What Does a Tick Look Like on a Dog?

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
By Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Jul. 21, 2022

You’ve just moved to New England with your dog and locals have mentioned to keep an eye out for ticks. How do you know if your dog has ticks? What do you do when you find one? How do you prevent tick bites on your dog? Read on to learn about ticks and how they can impact your dog.

Why Should I Check My Dog for Ticks?

Daily tick checks are just part of life for those who live in “tick country,” which unfortunately encompasses most of the United States.

These small parasites can carry some possibly fatal diseases including:

Dogs can carry hitchhiking ticks into the house, where they are free to attach to other members of the family. Checking your dog regularly for ticks ensures your pet is up to date on its flea and tick preventions. It is the best way to keep you and your pets safe from the diseases listed above.  

Common Diseases Spread by Ticks

Unfortunately, ticks are capable of spreading many different diseases, due in part to a unique life cycle. Most ticks will feed on different species of mammals during different stages of development. A deer tick is most associated with Lyme disease, and in its youngest stage (the larva) it may choose to feed on white-footed mice; in the middle stage (the nymph), feeds on white-tailed deer; and the final stage (adult) may feed on humans.

What Do Ticks Look Like on a Dog?

Ticks can be surprisingly difficult to locate and identify on dogs because they are small and hard to find in the thick fur. Many pet parents don’t know what a tick looks like, and veterinarians frequently see ticks that have been misidentified as skin tags or nipples. When in doubt, have your vet check it out.

How To Find Ticks on Dogs

Checking your dog closely every time he or she comes inside is helpful in locating recently attached ticks. The best-case scenario is to find the tick when it’s still moving across the coat and looking for a place to attach. The tick hasn’t done any damage at that stage and is usually very simple to remove.

To find ticks on a dog, roll the fur back with your fingertips and look for anything unusual. Starting with the tail and work your way toward the head. You will want to feel for anything with a scab or a raised bump on the pet’s skin.

The most likely areas to spot a tick is around the head, face, and any of the thinner-haired parts of the body. Ticks are lazy, and if they don’t have to work hard to get to the skin, they will settle in there. Plus, dogs tend to lead with the head when sniffing around in brush, which gives the tick a quick, easy place to attach.

Look closely around the ears, eyes, mouth, and neck as well as the thin fur on the belly. Don’t forget the nooks and crannies like toes, under the tail, and even in the mouth.

An embedded tick starts out tiny in many cases. Some ticks, like the young blacklegged tick, can be smaller than a pencil point. Therefore, most veterinarians recommend using tick preventatives rather than relying on finding the tick as it can be nearly impossible to see.

As they feed, ticks will enlarge and can even double or triple their size. When you see them, you will note that the head disappears in the dog’s body, and you will just see a rounded, darkened abdomen protruding from the skin. Many people mistake ticks for moles and skin tags, but if it sticks out of the dog’s skin, consider the possibility that a tick has attached itself.

I Found a Tick on My Dog; Now What?

First off, don’t panic. Look closely to ensure it’s a tick you are about to remove and not a skin tag. You can also snap a photo for your veterinarian to confirm the finding. Follow directions carefully on how to safely remove ticks.

Using a pair of tweezers, gently grasp the tick where the head meets the dog’s skin and pull it straight out. Ideally, you don’t want to twist or otherwise mangle the tick because it’s possible to further embed the head into your dog. Once you have a grip on it, you will be able to guide it out of your pup.

Pay attention to how to dispose of a tick properly, including storing it in a container so your veterinarian can possibly test it to determine the type of tick and what your dog may have been exposed to from the bite.

How To Prevent Ticks on Dogs

The best way to never deal with a tick on your dog is good prevention. There are many products available including topicals (such as Vectra), orals (such as Nexgard and Bravecto), and collars (such as Seresto). These, combined with daily skin checks of your pet, will provide the best protection for your whole family (pets and humans included). Prevention is certainly the best solution.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Xsandra

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

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