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American Dog Ticks Can’t Give You Lyme Disease

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With the plethora of ticks this spring, it is perhaps comforting to know that not every tick you extract from your body has the potential to give you Lyme disease (or the powassan virus or many of the other diseases carried by Blacklegged Ticks (Ixodes scapularis), also known as Deer Ticks).

The American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is the most commonly encountered tick in northern New England. It is found predominantly in areas with little or no tree cover, such as grassy fields and scrubland, as well as along walkways and trails. This species of tick feeds on a variety of hosts, ranging in size from mice to deer and humans. Despite the fact that the bacterium that causes Lyme disease has been found in American Dog Ticks, tests prove that the tick can’t transmit the organism to its hosts. Therefore, the American Dog Tick isn’t involved in the spread of Lyme disease. (It does transmit Rocky Mt. Spotted Fever, however, but there are relatively few cases of it in the Northeast.)

The UNH Extension Service has such a succinct description of this tick’s life cycle that I am sharing it here. It is a “three-host tick,” so named because it must find and feed on an animal three times to complete its two- year life cycle…The dog tick begins life as an egg, one of hundreds laid in a mass on the ground by a female tick. The egg hatches into a larva, which has six legs. The larva remains on the ground in leaf litter, or in low vegetation while waiting for a small mammal (usually a rodent) to brush by. It attaches to the animal and feeds for several days. Then it drops off and molts to the nymph stage, which has eight legs. Again it waits for a host (usually a rodent) to brush by. When that happens, the tick attaches and feeds on it for several days. When fully fed it drops off and molts to the adult stage. Adult ticks wait on shrubs or tall grass and attach to larger mammals such as people, deer, or pets. They also take several days to fully engorge (feed). A female fully engorged with a blood meal can be almost the size of a dime, appearing smooth and shiny. Mating takes place on the host, and when fully fed, the females drop off and lay eggs. The life cycle can be as short as three months. (Photo: American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis)


Use repellents that contain 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on exposed skin.

Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, including boots, pants, socks and tents.

Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.

Check yourself, your kids, and your pets for ticks daily, especially after they spend time outdoors in areas where ticks may be found.

Remove attached ticks as soon as possible. The preferred method of removal is to grasp the tick close to the skin with tweezers or fine-tipped forceps and gently pull upward with constant pressure.

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33 responses

  1. Laurie Spry

    Thanks, Mary. Can we have a similar post about the ‘bad’ kind of tick?

    May 25, 2017 at 7:09 am

  2. Delighted to hear it. Picked up at least one down by the shore in Hingham, Mass, yesterday. I think it’s their sneakiness that so offensive to us. At least a mosquito takes its chances.

    May 25, 2017 at 7:19 am

  3. Chris

    My yard is overrun this year. So repulsive! I was reading online where cedar oil sprayed in the grass will kill ticks, but is safe for humans and pets. Does anyone have any experience with this? Thanks!

    May 25, 2017 at 7:33 am

  4. Susannah

    I often find dog ticks of all sizes on our dog and remove them daily. Frequently I find a second smaller tick right under the engorged tick, by the head. The engorged one typically the size of a fat watermelon seed, smaller one a bit smaller and flatter than an apple seed. Have never figured out the relationship. Ideas? Thanks for the great post!

    May 25, 2017 at 7:36 am

    • Could the smaller tick be a dog tick nymph? Or a black-legged tick, which is considerably smaller than a dog tick?

      May 25, 2017 at 8:09 am

    • Kathie Fiveash

      Could they be mating?

      May 25, 2017 at 10:21 am

      • I bet you’re right, Kathie!

        May 25, 2017 at 2:56 pm

      • Susannah

        I like the mating theory. Next time I find a cozy pairing on my dog, I will have a magnifier on hand to see if I can see evidence of this other kind of attachment!

        May 27, 2017 at 7:33 am

  5. Sue Feustel

    Good Morning Mary!
    Good topic this morning and very important. Ken and I love being outdoors and will not succumb to the ticks preventing us from birding and butterflying.
    Here on Long Island especially in the Pine Barrens we are especially vigilant about any ticks. Ken and I go butterflying and birding in these areas so we take some extra measures. Here ‘s what we do to prevent any ticks from getting on us:
    1. In heavily infested area we wear permithrin treated pants and socks. In addition, we will wear rubber boots sealed at the top with duct tape. Then I take some duct tape and wrap it around the boot with the sticky side exposed. It really catches the ticks!
    2. When we get home all the clothes go into the dryer for 15 minutes on high. We read somewhere that a high school student did a project on killing ticks this way and it was successful. I actually have found ticks in my lint filter.
    I buy the socks already treated and if ticks get into your boots it will kill them or they will crawl out. Boots are tricky and ticks can find a spot to hide.

    Keep up the wonderful work you do!
    Your friend

    May 25, 2017 at 7:36 am

    • Thanks so much, Sue, for your excellent suggestions. I am so often on the ground photographing that I will heed your duct tape solution! Even though I wear treated clothing, I still find ticks crawling all over it, which is discouraging, to say the least. Perhaps it’s not meant to kill them on contact, but it’s still disconcerting to find them there at all!

