Stephanie Lantry, DVM
By Stephanie Lantry, DVM on May 8, 2020

How do ticks end up on your pet? Some common misconceptions are that ticks jump, fly, or fall from the trees. In fact, these are all false.

Ticks have pear-shaped bodies and four pairs of legs. Their body design, combined with their feeding needs for each part of their life cycle, determine how they get to their host to feed.

However, none of these modes of mobility include jumping. And since they don’t have wings, either, they can’t fly.

Here’s a breakdown of how ticks get around and how they find and attach to their hosts.

Questing: A Tick’s True Mode of Travel

Ticks are unique in that they are opportunistic creatures. They wait for their host to come to them. This is a process known as “questing.”

The very patient tick uses its rear pairs of legs to hold on to a leaf or blade of grass as it grabs on to the next host animal that brushes past it.

How Ticks Detect Nearby Hosts

The questing period is not completely passive and random. Ticks have perfected this mode of survival by using their senses to detect movement and carbon dioxide exhaled by animals.

This gives them a better chance of connecting with a host animal so that they can feed and survive. Many species of ticks need to feed on a bloodmeal in the periods between each life stage in order to grow.

How Ticks Choose a Host

Certain varieties of ticks have preferred hosts. For example, the deer tick (also known as the black-legged tick), prefers to feed on white-tailed deer. But if a dog presents itself as a convenient host, the tick may feed on the dog.

The American dog tick prefers the dog as a host, but it can feed on a human if need be. These examples simplify the selection process for hosts, which can be quite intricate and can even differ with each type of tick (soft or hard) and each stage in their life cycle.

But overall, despite the fact that they might have preferred hosts, ticks are opportunistic creatures. They will get their bloodmeal whenever they can. It’s all about what animal happens to brush by them so they can attach and feed.

How Ticks Attach

In many tick species, larvae quest at ground level, while adults climb higher in hopes of grabbing on to a larger animal as it passes by. Some ticks will attach quickly, while others crawl around on the host, looking for thinner skin to attach to.

These differences in tick location and attachment make it especially important to check your pet’s ears and the bottom of their paws to remove potential ticks that may have attached. Ticks will find the most hidden spots on your pet.

Tick Prevention

The best way to not have to worry about tick removal and the diseases that ticks transmit is to protect your pet from them in the first place.

Some flea and tick products can be applied topically, while others are worn as collars or taken orally. Discuss with your vet which flea and tick control options would be the safest and most effective for your pet.


Featured Image:

Stephanie Lantry, DVM


Stephanie Lantry, DVM


Dr. Lantry is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin native. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a veterinarian and worked towards that...

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