It’s more common than you might think to find a dried, dead tick on dogs.
You could be minding your own business, giving your dog the best of belly rubs, when- what’s that bump?
Shivers running down your spine, you quickly check your dog. As you part the pup’s fur, trepidation turns to disgust when you come face-to-face with the body of a deceased parasite.
So, what do you do now? Do you need to be worried?
Thankfully, dead ticks found on a dog are much less dangerous than live ones.
There are a few different possible reasons as to why a tick might already be dead on a dog.
For example, it could have been killed by chemical pest preventatives that a dog might be wearing, or maybe by literally getting kicked in its tiny tick brain while a pooch was mid-scratch.
Once a tick is dead, it is very unlikely to be able to transmit any illnesses (such as Lyme disease) to a canine.
This is because ticks need to feed for at least 24 hours before the bacteria can be transmitted from its stomach into a dog’s bloodstream. Therefore, unless the tick had already been feeding for a whole day before dying, it is practically impossible for it to make a dog sick.
That doesn’t mean you should just leave a dead tick on your dog, however! Leaving a dead tick embedded in your dog is not only a sore sight for your eyes, but can also cause significant irritation and inflammation to your dog’s skin.
If you already have experience in removing live ticks from your dog, the procedure for removing a dead one is pretty much the same: Grab some pointy tweezers, get a firm (but gentle) grip on the sucker, and pull.
Once it’s out, check for any redness on the bite site and apply antiseptic ointments as necessary. Finally, dispose of the dead insect, and go happily back to those belly rubs!
It is indeed quite possible for a tick to be dead- and yet still tightly attached to a dog’s skin!
This is partly due to the fact that ticks have mouthpieces that are designed to latch firmly into the skin when it first begins to feed. Even after it dies for whatever reason, these mouthpiece mechanics can keep the tick attached to a dog’s skin as the body shrivels and shrinks.
In fact, a tick that dies on your dog’s skin can actually experience more difficulty falling off as opposed to if it was alive.
This is because at the point of its death it had not yet sucked sufficient blood to make it loosen its grip and fall off naturally. Instead, the tick will tend to shrink, making it stick to the skin even more than before.
There are also some instances where only the dead tick’s head remains embedded in the dog’s skin, while the rest of the body has already fallen off or been removed.
While a tick may appear dead on the dog’s skin, it’s important to check carefully to make sure that this is actually the case.
Look closely at the tick to see if the legs are moving at all. If they do show any sign of movement, the tick is still alive and feeding! At the same time, the fact that it doesn’t move isn’t a guaranteed sign that it is dead.
Another way to check whether a tick is dead is to look at how its legs are placed. If they are curled up and stiff rather than stuck out to the sides, then it is likely dead.
It’s also important to make sure that the dark, unmoving bump is actually a tick! It is easy to mistake moles, skin tags, and even nipples for the parasite- especially if you are not familiar with them.
Ticks are usually hard and smooth to the touch, and will either be black/brown when unfed or a shiny silvery-white when it has had a chance to feed. Since only the mouthpiece is attached to the skin, the body should move independently when nudged.
At the end of the day, regardless of whether the discovered tick is alive or dead, the best course of action is to remove it from your dog as soon as possible.
You’d be right to think that a tick that’s embedded itself into a dog’s skin shouldn’t naturally be dead. After all, that’d be a pretty useless existence!
Ticks usually feed for hours if not days, falling off like a disgusting grape only after it has consumed enough blood for it to mate and reproduce.
However, there are certain situations where a tick may die while still attached to a canine.
The most common of these is if the dog in question is currently on some form of flea and tick preventative such as Frontline or Seresto (or both at the same time).
While the oral medication won’t prevent the tick’s initial bite (in fact, it relies on this bite for the chemicals to take effect), it will eventually make its way into the tick’s system around 5 to 10 minutes after the insect has latched on.
The medication is designed not to prevent the bite altogether, but to kill the tick long before any potential transmission of disease can occur. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find dead, flat ticks attached to dogs that currently have medical protection!
Another possibility as to why a tick might be dead yet still attached to a dog is simply if it was squashed or physically killed. In these cases, a dog may have scratched at and hit the tick due to the itchiness it was causing- simultaneously killing it on impact.
Ticks don’t usually die straight away when they fall off.
Instead they will usually be alive and crawling, and their subsequent actions will depend on the life cycle stage that they are currently in.
