Terrifying Ticks

In most areas of the United States, ticks are active from about April to November, but with California’s temperate climate, adult ticks are also abundant between late October and March. Ticks are not only an irritant. Tick bites can transmit diseases that cause serious illness in dogs and even humans. Without a doubt, some of the more dangerous diseases transmitted by ticks are Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, RMSF (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) and Lyme Disease. All of them may be extremely debilitating to your dog unless diagnosed in time and treated aggressively!

States in the Northeastern, North central, and Pacific coast regions of the United States have the highest concentrations of ticks that carry these potentially deadly diseases. The ticks most often responsible for carrying Lyme disease are the Deer tick in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, the Black-legged tick in the Midwest and Southeast, and the Western black-legged tick in coastal areas of Washington, Oregon, and California. RMSF is transmitted by both the American dog tick and the Wood tick (the name RMSF is somewhat misleading because the disease has been reported in almost every American state).

Deer Ticks:

Adult Male
Adult Female
Engorged Female

American Dog Ticks:

Adult Male
Adult Female
Partially Engorged Female



NOTE: The ticks in these images above are not show in their actual size – except for engorged ticks. For example, the larval deer ticks are less than 1 millimeter in diameter. Click on the images above to visit the tick information website provided by the University of Rhode Island. This is a great resource with a flash applet that depicts each tick in its actual size and in a magnified view.

Here are these ticks in their real sizes next to a dime:

Larval Deer Tick
Nymphal Deer Tick
Adult Male Deer Tick
Adult Female Deer Tick
Adult Female American Dog Tick


Ticks attach themselves by embedding their claw-like mouth parts into your dogs skin so they can feed on it’s blood. It is said that they are most often found around a dog’s head and neck, but most ticks that I found attached to Andy were on his legs (he is a pretty tall guy). If an attached tick is not found and removed immediately, it becomes larger (engorged) as it feeds.

Usually, an infected tick must be attached to its host from 5 to 20 hours for transmission of a disease to occur. For this reason, the sooner you manage to get a tick off your dog the less likely it is that a disease is being transmitted. However, it is important to understand that a tick-borne disease may also be transmitted through contact with infected tick hemolymph or excrement (especially when engorged ticks are crushed).



You should always inspect your dog from nose to tail to check for ticks after your dog has been in high grasses or wooded areas. If you find any, remove them as soon as possible!

What you need: Disposable latex gloves, a small jar with a lid, a tick removal tool such as fine point tweezers or the “Ticked Off” removal spoon (which is working incredibly well from me), some cotton balls and hydrogen peroxide.

Do not attempt to pull the tick with your bare fingers! The last thing you want is to end up with tick saliva under your fingernails.

Fill the jar with a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. Wear the protective gloves and with the removal tool, carefully grasp the tick as close to the dog’s skin as possible and gently pull with steady pressure in one straight move until it comes off. Do your best not to squeeze the tick’s body while you are pulling because you want to avoid squishing potentially contaminated tick fluids onto your dog’s skin. Put the tick into the jar and close the lid. The hydrogen peroxide will kill the tick (while flushing it down the toilet does not!). Use the cotton balls and soak the area where the tick was attached with hydrogen peroxide to clean it.


In the past, I was sometimes worried that the tick’s head breaks off and remains stuck in the dog’s skin. This however is rarely the case. The bump that may appear on your dog’s skin once you remove the tick is most likely an inflammation (similar to what you see after a mosquito bite). Check this area once a day and if it gets infected or considerably larger, have your veterinarian take a look. If your dog has more that just a few ticks or it is impossible for you to pull them out, another way to deal with this is to immediately put a Preventic tick collar on your dog which contains the active ingredient amitraz. This collar is made by Virbac and it not only kills ticks, it causes them to completely detach within 48 hours. They are available in most major pet supply stores.


Once you have removed all ticks from your dog, it is a good idea to make sure others won’t return in their place. I am using Frontline Plus by Merial as a topical treatment on Andy. Frontline Plus kills all stages of 4 major ticks (including the American dog tick and the Lyme disease contracting deer tick). I still sometimes find a dead tick on Andy, but they are neither attached to his skin nor engorged which tells me that the treatment is working well. Frontline Plus also protects from fleas. The topical solution needs to be re-applied every 30 days.

It is also strongly recommended to inspect and potentially treat infested dog house, kennels and bedding. If you have a backyard, removing piles of leaves in shaded areas around shrubs, under decks, and along fences and walls. Keep lawns mowed and edges trimmed. Clean up around bird feeders so mice, chipmunks, and squirrels are not drawn to the area…rodents attract ticks and fleas. If you suspect ticks in your yard, you can treat it with the Virbac yard spray concentrate that kills fleas and ticks while not harming grass or foliage.

External links:

Ticks Commonly Encountered In California provided by the Department of Entomology at the University of California, Davis

Scary: Researchers find no safe place to sit in California tick-infested forest


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