Right up there with providing food and shelter, a key part of taking good care of your pet is protecting them from disease-carrying pests, including the tenacious tick. To defend your pet from the threat of ticks, it’s important to your risks, which leads us to a common question: Where do ticks live?
Unfortunately, tick populations are on the rise, and tick territories are expanding. Factors like climate change and an upsurge in white-tailed deer have changed the map of where ticks live.
As a result, ticks are more likely to be a concern for most pet parents than not. So here’s what you need to know about ticks, where they live, and what you can do to protect your pet from tick-borne diseases.
Where Do Ticks Live?
Ticks can be found in every state in the United States and on all continents around the world, even on indoor pets.
“I like to say that I don’t see ticks 365 days out of the year, but I do see them twelve months out of the year,” says Dr. Brian Herrin, DVM, an associate professor of veterinary parasitology at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “We encourage pet owners to use year-round prevention.”
Tick control products are considered a first line of defense to protect pets against ticks. There’s only one vaccine available, which is for Lyme disease. If you live in or visit high-risk areas like the upper Midwest or the northeast, ask your veterinarian if you should consider the vaccine as a second line of defense, suggests Dr. Herrin.
Tick season can vary depending on your location and the type of ticks that live there. Many ticks thrive in warmer weather and go dormant in freezing conditions. However, the black legged tick, which carries Lyme disease, is the most active in the winter.
Where Do Ticks Live Outside?
Ticks can be found in a variety of habitats. Generally, they lurk in wooded, brushy, or grassy areas, which protect them from drying out in the open air.
“Black legged ticks end up in the woods or along the wooded edges of people’s properties, brown dog ticks are more likely to be out in the fields, and lone star ticks can be in either place because of the nature of the hosts that they feed on,” says tick expert Dr. Thomas Mather, director of University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease and its TickEncounter Resource Center. All of the above are found throughout the eastern United States.
While tick behavior can vary, many ticks “quest,” or wait to latch onto you or your pet, by crawling up shrubs or blades of grass and detecting hosts using sensors for heat, vibrations, and carbon dioxide.
Where Do Ticks Live Indoors?
Ticks can be carried inside by unsuspecting pets, humans, and even attached to non-living objects like camping gear. However, ticks aren’t likely to seek shelter in your home on purpose because most tend to dry out and die in low-humidity indoor environments.
Black legged ticks are more sensitive to dry conditions and won’t last long indoors. American dog ticks and Lone Star ticks, on the other hand, are a little more tolerant to dry conditions and could survive as long as a few days or weeks.
The only tick that thrives inside is the brown dog tick, which can survive and reproduce indoors. These ticks are more common in the southern United States and can quickly cause major tick infestations.
As the name suggests, brown dog ticks love to feed on dogs and are often found in kennels and shelters. You might see them crawling up walls and screened windows, peeking out of gaps in bricks, under dog beds, or in carpeted areas.
Where You’ll Find Tick Eggs and Nests
Tick eggs and nests can be found in woodsy or grassy areas or cracks and crevices of walls. Adult female ticks lay thousands of eggs at one time. A tick nest looks like a tiny bunch of beadlike eggs.
Ticks typically have four life stages: egg, larva (seed tick), nymph, and adult. One generation of ticks can live anywhere from three months to upwards of two years depending on the conditions they live in.
When tick eggs hatch, six-legged larvae don’t wander far and immediately begin searching for a host to latch onto — usually a smaller animal like a mouse. After feeding on their first host, they fall off and molt into eight-legged nymphs who then seek another host, like a dog or a cat. After feeding, they drop off and molt into adults.
Most pet parents encounter adult ticks. After adult ticks become engorged, they quickly mate, drop off, and die as another life cycle begins.
Tick Species and Where They Live Geographically
There are seven species of ticks that pose a threat to cats and dogs. Not all species are spread evenly throughout the country. So some may be a bigger threat than others, depending on where you and your pet live.
In the eastern United States, tick species that can cause disease in pets include:
- American Dog Tick
- Black Legged Tick or Deer Tick
- Brown Dog Tick
- Golf Coast Tick (southeast only)
- Lone Star Tick
In the western United States, tick species that may affect pets include:
- American Dog Tick (Pacific Coast only)
- Brown Dog Tick
- Rocky Mountain Wood Tick (high elevations only)
- Western Blacklegged Tick
Here’s a more detailed breakdown of where each species can be found, the dangers they pose, and how to recognize them:
American Dog Tick
Adult ticks are reddish brown with whitish-gray markings and appear gray when fully engorged. They live in grassy fields and on trails and walkways. They’re most active during the spring and summer.
According to this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) map of regions where naturally occurring American dog ticks live, they may be a concern for residents of these states: Ala., Ariz., Ark., Calif., Conn., Del., D.C., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kan., Ky., La., Maine, Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., Mont., Neb., N.H., N.J., N.Y., N.C., N.D., Ohio, Okla., Ore., Pa., R.I., S.C., S.D., Tenn., Texas, Vt., Va., W.Va., Wis., and Wyo.
Brown Dog Tick
Brown dog ticks are most prevalent in the southeastern region of the United States, but naturally occurring populations can be found in all 48 states of the contiguous U.S., as well as Hawaii. They transmit infections including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Brown dog ticks are dark brown with pit-like dimples and turn gray-blue when engorged. You can find them on your pet, in their bedding, and around the house.
Black Legged Tick
Black legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, are found throughout the eastern United States. They transmit many diseases including anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and Lyme disease.