If you are not aware of the presence of ticks on a dog, they can stay on the poor pup until they’ve finished feeding and only drop off when they’re fully fed and ready. Feeding can last for as long as two weeks, but will normally take place over a span of a few days.
Almost all larvae, nymphs, and adult ticks will hide somewhere to digest its blood meal. After it has digested its meal, it will then molt and grow while it waits to feed on the next host it can latch onto.
If it is a female tick that has fallen off, it will be looking to reproduce. In the case that it has already mated and laid eggs, the female tick will then likely hide itself somewhere and die shortly afterwards.
Adult male ticks will usually die after falling off and mating, but some species of ticks (like the brown dog tick) may live for several more months following detachment.
Ticks typically die in dryer environments– such as the inside of a home- because they lose water gradually over time. After a few weeks in dry habitats, they will eventually succumb to desiccation.
However, some ticks do have the ability to survive in drier environments, and as a result can cause an infestation in your home.
All this is to say that ticks usually won’t be dead when they’ve just fallen off. Instead, they will survive long enough to fulfill their primary goal and purpose- and in some scenarios will thrive for much longer than that!
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The good thing about removing dead ticks is that it is much the same process as removing live ones! So, if you are already (unfortunately) skilled in the art of removing live ticks from your dog, simply do the same when you discover a deceased bloodsucker.
It’s just as important to remove a dead tick as it is a live one. While dead ticks are comparatively less risky, they can still cause all kinds of superficial irritation and inflammation if left embedded in the skin.
If you’ve never removed a tick from a dog before- don’t fret! Follow our handy steps below for the tried-and-true, vet-recommended way to remove ticks quickly and easily.
What you’ll need:
- Thin, point-ended tweezers, or a specialized tick removal tool
- Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol, or soap
- Paper towel
- Ziploc bag or small plastic container
The first thing you obviously need to do is to locate the tick(s)! Ticks can be found pretty much anywhere on a dog’s body, and can be especially difficult to find in areas where the fur is thick.
A few of the places where they are more commonly found include the head, ears, neck, paws, and the creases under the legs.
If you are not sure whether the bump is a tick or something else, here are some general characteristics you can use for accurate identification:
- Round, small, hard bump around 1mm to 1cm in size
- Brown or black
- 6-8 legs, depending on stage of life. Mature ticks will have 8 legs, while lymph and larvae ticks will have 6
- Silvery-white when engorged, and can be the size of a small grape
Once you’ve successfully located the tick, you will then need to begin the process of removal. Make sure you put those gloves on!
If the tick is currently latched onto an area where the fur is thick, you will need to spread the hair away from it as much as possible so that you can get a good angle and grip on the parasite.
If this proves too difficult with only two hands, you will need to enlist the help of another friend or family member to assist you in holding the fur apart while you perform the procedure.
To remove the tick, use a thin, pointed pair of tweezers (like these ones) and firmly grasp the tick’s body as closely as possible to the dog’s skin. Gently tug it upwards in a straight motion away from the skin until the tick detaches.
Depending on how tightly the tick is holding on, this part might take a while! Note that it is normal for a small piece of skin to come off with the tick as well; do not worry about this as it is a regular part of the process.
It is important however that you do not grasp the tweezers so tightly that it punctures, squeezes, or squashes the tick, even if it is already dead.
Doing so can create unnecessary risks of infection, whether that be from the tick’s stomach contents spilling onto the dog’s skin, or by pushing potentially disease-causing bacteria straight into the bloodstream.
Here’s a helpful video demonstrating how to remove ticks safely and effectively:
- Resist the urge to wiggle the tick from side to side- even if it has a tight grip! Doing so can cause a live tick to generate more saliva, increasing the likelihood of disease transmission. It can also result in the body breaking off, leaving the head stuck behind.
- There are times when the body may break free, but the head or mouth parts remain fixed in the dog’s body. In these situations, try to remove the embedded pieces with your tweezers, but if you really can’t then it is usually safe to just leave them alone. The body will usually be able to naturally eject them as the bite wound heals, and picking at them incessantly can cause unnecessary irritation and inflammation.
- If you struggle with handling tweezers with dexterity, a specialized tick removal tool like the HomeSake tool shown below may just be your best friend! A tick removal tool allows for quick and simple removal, without the risk of losing your grip or breaking the tick into pieces.