      May 25, 2017 at 8:01 am

  6. Linda

    There have been cases of rocky mountsin spotted fever in the northeast, particulaly in NY state and MA. see

    May 25, 2017 at 8:17 am

  7. Barbara Lane

    Dog ticks can carry other diseases, though – a member of my family got tularemia (rabbit fever) from a dog tick bite – so please be aware of any flu-like symptoms associated with a dog tick bite.

    May 25, 2017 at 8:40 am

  8. Clyde

    Isn’t it interesting that when we watch nature films from Africa, chimps and baboons groom each other regularly for ticks etc. However, we humans seem to have a no touch policy even though it could save us!

    May 25, 2017 at 9:22 am

  9. I thought you might be interested in an unusual tick occurrence. I was conducting a program at an environmental center with fields of tall grass. There was a path through the grass that was kept mowed. For the program, a ten foot area of grass next to the path was mowed that day. We set up a table of activities next to the path and placed our boxes of materials in one corner of the mowed area. During the day, I collected 60 ticks crawling up our boxes. No ticks were collected from anywhere but this one corner. I collected 23 adult female dog ticks, 36 adult male dog ticks and one adult female deer tick. None of the ticks were engorged. I wonder why so many ticks in one area. Could they have come from an animal – perhaps a deer had been resting there. If so, why were they all unfed ticks.

    May 25, 2017 at 9:57 am

  10. Pauline Bogaert

    Dear Mary: Thanks for this post. Say ticks, and people run scared. Yes, they are with us and we have to acknowledge that, but paranoia about the our most common tick is over-reaching. We have to be alert to them and use caution, just like when we cross the street.

    May 25, 2017 at 9:57 am

  11. BR

    Hi Mary, Thank you for letting folks know about Dog Ticks. has EXCELLENT id photos of several ticks in all stages of engorgement. When a tick is engorged, it is really hard to id.

    I recently read that dog /wood ticks are seekers, and will travel toward homes/barns where they detect hosts. Ixodes Scapularis is a quester climbing up and waiting for hosts to pass by. Interesting to me, sorry I don’t remember WHICH site I read as I am putting together some Tick Borne Disease awareness for elders and parents in my community.

    Best to you and thank you for your blog. My daughter and I are enjoying your book and reference it often!

    Bern Rose

    May 25, 2017 at 10:01 am

  12. BR

    sorry I forgot to tell you that permethrin (an insecticide with special binder for clothing) treated clothing, picaridin 20% spray, lemon eucalyptus oil (reported by Consumer Reports) lasts 6-7 hours – repel brand. The natural repellents tested by CR said the others lasted for one hour. Bern Rose

    May 25, 2017 at 10:03 am

  13. Kathie Fiveash

    I also find that rubber boots help a LOT, if I am not lying or sitting on the ground. There seem to be fewer ticks of all sorts in the woods than in the fields. I imagine that has to do with the density of the populations of small rodents. And on the comment by Susannah about the two ticks in one place on her dogs, I wonder if that is how they mate? Mary mentions that they mate on the host.

    May 25, 2017 at 10:20 am

  14. A note about permethrin: It is HIGHLY toxic to cats, and is in fact one of the leading causes of poisoning of cats. If you use permethrin-treated clothes and have cats, please keep the clothes in a space the cats cannot get into.

    May 25, 2017 at 11:40 am

  15. Carolyn Parrott

    You are so right, HOWEVER, about five years ago I got a severe case of cellulitis–potentially fatal–from a dog tick bite, for everyone’s information.

    May 25, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    • Oh dear. I hadn’t heard of that happening. Thanks for sharing your experience and glad that you recovered!

      May 25, 2017 at 2:51 pm

  16. Kathy Schillemat

    Could you please add the best way to dispose of live ticks that you pull off your clothing or your skin, whether attached or just crawling around? I usually just flush them down the toilet, but I don’t know if that is the best way to dispose of them. And where does one get pre-treated socks?

    May 25, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    • Alice Pratt

      If found in the house, on one of the kitties, people, and when we used to have dog & sometimes you just see them randomly crawling, I fold them into a piece of tape & “seal” if outside, I carefully squish between rocks. Dog, 2 kitties & I have had Lyme. Oddly, I haven’t found anymticks on me or kitties ( I don’t “treat” them) or in the house so far, this year….& plenty of deer here.

      May 25, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    • You can get treated socks at L.L.Bean, EMS, and just about any outdoor sports/clothing store. I don’t know the most effective way of getting rid of them for good. They can survive in water, probably until they reach your septic tank…burning with a match does the job…

      May 25, 2017 at 2:50 pm

  17. Tick checks once a day? I do one at least once an hour! A nasty reality these days… ticks really weren’t a problem here until the mid-90s, but it looks like they are here to stay.

    May 25, 2017 at 6:09 pm

  18. Susan Michael

    A better way to remove ticks is to put a drop of dish soap on a light colored washcloth and gently rub over the tick in a circular pattern. The tick lets go nearly immediately with all of its mouth parts in tact.

    May 25, 2017 at 9:32 pm

    • I will definitely give it a try the next time I’m bitten, which probably will be all too soon! Thanks so much for your tip!

      May 26, 2017 at 6:33 am

  19. April

    It’ may be best to avoid irritants to the tick, such as soap. At least in theory it may cause them to regurgitate into you before releasing their grasp on you. My fave is the o’tom tick twister. I’ve removed many from myself, my cats and patients. It comes in various sizes so you can even grasp a nymph without squeezing it.

    May 27, 2017 at 8:04 am

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