Black legged ticks have an orange-red body with black features and appear gray when engorged. They can be picked up in forests and grasslands from October to May. According to this CDC map of regions where naturally occurring black legged ticks live, they may be a concern for residents of these states: Ala., Alaska, Ark., Conn., Del., D.C., Fla., Ga., Hawaii, Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kan., Ky., La., Maine, Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., Neb., N.H., N.J., N.Y., N.C., N.D., Ohio, Okla., Pa., R.I., S.C., S.D., Tenn., Texas, Vt., Va., W.Va., and Wis.
Gulf Coast Tick
Gulf Coast ticks primarily live along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico but can also be found along the Atlantic. They transmit a disease called hepatozoonosis.
Gulf Coast ticks have red bodies with white ornate markings. They live in meadows and on the edge of forests. They’re most active from April to October.
According to this CDC map of regions where naturally occurring Gulf Coast ticks live, they may be a concern for residents of these states: Ala., Ark., Fla., Ga., Kan., La., Md., Miss., Mo., N.C., Okla., S.C., Tenn., Texas, and Va.
Lone Star Tick
Lone Star Ticks are found throughout the eastern, southeastern, and south-central states. They cause many diseases including cytauxzoonosis, ehrlichiosis, rickettsiosis, and tularemia.
Lone star ticks stand out thanks to the bright white dot on their brown bodies. They’re a particularly aggressive tick that can be encountered in dense woodlands from April to August.
According to this CDC map of regions where naturally occurring Lone Star ticks live, they may be a concern for residents of these states: Ala., Alaska, Ark., Conn., Del., D.C., Fla., Ga., Hawaii, Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kan., Ky., La., Maine, Md., Mass., Miss., Mo., Neb., N.H., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Okla., Pa., R.I., S.C., Tenn., Texas, Vt., Va., W.Va., and Wis.
Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
Rocky Mountain wood ticks are found in the Rocky Mountains and northwest Pacific regions at higher elevations. They transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, and they can cause tick paralysis.
Rocky Mountain wood ticks are brown and become gray when engorged.
According to this CDC map of regions where naturally occurring Rocky Mountain wood ticks live, they may be a concern for residents of these states: Calif., Colo., Idaho, Kan., Mont., Neb., Nev., N.M., N.D., Okla., Ore., S.D., Wash., and Wyo.
Western Blacklegged Tick
Western blacklegged ticks are found along the Pacific Coast and eastward into Utah and Nevada. They transmit anaplasmosis and Lyme disease.
Western blacklegged ticks are brownish-red in color and found in forests and grasslands from winter to early summer. According to this CDC map of regions where naturally occurring Western blacklegged ticks live, they may be a concern for residents of these states: Ariz., Calif., Nev., Ore., Utah, and Wash.
Where Do Ticks Live on Pets?
Ticks can hide anywhere on cats and dogs, so it’s important to do full-body scans and pay attention to signs of distress like nagging ear rubs or paw licks. Adult ticks latch on and feed for several days to weeks, and it’s common to find them three to four days later when they’ve become fully engorged, says Dr. Mather.
Make sure to check:
- Head and ears, including inside the ears where ticks often crawl into warm hiding spots
- Eyelids, where ticks can be mistaken for discharge or skin tags
- On the neck and under the collar
- Under the arms, tail, and groin
- Between the toes
- On the belly and back
If you find a tick, use tweezers to remove it and place it between pieces of tape or inside a sealed plastic bag. If your pet’s health declines in the next few weeks, contact your veterinarian for help. They may be able to identify the tick to better guide them in diagnosing and treating your pet.
Protecting Your Home and Pets from a Tick Infestation
The best way to protect your home and pets from a tick infestation is to prevent one in the first place. There are plenty of tick preventatives on the market, ranging from over-the-counter solutions to monthly oral and topical tick preventatives that require a prescription.
Talk to your veterinarian to find out what prevention plan fits your pet’s unique needs best. Your vet can consider factors like the ticks that are prevalent in your region and your pet’s species, age, weight, and other health conditions and recommend the best options.
These could include a monthly oral tick preventative medication, many of which also target fleas, such as Credelio chewable tablets.
However, many veterinarians recommend broad-spectrum parasite preventatives that target external pests, like ticks and fleas, as well as internal threats, like heartworms and intestinal parasites.
These monthly preventatives come in both oral forms, such as Simparica TRIO chewable tablets for dogs, and topical options, such as Revolution Plus for cats. They offer the benefit of 360-degree protection against a wide array of parasites, plus the convenience of one-and-done dosing. It’s important to note that these medications require annual heartworm testing, even if your pet is on the preventative year-round.
In addition to the appropriate parasite preventative, here are some additional tips for protecting your pet from a tick infestation:
- If you live in the upper Midwest or the Northeast, consider the Lyme vaccine for an added layer of protection.
- When walking or hiking with your pet, stay on the sidewalk or trail. Avoid tick-heavy territory like heavily wooded, grassy areas.
- Regularly check your pet for ticks after spending time outside, especially if you’ve been in woodsy areas or tall grasses.
To keep ticks out of your yard, use pet-safe tick deterrents.
- Clear high-traffic areas of tick hiding spots like fallen leaves, ground cover, and tall grasses.
- Keep your lawn mowed and shrubs trimmed to reduce tick launch pads.
- Create a buffer zone between woodsy areas and your lawn with mulch, gravel, or wood chips.
Ticks may be a year-round reality, but they don’t have to be a constant concern. To take care of your pet, stay up to date with monthly preventatives and make tick checks step one after you return home from adventures.