- Don’t fall for the old wives’ tales. Regardless of what you might hear, nail polish and petroleum jelly are generally not effective when it comes to killing and removing ticks. Fire is even more of a no-no, as live ticks will react to heat by generating more saliva- thus increasing the risk of disease transmission to the dog. Dead ticks will not react to heat (because they’re dead…duh), but trying to burn them will likely only result in you burning the skin and hair of your poor pup.
If you are really having a ton of trouble removing the tick(s), don’t hesitate in taking your dog straight to the vet for professional help. Vets have the expertise and equipment to deal with even the most stubborn of ticks (and dogs) without much trouble.
They will also be able to go ahead and test if the ticks carry any diseases after extracting them, which can be very beneficial in getting ahead of any potential illnesses.
Who knows what disgusting, disease-causing bacteria a tick might be carrying! That’s why it is so important to clean the area of the bite after you have removed the parasite.
Using either soap and water or isopropyl rubbing alcohol, clean the wound and surrounding areas thoroughly. If you need a demonstration on how to do this, the video above is again a good resource.
If the area around the bite site is looking a bit sore and red, you can also apply antiseptic ointments like Neosporin to help soothe and disinfect the wound. Make sure to wash and clean the tweezers as well as your own hands after the procedure!
Whether or not you want to send the tick off to a lab to check for diseases, it is vital that the insect is secured so that it cannot cause any further trouble. This is not so much an issue when the insect is dead- for obvious reasons.
If you are planning to have a vet or other professional examine the tick, you will need to store it in a way so that it is properly hydrated and preserved.
A good way to do this is by wrapping the tick in a damp paper towel, and then placing it into a plastic container or zip-lock bag. Following that, store the bag or container in your fridge until it is time to send it away for analysis.
If a tick isn’t dead yet, an effective way to kill it is by dropping it into a container filled with isopropyl alcohol.
Whichever method you choose, make sure that you make a note of the removal date and location so that your vet can make a more accurate diagnosis.
Finally it is not recommended to flush a live tick down the toilet or drain, as some can survive the journey and live to infest other locations and animals. If you are sure that the tick is dead, you can dispose of it in pretty much any way you wish (as long as it’s hygienic!).
When you try your best, but you don’t succeed (in removing a dead tick properly): Don’t be too concerned!
While there may still be some mouthpart remnants lodged in your dog’s skin, you can rest easy knowing that as long as the body of the beast is gone, there is only very minimal risk of infection and disease being transmitted.
As mentioned in the previous section, there’s no pressing need to remove the head if it is still stuck in the skin. The dog’s body will naturally push out and expel foreign matter- dead tick heads included!
It is possible that the area becomes a bit red and sore where the tick remnants are as the body has a foreign body reaction to it. A local pustule could even result, though this will usually resolve by itself in a couple of weeks at most.
To help with the healing, you can periodically apply thin layers of Betadine and Neosporin over and around the wound until the redness subsides.
Being the deplorable little parasites that they are, ticks can unleash quite a large inflammatory response upon removal.
This is due mostly to the nature of their saliva, which has both anticoagulant and anesthetic properties that allows the tick to feed on blood.
Depending on how long the tick had been embedded in your dog, as well as how much stress it experienced while it was being removed, it may have injected more or less saliva into the dog’s skin than normal.
Therefore it is actually quite common to see a tick granuloma or small bump develop in the tick bite location. Some other side effects are also frequently observed after pulling ticks off a dog, including:
- A ring of red or pink flesh surrounding the bite site
- Loss of hair and fur around the area
- Localized thickening and swelling of the skin
These symptoms may take up to a few weeks to fully heal, but they should go away naturally without any trouble. Keep an eye on the bite, and if there are any signs of worsening such as inflammation or pus, seek veterinary advice as soon as you can.
Is It Normal To See A Scab After A Tick Bite On Dogs?
Scabbing in the days following removal of a tick is completely normal for many of the same reasons as those already mentioned above.
Not only is the inflammatory response a major causal factor, but associated reactions of scratching and biting of the area due to itchiness can also result in skin breakage and scab formation.
Again, like the other symptoms that your dog may experience after tick removal, scabbing is usually completely harmless and will typically go away by its own.
If you do want to help your dog heal quicker, you can use anti-itch and antibiotic creams on and around the site to discourage your pup from fussing with the wound.
Minimizing contact with the site will reduce the likelihood of the scab being broken open again and allow for faster recovery.
Despite the fact that ticks are notorious for carrying diseases such as Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, Anaplasmosis, and Babesiosis, most of the time the answer to this question will be: No.
