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Lone Star Tick: 4 Dangers for Dogs

Closeup of a lone star tick on a leaf
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When you spot a tick on your dog, your first thought is probably, “Ewwww,” and not, “What tick species is that?” 

While it’s true that all species of ticks have a serious ick factor, different tick species can carry different diseases and risks for our canine companions. It can be a helpful skill to know which species you’re dealing with.

“Ticks are not only unsightly but also pass dangerous diseases to dogs,” says Michael Stone DVM, internal medicine veterinarian and associate clinical professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “Some diseases are mild and some may be fatal. The spectrum of diseases that can be caught from tick bites is wide.”

Most people are familiar with blacklegged (deer) ticks and their ability to transmit Lyme disease. However, the lone star tick is an aggressive tick species that is becoming more common in the U.S. In a national survey of ticks on dogs and cats, more than 23 percent of dogs were infested with lone star ticks (1). 

Year-round tick and flea control can help guard your dog against tick-borne diseases. Credelio is a small, tasty chewable for dogs that is effective against four species of ticks, including the lone star tick.

Here is what you need to know about the lone star tick and potential dangers for dogs.

What Is a Lone Star Tick?

The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) is known as an aggressive species that seeks out hosts, including dogs, for a blood meal (2). Lone star ticks used to be limited to the eastern, southeastern and south-central parts of the United States, but their range continues to expand. They have been found as far north as Maine and as far west as Oklahoma.

The size and appearance of lone star ticks varies depending on their sex and life stage. Adult females are the easiest to spot because of the white dot—the namesake “lone star” on the center of their backs, called a scutum (3). Their bodies range in color from white/cream to gold and bronze and grow from 4 millimeters to 16 millimeters (or larger) in diameter after a blood meal (4).

Adult males are smaller and have dark brown or red patches on their scutum and often have streaks of white pigment around the outer edges of their bodies.

Lone Star Tick vs Deer Tick

The lone star tick and deer tick (aka the blacklegged tick) have several distinguishing features (5). Like the lone star tick, female deer ticks are larger than males but their scutum is dark brown to black in color and has an overlay that is a shade of brownish-orange. 

Their geographic range is different, too. Deer ticks are found in the Northeast and their range spans west and south to include states in the Great Lakes region, Atlantic and Gulf Coast. 

One of the biggest differences between the species is their questing behavior, according to Andrea Egizi, Ph.D., research scientist at the Tick-Borne Disease Laboratory at the Monmouth County Division of Mosquito Control in New Jersey.

“Lone star ticks are more active questers,” Egizi explains. “Instead of waiting on a blade of grass for the host to brush against them, if [a lone star tick] senses CO2, they actually crawl toward a host…In contrast to other kinds of ticks that are more passive and they’ll wait for you to come to them.”

Are Lone Star Ticks Dangerous to Dogs? 4 Risks to Know

Warning sign for lone star ticks in the woods

All ticks have the potential to transmit disease to pets and people, Dr. Stone notes. So, what diseases do lone star ticks carry? Here are some of the risks for dogs to know about:

Ehrlichiosis

Lone star ticks can transmit two different Ehrlichia bacteria: Ehrlichia chaffeensis, and Ehrlichia ewingii. Dogs start showing symptoms, including fever, joint pain, loss of appetite, lameness, and anemia, within one to three weeks of being bitten by an infected tick (6). 

Your veterinarian will run blood tests to detect Ehrlichiosis antibodies; if it’s positive, ehrlichiosis is treated with a 28-day dose of antibiotics. Symptoms should improve within two to three days of starting treatment.

Tularemia

Although tularemia is uncommon in dogs, cases of the tick-borne disease have been reported. Illness is mild but symptoms can include fever, discharge from the eyes or nose, swollen lymph nodes, and loss of appetite (7).

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

As the name suggests, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is most common in the Rocky Mountain states, but it’s also found in the southeast where lone star ticks are prevalent. 

Lone star ticks transmit the Rickettsia rickettsii bacteria, but Egizi notes, “In the eastern U.S., people have tested a lot of ticks and not found very much Rickettsia rickettsii; the lone star tick can carry it, but it’s very, very rare.”

