when the tick population is growing.

In this article, you will learn what a wood tick is, how it looks, if wood ticks are dangerous to dogs, how to repel them, and more.

What Is a Wood Tick?

Wood ticks (Dermacentor variabilis) are external parasites that parasitize dogs and other mammals. They are also known as “American dog ticks”. Wood ticks can spread dangerous diseases to dogs and humans, especially Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and tick paralysis. 

Wood ticks are members of the family Ixodidae (hard-bodied ticks) and are found in areas with dense forests, tall grass, and shrubs, or in any place where animals live. 

Geographically, they are found mainly on the West Coast and the East of the U.S.A.

Ticks are more common during the warmer months of the year, but can also be found in the cold season depending on how mild the winter is.

What Is a Wood Tick

Wood Tick Life Cycle

Wood ticks are hard-bodied ticks with four life stages: 

  1. Egg.
  2. Larva.
  3. Nymph.
  4. Adult.

From the larval stage, wood ticks parasitize certain mammals to feed on their blood.

They feed on three hosts in their lifetime (like most hard-bodied tick species):

  • Larvae and nymphs prefer humans, rodents, and livestock.
  • Adult wood ticks prefer medium-sized hosts, such as skunks, raccoons, cats, dogs, and coyotes.[1]

Wood ticks differentiate sexually in males and females from the nymph stage. Only females become engorged. Wood tick males reproduce with a female while she feeds on blood. Males die after mating, while females die after laying eggs.

Wood ticks can live up to two years if they aren’t killed or otherwise disturbed.

Tick life cycle
Image Source

What Does a Wood Tick Look Like?

Wood tick larvae and nymphs have three pairs of legs, while adults have four. 

Females are larger than males. While both sexes have a scutum[2] (“shield”) on their backs, it differentiates in appearance:

  • Females’ scutum is smaller and located behind the mouthparts (a half scutum).[3]
  • Males’ scutum covers their entire back (a complete scutum).

Their mouthpieces are visible when ticks are viewed from above, as opposed to soft-bodied ticks.

Related: What Does a Tick Look Like on a Dog?

TraitAdult Wood Tick
ColorReddish-brown or dark-brown with brown legs.
Engorged colorGray or dark red (almost black).
ScutumFemales have off-white scutum with a faded pattern.Males have white and silver marbled markings on their scutum, which cover their entire back.
Body OrnamentsThe margins of the abdomen in both sexes have festoons.[4]
SizeThe size of an apple seed when they are unfed.They can triple their size (at least) when engorged.

Wood Ticks on Dog Symptoms

Symptoms of wood ticks on dogs include intense scratching, yelping, or overgrooming. When engorged, wood ticks become larger and more visible, making it easier to remove them. 

Dogs can experience the following symptoms when parasitized by wood ticks:

  • Intense itching.
  • Scratching.
  • Overgrooming.
  • Yelping when ticks bite.
  • Red bumps or lumps on its body.
  • Skin rash.
  • Head shaking if a tick is in your dog’s ear canal.

Dogs sensitive to tick saliva can develop local or generalized allergic reactions that can be manifested by:

  • Generalized skin rash.
  • Scratching.
  • Excessive licking.
  • Hot spots.
  • Fur loss.

Check your dog for ticks if you notice strange behavior or any of the symptoms described above after you return from a walk.

Signs of Ticks on Dogs
Image Source

Are Wood Ticks Dangerous to Dogs?

Wood ticks are dangerous because they can transmit diseases to dogs and humans. These diseases can endanger your pet’s life if treatment is not initiated in time.

Ticks can generally transmit a variety of diseases to dogs and humans. These are called tick-borne diseases. Not all species of ticks are vectors (carriers) of the same diseases. 

Wood ticks can transmit the following diseases:

  • Tick paralysis
  • Tularemia
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Ehrlichia

Tick Paralysis

Dermacentor ticks (D. andersoni and D. variabilis) and other species can induce tick paralysis in dogs by releasing a neurotoxin through their saliva as they feed. Tick paralysis only occurs when the ticks are gravid and engorged.[5]

Symptoms begin to occur on average 6-9 days after the tick has become attached. 

