What Is It?
A troublesome parasite, the brown dog tick needs blood meals to survive and procreate. As its name suggests, the pest prefers to feed on the blood of dogs; however, the parasitic arachnid also poses a threat to humans. Brown dog ticks can survive in most climates and maintain a strong presence in the United States. The alarming rate at which they reproduce makes them a serious problem, and the help of pest control professionals is often necessary to eliminate infestations from homes.
What Do They Look Like?
Adults have eight legs and appear flattened and oval in shape, with prominent mouthparts that are visible when viewing the parasites from above. Males feature tiny pits scattered across the back of their bodies. Brown dog ticks are so small, however, that their distinguishing characteristics cannot be observed without the aid of a microscope
Size: Very small, adult brown dog ticks only grow to about 1/8 of an inch in size. However, when females are engorged with a blood meal, they can appear as long as 1/2 an inch.
Color: Before a blood meal, the parasites are reddish-brown in color. After feeding, they take on a blue-gray coloration.
Problems Caused by Brown Dog Ticks
Even though they neither damage property nor transmit diseases to humans, brown dog ticks still present serious dangers in the home. The parasites are vectors of several diseases that affect dogs, including canine ehrlichiosis and canine babesiosis. Canine ehrlichiosis causes lameness and fever, while canine babesiosis induces symptoms like fever, anorexia, and anemia.
Brown dog ticks also irritate the skin of both canines and humans. On rare occasions, the parasites will bite humans and create the potential for the development of infections and blood poisoning.
What Do They Eat?
As parasitic organisms, brown dog ticks survive exclusively off the blood of other animals. While they heavily favor dogs as hosts, the pests occasionally feed on humans and other mammals.
The life cycle of the brown dog tick comprises four developmental stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Between each stage, the pests must consume a blood meal.
A three-host parasite, brown dog ticks lay eggs that hatch within two to five weeks.
Newborn larvae immediately seek a blood meal from a dog and, after feeding for three to seven days, drop from the canine host to molt.
The emerging nymph then attaches to a second host to feed for five to ten days before molting and reemerging as an adult. Females then require a blood meal to mate and lay eggs.
Fully engorged brown dog ticks can lay up to 5,000 eggs in brush, leaf litter, bark, and other items commonly found outdoors on the ground. After laying eggs for as many as 15 days, the female dies.
In ideal conditions, brown dog ticks complete the life cycle in 63 days. Within the U.S., the parasites can produce up to four generations of offspring each year in the warmer environment of the South, while brown dog ticks in the North typically only produce two generations annually.
Where Do They Live?
Found throughout the world, brown dog ticks prefer warmer climates like that of the Southern United States. Unlike other tick species, they can complete their entire life cycle indoors. Consequently, brown dog ticks can survive wherever manmade structures exist.
How Do You Know if You Have Them?
Since adult ticks are tiny and easy to miss, signs of infestation often come from the symptoms of the affected dog. When dogs become irritable, develop a fever or lethargy, or vomit often, a brown dog tick infestation may be present. Carefully combing through the fur of the symptomatic dog, and especially focusing on the back, the insides of the ears, and in between the toes, may confirm the presence of brown dog tick adults and nymphs. You may notice dark spots in the fur, between the toes, or in the ears of infested dogs.
Affected dogs may contract a fever.
How Do You Get Rid of Them?
Occasionally washing dogs with shampoos specifically formulated to combat fleas and ticks is a relatively inexpensive way to help prevent infestation problems. Sprays and spot treatments, as well as flea and tick collars, are also available over the counter. Regular treatments should effectively shrink the chances of dogs picking up the brown dog tick. Keep in mind that certain tick-killing products for dogs may be lethal to other household pets, such as cats.
Once an infestation begins in the home, eradicating the brown dog tick becomes difficult. Homeowners should treat dogs frequently with specialized shampoos or sprays and consult a veterinarian. Comb the pet thoroughly and dispose of any ticks encountered. Pest control professionals should also be brought in to treat nesting sites with insecticides and provide additional information on eliminating and preventing brown dog ticks.