It may come as a surprise, but the reason why the answer is “No” is not so much that ticks don’t pose a risk (they do), but more because there is actually no reliable way of detecting a tick-borne affliction such as Lyme Disease until several weeks (3 or more) after the bite.
Even if you were to take your dog to the vet for tests straight after removing a tick, the results will almost certainly come up negative.
That’s all to say: Even if you do take your dog straight to the vet after a tick bite, there’s not a whole lot that they will be able to do anyway!
There are a couple of different factors that can lead to a higher likelihood of tick disease transmission:
- Residence in wooded areas, or in an area that is known for having significant levels of tick-borne diseases
- A tick that has been hidden in dog fur, feeding for at least 24 hours.
A tick has to be carrying disease-carrying bacteria in the first place to pose any danger. Some parts of the country (such as Minnesota and Wisconsin) will be a definite concern, while in other States you will not have to worry as much.
Additionally, even if a tick was carrying a disease, scientific studies have shown that the most prevalent Lyme disease takes at least 24 hours of continuous feeding by a tick before it can be transmitted.
Therefore, the most sensible course of action for an owner to follow after they have removed a tick from their dog is simply to monitor their pet in the coming weeks and months for any telltale signs of illness.
With that said: If you are dealing with a dead tick, the chances of disease transmission and your pup becoming ill are quite low.
Take a look at the tick. Is it engorged with blood, or is it wrinkly and dried out?
If the latter is the case, and if your dog is on flea and tick preventatives, then the tick likely only fed for a matter of minutes before being killed. Therefore, there would have been virtually no chance for any disease to be transmitted!
Even if there is basically zero chance for a dog to contract Lyme disease from a dried, dead tick found on its body, it’s still good to know the signs and symptoms of the illness.
Lyme Disease is an affliction that primarily affects the joints and legs closest to the original bite. It manifests arthritic symptoms, causing limping and lameness that switches from leg to leg.
Many owners first notice Lyme disease in their dog when they find it suddenly being unable to walk properly.
The affliction is often also accompanied by other symptoms, such as:
- Loss of appetite/anorexia
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Blood in the urine
Lyme disease can only be treated when the symptoms start to show. Before they do, it is extremely difficult to detect. However, the moment you notice the above signs and suspect that they may be due to Lyme disease, make sure to contact your vet immediately.
Once tests are conducted and the presence of Lyme disease-causing Borrelia bacteria is confirmed, the vet will then be able to begin treatment.
Usually, this will involve blood and urine checks to check kidney function, as well as antibiotics if the dog is in pain and showing harmful effects. Improvement can be seen in as little as one week, and most dogs will be able to make a full recovery in the long term!
If you happen to find a dried, dead tick on your dog when checking for ticks, simply remove it like you would with a live one. Though it might already be dead, its mouthpart mechanics mean that it is still capable of holding firmly onto the skin.
You can really take your time with the removal process, since a dead tick poses a much smaller health risk to dogs when compared to a live parasite.
Since it is already dead, it is no longer capable of producing saliva or transmitting any disease-causing bacteria through the bite into the bloodstream.
The worst thing that could conceivably occur would be if the body broke off, leaving the head stuck in your dog’s skin. Even then, it would be only a matter of days before the body naturally expels the tick remnants.
There may be some residual redness and swelling after removal of the tick, but those are all normal immunity-reactive responses. If the area around the bite wound seems particularly irritated, it may be a good idea to apply a layer of Betadine and Neosporin from time to time.
Though unlikely, it is possible for a dog to contract tick-borne diseases from a dead tick. This could happen in situations where the dead tick had been feeding on the dog for over 24 hours.
Therefore, if you notice symptoms such as lameness, swollen joints, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever a month or two after you remove a tick, the best course of action would be to take your pup to the vet for examination.
Tick-borne disease such as Lyme Disease can be serious, but with the appropriate treatment they are completely curable as well!
Heather Abraham is a professional blogger who owns two dogs, a cat, a parrot, and a leopard gecko. She has a connection with animals since she was a child. She shares her love for all pet breeds and provides information on pet food, toys, medications, beds, and everything else.
She is committed to learning about the internal workings of animals. Her work permits her to work closely with knowledgeable vets and obtain practical expertise in animal care. When she is not working, her love of animals continues in her writing. Her goal is to educate and uplift readers who also have a passion for animals through her writing.