Dogs with Rocky Mountain spotted fever can experience a wide variety of signs, such as fever, lack of energy, stiffness when walking, and neurological abnormalities. The symptoms appear suddenly and can cause severe illness that lasts weeks. It can be fatal, so immediate treatment is essential.

Tick Paralysis

Some species of female ticks secrete a neurotoxin in their saliva that can cause paralysis. It’s mostly an issue with American dog ticks and deer ticks, but other species can transmit the neurotoxins, too. 

“Tick paralysis is rare in dogs in the United States,” says Dr. Stone. “It’s more common in Australia.”

Symptoms like weakness, limb paralysis, facial drooping, and trouble chewing start around three to five days after a tick attaches. Removal of the infected tick is the primary method of treatment, and results in a rapid improvement in symptoms. Some dogs may require hospitalization and supportive care, such as IV fluids or, in more severe cases, mechanical ventilation. 


In humans, lone star ticks can also transmit Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), Heartland virus, and alpha-gal syndrome (red meat allergy). These conditions are not known to affect dogs. In cats, lone star ticks can transmit bobcat fever (cytauxzoonosis), which is rare but often fatal.

Lone Star Tick Bite Symptoms 

You might notice a tick attached to your dog before you notice any symptoms. In general, Dr. Stone notes that lack of energy or loss of appetite are the most common lone star tick dog symptoms. Dogs bitten by disease-carrying ticks may also experience:

  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lameness 
  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Swollen lymph nodes 
  • Stiff gait 
  • Neurological abnormalities
  • Sudden paralysis

Lone Star Tick on Dog: Next Steps

Lone star ticks can attach “basically anywhere,” according to Dr. Stone, but tend to favor the face, neck and ears, as well as dogs’ backs and between the toes. If you spot a tick on your dog, grab a tick removal tool and remove it immediately.

“Avoid folklore remedies such as ‘painting’ the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin,” Dr. Stone says. “Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible—not waiting for it to detach.”

To dispose of the tick, you can put it in rubbing alcohol or in a sealed bag or flush it down the toilet. “Removal of the tick and monitoring for signs of illness are my typical recommendations,” Dr. Stone adds.

Lone Star Ticks and Dogs: How to Protect Your Pup

To protect your dog against lone star ticks and other tick species, talk to your veterinarian about flea and tick control. Options range from oral medications to topicals and collars. Credelio is a tasty chewable that kills ticks and fleas fast and lasts a full month. To provide your dog with 360-degree parasite protection, ask your veterinarian about Interceptor Plus, which covers heartworm disease and four other worms.

Credelio for dogs packaging
Interceptor Plus for dogs packaging

After spending time outside with your dog, always conduct a “tick check” and remove any ticks that have attached.

Even though ticks are less common in the colder months, Egizi believes keeping your dog on parasite control all year long is important. “There are species of ticks, like the blacklegged tick, that will come out to quest any time it’s even slightly warm during the winter.” 

References

  1. Saleh, Meriam N et al. “Ticks infesting dogs and cats in North America: Biology, geographic distribution, and pathogen transmission.” Veterinary parasitology vol. 294 (2021): 109392. doi:10.1016/j.vetpar.2021.109392
  2. “Lone star tick a concern, but not for Lyme disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Page last reviewed Nov. 2018. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/stari/disease/index.html
  3. “Lone Star Tick.” The University of Rhode Island. TickEncounter. Retrieved from https://web.uri.edu/tickencounter/species/lone-star-tick/
  4. “Lone star tick.” Texas A&M AgriLife. The Tick App. Retrieved from https://tickapp.tamu.edu/home/tick-identification/lone-star-tick/
  5. “Black-legged tick.” Texas A&M AgriLife. The Tick App. Retrieved from https://tickapp.tamu.edu/home/tick-identification/black-legged-tick/
  6. “Ehrlichiosis in Dogs: Fast Facts for Veterinarians.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ehrlichiosis/pdfs/fs-ehrlichiosisvet-508.pdf
  7. “Tularemia Facts.” American Veterinary Medical Association. June 2003. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/tularemia-facts