Common Tick Species that Affect Dogs and Cats

Written by:

Jennifer Kvamme, DVM
Published: February 15, 2012

Ixodidae Species that Affect Dogs and Cats


By Jennifer Kvamme, DVM

There are more than 650 species of hard ticks (part of the Ixodidae family). The adult tick has eight legs and mouthparts that attach and suck blood from the host animal until the tick is completely filled with blood. This blood meal allows the female tick to produce eggs and continue the life cycle of the tick.

Ticks find their hosts by climbing up onto blades of grass or tall weeds in order to grab onto a passing animal or human. This is called “questing.” They then find a suitable location on the animal to attach and feed for several hours, or even several days. Ticks are not only unsightly and disturbing to find on one’s body or one's dog or cat, they can also carry some serious diseases that can be transmitted to you and your pet. Here we will discuss some of the most common tick species affecting dogs and cats.


Deer Tick

Also known as the blacklegged tick, the deer tick will feed on several different hosts, including dogs, cats, and people. These ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas and prefer to feed on deer. They are very small, reddish brown in color, and turn a darker brown when filled with blood. The scientific name for this species of tick is Ixodes scapularis. This species can transmit diseases such as ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, and Lyme disease.

American Dog Tick


The scientific name for the American dog tick (or wood tick) is Dermacentor variabilis. This species of tick prefers to feed from dogs and humans. They are brown in color with white specks on the back. When fully engorged, they turn grayish and resemble a small bean or grape. You will encounter these types of ticks closer to water and in humid locations. Diseases transmitted to pets by the American dog tick include Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.




Lone Star Tick


Adult Lone Star ticks also live in wooded areas near water, such as along rivers and creeks. These small brown/tan colored ticks have a distinctive white spot on the middle of their backs (females) and are sometimes mistaken for deer ticks. Lone Star ticks will usually select cats, dogs, and humans as hosts. This species of tick can carry diseases such as ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia.


Brown Dog Tick

Also known as a house tick or kennel tick, the brown dog tick prefers dogs as its host. This species of tick rarely bites humans. The brown dog tick can survive indoors in houses and kennel environments, and complete its life cycle there. Because of this, these ticks are even found in colder climates all over the world, places inhospitable to most other species of ticks. While other species of ticks might be carried inside with pets and humans, they are not able to establish themselves in a household and cause an infestation like the brown dog tick can. This particular tick is not known to transmit any diseases to humans, but it can carry the organisms responsible for ehrlichiosis and a form of anaplasmosis in dogs and cats.

Regional Tick Species


A few other species of ticks that are found in specific locations in the U.S. are notable as well. The Western blacklegged tick, Ixodes pacificus, is found mainly on the western coast and is a major carrier of Lyme disease, as well as Rocky Mountain spotted fever.


Another species found on the west coast is Dermacentor occidentalis, or the Pacific coast tick. The RockyMountain wood tick, or Dermacentor andersoni, is one of the causes of tick paralysis in the western states and RockyMountain region of the U.S.

Because ticks are carriers of serious diseases for your pets, it pays to use flea and tick prevention medications and check your pets frequently for any ticks that might be present. Removal should be done quickly and carefully to limit exposure to potential problems.

Image: Dariusz Majgier / via Flickr