Why Are Ticks So Dangerous To Dogs?

Ticks are gross.

You know it, I know it, everybody knows it.

But, did you know they’re so much more than that?

They can also be pretty dangerous to you, your kids, and most commonly, your pets. The truth is that they carry disease and toxins that can lead to some serious health symptoms and even death… in as little as hours, before you even realize your pet has one.

What Are Ticks?

You may think of ticks as insects, but you’d be wrong.

Ticks actually aren’t insects at all. They’re ectoparasitic arthropods; arthropods are invertebrates that have external skeletons and legs with joints and they are considered ectoparasites because they are parasites that live on the outside of the host. They’re not spiders, either, even though some species have 8 legs.

Ticks are a type of mite and while all ticks are mites, not all mites are ticks. It’s an odd thing, but even the word “tick” is a bit odd because it comes from Dutch and means “pat” or “touch”. This has been applied in other instances, as well, such as plants that have seeds that stick to the fur of animals and clothing.


They eat only blood, but some species can be particular about the types of hosts that they will bite. Some have adapted to prefer deer, others have adapted to prefer birds. Others don’t particularly care what host they’re on and will pick anything, from a deer to your dog to you.

Hard vs Soft Ticks

Some tick species have a hard plate on their backs that keep them from being able to eat very quickly; these can generally require many days of being attached before they can complete a meal. They just can’t eat as fast as soft ticks.

Soft ticks don’t have a plate at all on their backs and can become very large in a short period of time. When a soft tick is gorging, they can become as big or bigger than a green pea.

What Types Are Most Common?

American Dog Tick

This is one of the most common ticks in the United States and covers from the central US to the east coast and all of the California coastline.

Diseases: Tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/geographic_distribution.html

Blacklegged Tick

This tick prowls around any time temperatures are above the freezing point, so it being technically winter might not save you from being bitten.

Diseases: Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan disease

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/geographic_distribution.html

Brown Dog Tick

This tick mostly bites dogs, but can be found on other animals and humans, as well. It’s sighted all across the United States.

Diseases: Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Gulf Coast Tick

The gulf coast tick feeds on birds and small rodents when young and adults feed on deer and other animals.

Diseases: Rickettsiosis

Lone Star Tick

The lone star tick is common in the eastern United States and is one of the easiest to identify, as the females have a white dot on their backs.

Diseases: Ehrlichia chaffeensis and Ehrlichia ewingii, tularemia, STARI

Rocky Mountain Wood Tick

This tick is common only in the Rocky Mountains of the United States. Adult ticks are known for transmitting Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Diseases: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, and tularemia

Western Blacklegged Tick

These ticks are often found on lizards and other small wildlife. Because of this, infection rates in humans are around 1%.

Diseases: Anaplasmosis, lyme disease

How Do They Get On My Dog?

Ticks wait in the grass and on other foliage for your pet to pass by and when they do, they hitch a ride. Even if your dog spends most of their time inside, though, they can still get ticks.

What Is Their Life Cycle?

Hard Ticks

Most ticks have 4 stages of life that they go through: egg,  six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and their final adult form. They have to eat blood at each stage to live, but will usually only feed one time during each stage.

Blacklegged tick life cycle. Source: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/life_cycle_and_hosts.html

Soft Ticks

Soft ticks don’t really have distinguishable stages like hard ticks do. They will often feed multiple times during a stage of growth and the females will lay batches of eggs between meals. Their full life cycle is longer and can last several years and can even live for years without eating. They will also infest your pet’s bedding and reproduce there, waiting for your pet to come back so they can feed again.

What Diseases Do They Carry?


Babesia is caused by a parasite called Babesia and is often a tick-borne infection. When babesia is discovered, it’s common for the dog to have other tick-borne illnesses, as well, and those illnesses can interact with each other. Severely infected dogs should be hospitalized.

To avoid the likelihood of a babesia infection, remove ticks from your dog as soon as you discover them, because they take 2 to 3 days to infect them with the parasite.


  • Anemia
  • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
  • Blood clotting
  • Neurological symptoms
  • Liver disease
  • Lack of energy
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Pale gums

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

This is caused by a parasite that lives in ticks called Rickettsia rickettsii and is transmitted through tick saliva onto the host.

This is another disease that can be transmitted from your dog to you or vice versa. If you don’t treat this early enough, it can kill you or your pet.


  • Stiffness when walking that resembles arthritis
  • Neurological symptoms
  • Humans develop a rash, dogs do not
  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Joint pain
  • Bleeding around eyes & mouth
  • Loss of coordination
  • Blood in urine
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Depression
  • Lethargy

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is one of the most well known tick-borne diseases in the world. It is transmitted by blacklegged ticks (deer ticks) and the western black-legged tick. The disease is transmittable to dogs and humans alike from either and it can mimic other diseases. It can lead to kidney failure and death in severe cases.

Symptoms in dogs can be more difficult to detect and may not show up for months after the initial infection.

Symptoms include:

  • Spontaneous leg lameness lasting 3 to 4 days
  • Not wanting to move
  • Fatigue/tired


Ehrlichiosis comes in different forms in different regions of the US and all are zoonotic; that is, they can be transmitted from pets to humans. They are not safe for children, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems to be around.