Symptoms manifest through several behavioral changes:

  • Uncoordinated walk
  • Paresis in the hind limbs
  • Inability to stand
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting

As the neurotoxin spreads through your dog’s body, it becomes unable to move its limbs and head.

The death of the pet happens due to paralysis of the diaphragm, intercostal muscles, and muscles of the upper and lower airways, which causes respiratory failure.

Your dog will show symptoms until the tick is removed. The most effective treatment is to remove the tick. Your pet will be administered supportive treatment after tick removal.

Tick Paralysis


Tularemia (rabbit fever) is a disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. It is commonly found in rabbits and other rodents. This disease forms masses and abscesses similar to tumors in the liver of the infected animal.

The infection is uncommon in dogs[6], but they can become infected in several ways:

  • Eating infected body tissues or fluids.
  • Contaminated water.
  • Insect and tick bites (including wood ticks).

Tularemia symptoms in dogs:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Mild fever
  • Lethargy
  • Eye problems (less common)
  • Abscesses
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

This disease is not lethal and can be treated with antibiotics.

Infected dogs can transmit tularemia to people through bites and scratches.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by an intracellular organism, Rickettsia rickettsii. This organism is transmitted to dogs through wood tick bites, among other tick species.[7]

Wood ticks have to be attached for at least 10 hours to transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever. If the infected tick is already fed when it bites your dog, it can transmit Rickettsia rickettsii within ten minutes of attachment.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Rocky Mountain spotted fever symptoms:

  • Muscle, joint, and abdominal pain.
  • Lameness.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Swelling of the face or legs.
  • Fever.
  • Lethargy.
  • Appetite loss.
  • Eye/nose discharge.
  • Nosebleed.
  • Anemia.
  • Cough.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes.

Some dogs can also experience the following clinical signs:

  • Tiny hemorrhages in the skin.
  • Spinal pain.
  • Lack of coordination.
  • Weakness.
  • Balance problems.
  • Seizures.

This disease can become fatal if the treatment is not initiated in time. Treatment consists of the administration of antibiotics, supportive therapy, and transfusion (in cases of severe anemia).

How To Remove Wood Ticks From Dogs

Removing a wood tick from your dog is easy, especially if the tick is engorged. Remove the tick completely and avoid leaving its mouthpiece buried in your dog’s skin as this can cause a local infection.

It is recommended to check your dog for ticks after each walk. This way, the tick won’t have time to transmit diseases or become engorged.

You can use tweezers to remove ticks immediately. There are many methods to remove ticks but using tweezers is the most efficient.

How to Remove Dead Ticks From Dogs

How to remove wood ticks with tweezers:

  • Grab the wood tick with the tweezers as close as possible to your dog’s skin.
  • Pull up firmly.
  • Dispose of the tick.
  • Inspect the bitten area.
  • Extract the buried mouthpieces with a sterile needle (or go to the vet), if that’s the case.
  • Disinfect the bitten area.
  • Monitor your pet for tick-borne disease symptoms.

Best Wood Tick Repellents for Dogs

Wood ticks repellents are antiparasitic substances applied preventively or as a treatment. The most commonly used are spot-on pipettes or antiparasitic control collars. You can also try more natural repellent methods, such as essential oils.

Although antiparasitic substances are much more effective at repelling ticks on dogs than natural methods, they can cause allergic reactions in dogs and even death.

The most commonly used antiparasitic products are spot-on pipettes, collars, or sprays. 

If you are a fan of using natural products, you can try to repel ticks on your dog with lemon or essential oils. Add 20 drops of eucalyptus essential oil to 30 ml of water in a spray bottle and spray your dog’s fur (especially its legs) once every two days.


How Long Do Wood Ticks Stay Attached to a Dog?

Tick larvae stay attached for an average of 3-5 days, nymphs for 3-4 days, and adults can stay attached for up to ten days.

How Long Do Wood Ticks Live?

Wood ticks have a two-year life cycle if they are undisturbed. Adult wood ticks can live 2-3 years without food if they have the right environmental conditions.

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.

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