What Do Ticks Look Like? How to Identify Those Pesky Pests

What Do Ticks Look Like?

Ticks are red or brown, small and have 8 legs. But they grow to double their size when they feed.

Ticks are most commonly red or brown, although coloring varies from species to species. Ticks are small in size, about ¼ to ¾ of an inch in length, making ticks similar in size to a sesame seed. After feeding, ticks become so bloated with newly ingested blood their size increases to nearly twice their unfed size or more.

Extending outward from an adult tick’s body are eight legs and a small head. As larva, tick’s have only six legs. When not moving, a tick’s legs are generally folded up close to its body. Ticks have small mouth parts.

Hard Ticks

Hard ticks have a shield over their body. For males, this shield extends over the entire body, but the female shield covers only about a third of the tick’s body. Having a bigger shield around their body prevents the male ticks from ingesting as much blood as the females. Male ticks are a smaller size than female ticks.

Soft Ticks

Soft ticks do not have shields, and look somewhat like raisins, with a leathery, rough skin on their exteriors. Soft ticks have an oval shape, and it is difficult to distinguish the mouth parts from the body.

Tick Species

Many ticks have patterning on their backs, which can help distinguish the different species. Lone Star ticks are characterized, for instance, by a white, star-shaped design on their backs. Deer ticks are also known as Black Legged ticks because of their dark-colored legs.

How do you tell if it's a tick on your dog?

Ticks are tiny, but they can grow to the size of a pea when feeding on your dog’s blood, depending on how long they do it. If your dog has a tick, you will notice a small bump. Ticks are common household pests, but homeowners often struggle to identify them. According to statistics, these pesky pests are responsible for nearly 95% of vector-borne diseases, making it important to be vigilant. Looking closely, ticks have a small head, eight legs, and a body divided into one or two segments. Different species of ticks appear similar, but they may have alternating patterns or colorations. Linda Ruth, a retired vet, notes that ticks often have multiple hosts during their lifespan. They feed on a host’s blood for some time, drop off, and wait for a new host. Your dog may be at risk when walking in a field or a wooded trail. 

Are ticks harmful to dogs?

Once ticks get on your dog, they bite and feed on it for a few days. While they drop off after a bit, they could give your canine companion a disease. Your pet may develop symptoms such as a rash, fever, and aches if bitten by a tick carrying a disease like Lyme disease, tick paralysis, Tularemia, or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Detecting a tick bite can be tricky because the signs vary widely and often replicate the appearance of bites of other insects. Even experts may not be able to tell them apart. A tick bite may leave a small red spot that is the size of a dime. However, rashes can develop, and more severe reactions can occur in some cases. If you suspect ticks on your dog, look for a red bump that looks like a mosquito bite. These bumps resolve themselves over a few days. 

How long will a tick stay on a dog?

A tick can spend several days on a dog, starting as a larva and remaining there until it grows into an adult. According to Miller Tissa, a DVM from Northern Alberta, ticks insert their heads in the host’s body and feed on it. The process continues until they lay eggs, which can take quite a long time. An undisturbed larva attaches itself to the dog's skin and continues to feed for three days. Next is the nymph stage, which lasts for three to four days. An adult female tick stays on the animal’s skin for seven to ten days. The tick may stay attached longer even longer on dogs already exposed to tick saliva proteins. As a pet parent, you should watch out for these pesky pests and try removing them as soon as you notice them. 

What is the safest tick prevention for dogs?

While you may try home remedies like rubbing alcohol, bleach, and eucalyptus oil to kill ticks on your dog, they may not always work. In that case, you may need to use chemical products for tick control. S-methoprene or pyriproxyfen are your safest options if you want to look for less toxic ingredients. Before choosing a tick-prevention product for your canine companion, check the labels carefully to find safe and non-toxic ingredients. You can explore a range of tick prevention alternatives, from oral pills to sprays, spot-on topical medications, and dog collars. Consider seeking expert advice from your vet if you feel overwhelmed by the choice. 

What happens if a tick is left in a dog?

While ticks look like a small problem, failing to deal with them swiftly and safely can have dire implications. Besides looking awful, these pests can pose a major threat to the health of your dog. Santie Engelbrecht, a veterinary surgeon, states that ticks can infect dogs with fatal blood parasites, such as Babesia canis. Tick breeds with long mouth parts can cause severe and necrotic wounds. Another reason to worry is a skin reaction that may lead to a small abscess if you do not remove ticks properly. Heavy infestation can also result in anemia as ticks suck your pet’s blood. Prompt removal, treatment, and prevention can save your dog from tick trouble. 

Should I bathe my dog after finding a tick?

You may want to bathe your pet after finding a tick infestation, but it is not easy, specifically if your pet is a long-coated breed. The good thing is that choosing the right product and technique can help address the concern. A flea and tick shampoo formulated to kill ticks can be helpful as it can kill them and eliminate them from your pet’s fur for good. After gently rubbing the shampoo on your dog’s skin, try brushing it to remove the dead ticks. Choose a product with an optimal pH balance to protect your furry friend’s skin from dryness and itching. 

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