Symptoms of Ehrlichia canis:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Runny eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Nose bleeds
  • Joint pain/lameness
  • Depression
  • Bruising on belly or gums

Symptoms of Ehrlichia ewingii:

  • Lethargy
  • Shifting leg lameness
  • Lack of appetite


Anaplasmosis is found in a couple of different forms in dogs and can be transmitted to humans.

Symptoms of Anaplasma phagocytophilum:

  • Leg lameness
  • Not wanting to move
  • Neurological pain or neck pain
  • Lack of appetite

Symptoms of Anaplasma platys:

  • Bruising on the belly or gums
  • Spontaneous nosebleeds


Bartonellosis is caused by the bacteria Bartonella, which can affect both cats and humans as well as dogs. When humans are infected with it, it’s called cat scratch fever, even though you can get it from dogs.

Symptoms of Canine Bartonellosis:

  • Fever
  • Enlargement of spleen and liver
  • Lameness
  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Swelling of lymph nodes
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Seizures
  • Arthritis
  • Nasal discharge
  • Pain

Tick paralysis

Tick paralysis is a tad bit scary, to be honest. It is a result of a toxin that is released by females of certain species of ticks (up to 40 different species, including the deer tick) and it is the only tick-borne disease that is not the result of a parasite or bacteria and is the only one that can be cured by removal of the tick.

It takes 2 to 7 days for a host to show symptoms, but t he symptoms are as you would expect by the name: paralysis. It begins with weakness in the legs and progresses to the chest, arms, head, often within hours, and can lead to respiratory failure and even death.


  • Weakness of the legs
  • Respiratory distress
  • Weak reflexes
  • Weakness of eye muscles (opthalmoparesis)

If you or your dog present with any of these symptoms, check for ticks immediately and remove them if they’re found. Suffocation is a traumatic way to die.


Dogs can get canine hepatozoonosis by eating infected ticks. This is why you should never let your dog get ticks off of themselves!

Symptoms of hepatozoon canis:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy

Symptoms of hepatozoon americanum:

  • Fever/depression
  • Loss of muscle mass with weight loss
  • Eye discharge
  • Pain in general


Tularemia is most commonly transmitted to dogs through them eating rabbits or other rodents that were infected through ticks on them carrying the disease. It’s uncommon for dogs to get it directly from ticks, even though they may carry ticks that have the infection.

Transmittable to humans: Yes

Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness (STARI)

Tularemia is most commonly transmitted to dogs through them eating rabbits or other rodents that were infected through ticks on them carrying the disease. It’s uncommon for dogs to get it directly from ticks, even though they may carry ticks that have the infection.

Transmittable to humans: Yes

How To Prevent Them

Preventing ticks from getting on you or your pets is fairly simple if you follow a few rules. You can’t absolutely prevent everything, but the list below will greatly reduce the likelihood that your pet gets them.

Know Where They Live

Ticks live in moist, humid environments, often in grassy or wooded areas. When on trails, walk in the center of the trail to reduce the likelihood of picking them up. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid the woods or grass entirely, but know that you should be checking yourself and your dog when you leave.


DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can protect you from ticks and other bugs, including fleas, for several hours.

If you want to go a more natural route, geranium oil has been found to work nearly as well as DEET. The EPA lists the following that can be used to repel ticks:

  • Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
  • Citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus)
  • Lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora)

Keep Wildlife Out Of Your Yard

Raccoons, rabbits, and other rodents carry ticks into your yard from wooded areas, so discouraging them from coming around is helpful.

Don’t leave foods outside to attract them, including nuts, seeds, and pet food.

Keep The Grass Cut

Tall grass gives ticks and fleas easier access to you and your pets. Keep it down!

Remove Leaf Litter

Decomposing leaves make good bedding for ticks; remove it from around your home. You should also remove wood piles from close to your home, as well.

Flea & Tick Yard Pesticide Treatment

I’m generally not someone who promotes using chemical poisons, but in this case, the benefits outweigh the dangers.

Sevin granules work well for us at our home, but a natural product called Wondercide is also available.

Flea & Tick Medication

You can get a monthly medication for fleas and ticks from your local veterinarian. It won’t stop them from biting, but it will kill them when they do.

Products include:

How To Remove Them

The CDC advises that you should not wait for a tick to detach on its own or use home “remedies” such as painting the tick with nail polish or other things to get it to let go on its own.

What you should do is remove it with the Tick Tango. It’s a tick removal tool that’s superior to tweezers in every way and it’s the best tick removal tool for dogs.

Simply slide the device around the tick, twist, and pull up and away with even pressure. The tick will be removed cleanly.

Afterwards, you should clean the area around the bite with rubbing alcohol or an antibacterial soap.

Get rid of the tick by flushing it down the toilet or dropping it into alcohol. Do not crush the tick with your fingers; as we covered above, they carry diseases that can be fatal.

Continue to watch for signs of illness for a couple of weeks after the removal of the tick. If you experience adverse symptoms, see your doctor. It could be serious.