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Brown Dog Tick: 5 Dangers for Dogs

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Your immediate reaction when you notice an engorged tick wriggling around in your dog’s fur is probably “ewwww.”

We get it. All species of ticks are gross, but the ick factor is nothing compared to their potential to transmit tick-borne diseases to your dog.

Different tick species can carry different diseases and pose a variety of risks to your canine companions. In this article, we’ll be focusing on the brown dog tick and what you need to be aware of if your dog is bitten by one.

What Is a Brown Dog Tick?

As you may have guessed, the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) was named for its color. These parasites are reddish-brown in color and have elongated bodies.

Nymphs (younger ticks) grow up to 1.3 millimeters long and 0.66 millimeters wide, with four pairs of legs. Adult brown dog ticks also have four pairs of legs and the same reddish-brown coloring but grow up to 3.18 millimeters long and 1.68 millimeters wide. After a blood meal, engorged female brown dog ticks can increase their size 100-fold.

The brown dog tick can be found in all 50 states, and it’s the most widespread species in the world. And even though brown dog ticks prefer tropical and temperate climates, the blood-sucking parasites can survive indoors anywhere in the world, says Dr. Katie Clow, veterinarian and assistant professor at Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph. “Because dogs move all around the world, either with their owners or to find new homes, these ticks can be transported vast distances and end up in new places,” she explains.

In fact, Dr. Clow notes that one of the things that makes the brown dog tick unique is the fact that it thrives in indoor environments, including homes and kennels that are too arid for other tick species to survive.

“When [brown dog ticks] are not actively looking for a host…like a dog, they can hide in cracks and crevices within the home,” she adds.

Brown Dog Tick vs. Deer Tick

The deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) is another common tick species. It’s found mainly along the east coast of the United States, especially in forests, meadows, and wetlands where white-tailed deer are plentiful. Dogs pick up the ticks while hiking or running through these areas.

At first glance, the deer tick might be mistaken for a brown tick, but a closer look reveals some distinct differences between the species. For starters, male deer ticks are dark brown to black in color, and female deer ticks have colorful orangish-red markings on their backs.

Both male and female deer ticks have dark heads with dark spots behind their heads (called a dorsal shield) and four pairs of legs that are dark brown to black in color, earning them the nickname “blacklegged tick.” 

5 Brown Dog Tick Dangers

Close up of brown dog tick

Brown dog ticks are known to carry diseases that can be potentially dangerous to our canine companions, causing symptoms ranging from mild illness to death. Let’s go over some of the most common brown dog tick diseases, as well as the dangers associated with them.


Deer ticks and Western black-legged ticks are typically associated with anaplasmosis, but one form of the disease, Anaplasma platys, is transmitted by the brown dog tick.

Symptoms like lameness, joint pain, fever, and lack of appetite most commonly appear within one to seven days after an infected brown dog tick bites a canine. In more severe cases, dogs may experience vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, trouble breathing, and seizures.

Antibiotics are used to treat the disease. The prognosis is good, with most dogs showing significant signs of improvement within 24 to 48 hours of starting treatment.


Brown dog ticks can transmit a number of Babesia species, intracellular parasites that attack red blood cells. The most common symptoms of babesiosis include fever, anemia-related low energy and weakness, and low platelets that can increase the risk of bruising and bleeding. 

“The symptoms range from mild to severe, with younger animals generally experiencing more severe disease,” Dr. Clow says.

Babesiosis is treated with a number of different medications. However, eliminating this organism can be challenging. Some dogs remain chronically infected, despite aggressive treatment.

is found throughout the United States. Ehrlichiosis can cause symptoms ranging from fever, low energy, and lack of appetite to weight loss and nosebleeds. These symptoms usually occur one to four weeks after infection. 

Although treatment for acute ehrlichiosis is available and can lead to recovery, some dogs don’t show any symptoms and are never treated. This can lead to infected dogs becoming

 “subclinical” carriers of the bacteria. “This means brown dog ticks that bite them can pick up the bacteria and then transmit it to other dogs,” Dr. Clow says. “It also means they may develop the chronic phase of disease, which can be severe and fatal.” 

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Rickettsia rickettsii causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and brown dog ticks are among the species that transmit the bacterium. “Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a severe and potentially fatal disease in dogs,” Dr. Clow says.

The main symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of balance, seizures, swelling of the limbs and muscle/joint pain that can make it difficult to walk, and other neurological signs.

Humans can also be diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. While you can’t get the disease from your dog, you can get it from tick bites, so it’s important to check yourself for ticks after being in the same environments as potentially infected brown dog ticks.


Unlike other tick-borne diseases that are transmitted when an infected tick bites a dog, hepatozoonosis infection occurs when dogs ingest an infected tick. Hepatozoon, a single-celled organism, is released from the ingested tick into the dog’s intestine and travels through the liver, lungs, and other organs and bone marrow.

Hepatozoonosis can be found throughout the United States but it’s more common in warmer climates, including the southern and southeastern regions of the country. Most hepatozoon cases associated with brown dog ticks are asymptomatic, but signs may include fever, weight loss, and lethargy. Medications are used to manage the signs associated with symptomatic infection, but the infection typically cannot be cured.

Brown Dog Tick Symptoms

Dr. Clow notes that “tick bites are rarely noticed,” so it’s also a good idea to be on the lookout for signs that your dog may be sick from a tick-borne disease, including:

  • Lethargy
  • Joint pain
  • Poor appetite
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fever
  • Muscle wasting
  • Swollen lymph nodes

If you notice any of these symptoms, call your veterinarian.

What to Do if You Find a Brown Dog Tick on Your Dog

Woman looking for tick on dog

If a brown dog tick has chosen your pup as its host, grab the tweezers (or a tick removal tool)! You’ll need to remove it and you may want to take it to your veterinarian to have the species identified and talk about the next steps. 

You may also need to contact an exterminator. “If you find repeated brown dog ticks on your dog, you could have a home infestation,” says Dr. Clow. “Especially if you live in colder climate areas where ticks are not known to be found outdoors.”

Brown Dog Tick Bite Prevention

You might not always be able to prevent a brown dog tick from biting your dog, but you can take action to prevent the parasites from transmitting disease.

It’s important to do regular “tick checks” to make sure that a brown tick isn’t using your dog for a blood meal. Check your dog’s entire body but pay special attention to the head, ears and back, between their toes, and the area where their legs meet their bodies, which are favorite spots for brown dog ticks to attach.

But the best way to prevent brown dog ticks and other tick species is to give your dog regular flea and tick preventatives. “Pet parents should consider veterinary prescribed tick preventatives that are effective against brown dog ticks,” Dr. Clow says.

These easy-to-administer products can kill ticks as soon as they bite your dog, preventing disease transmission and ensuring your dog stays healthy.