How to Tell How Long a Tick Has Been Attached To a Dog

How to Tell How Long a Tick Has Been Attached To a Dog

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Most biting bugs are known for biting and bailing in a jiffy. On the other hand, ticks will bite and remain attached for a long time because they need to feed on blood for several days.

It’s a blessing in disguise because it is easy to know if your dog has a tick infestation—you will find the ticks attached to the skin of your dog. A tick will typically feed for around 10 days after which it will detach itself from your pet.

But how exactly can you tell how long a tick has been attached to your dog?

The Short Answer:

Telling how long a tick has been attached to your dog is a bit tricky but possible.

Since a tick needs at least 36 hours of feeding to be engorged, an engorged tick indicates that it has been attached to your dog for at least 2 days.

However, the tick can still remain attached to the dog for up to 10 days, so it is safe to assume that an engorged tick has been attached for 2 to10 days. 

If the tick is not yet engorged, then it means it has only attached recently—possibly just a couple of hours.

So, once you see a tick on your dog, examine it to see if it’s engorged or not and that will tell you how long it has been attached.

The Long Answer:

How long a tick stays attached will depend on several factors including the species of the tick, the life stage of the tick, and how the host responds to the tick bite.

If a tick attaches and is left undisturbed, it will remain on its host for 3-7 days depending on the stage it is at in its life cycle.

The larvae of the tick will attach for 3 days, the nymphs for 4 days, and an adult (female) tick will remain attached for 7-10 days.

However, these are just averages and they can fluctuate depending on the species. For instance, a deer tick feeds faster by almost a day than American dog ticks.

If your dog has strong immunity, the ticks will find it hard to stay attached for too long.

A previous sensitization to certain proteins found in the tick saliva might affect the ability of a tick to ingest blood. In some cases, this makes them stay attached for a bit longer but for the most part, it makes the host itch more.

This itching forces the dog to scratch more which can result in the ticks falling off sooner than usual.

How Long Does A Tick Live?

The lifecycle of a tick has four stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult.

The larva and nymphs of a tick rely on a meal of blood to mold and grow to the next stages. Once they have reached the adult stage, the female ticks need the blood meal to lay eggs.

The male adult ticks require very little blood and they only attach themselves to your dog (or other animals) to feed the female ticks.

A tick typically detaches from a host at every stage of the Lifecycle, which means they will need to find at least 3 hosts to complete their life cycle.

The life cycle of a tick typically completes in a year although environmental factors can influence the time.

If the climatic conditions are not favorable, the development process is delayed which can extend the time needed to complete the life cycle by an additional 2 years.

The Danger Ticks Pose

Ticks attach to your dog to feed on their blood. When that happens, the dog can suffer from tick-borne infections.

The risk of your pet contracting the disease will depend on several factors including the season, your geographical location, what type of tick it is, and how long it was attached.

If the tick has been attached to the pet long enough to feed on the blood of your pet, then there is a very high risk of a tick-borne disease.

You can tell that a tick has fed on the blood of your dog if it is engorged. If it is not engorged, then there is a very low risk of infection.

Most ticks feed for more than 36 hours before they can transmit the spirochete. This means that the presence of a tick bite doesn’t necessarily mean your pet has been infected.

What you need to know is how long the tick was attached to your pet and then you can know for sure.

Lyme disease is caused by an organism known as Borrelia burgdorferi. This organism stays inactive in the tick’s midgut and only becomes active after it has been exposed to a meal of warm blood.

After it becomes active, the organism gets into the salivary glands of the tick and that is when the tick transmits the infectious parasite to its host.

As the tick sucks blood from the host, it occasionally gets rid of the excess saliva and so the tick will literally salivate the disease-causing organism into the host.


Once you notice a tick attached to your dog, you should deal with the issue right away.

There is a small window that you can take advantage of to avoid having to deal with tick-borne diseases.

It would be a good idea to have a vet check your dog just to be on the safe side.

Identifying where the dog got the ticks would also be a good way of avoiding future infestations. Try to trace your steps to the last place your dog visited and try to avoid it if possible.

Image sources: 1, 2, 3

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Sable M. is a canine chef, professional pet blogger, and proud owner of two male dogs. I have been an animal lover all my life, with dogs holding a special place in my heart. Initially, I created this blog to share recipes, tips, and any relevant information on healthy homemade dog treats. But because of my unrelenting passion to make a difference in the world of dogs, I have expanded the blog’s scope to include the best information and recommendations about everything dog lovers need to know about their canine friends’ health and wellbeing. My mission now is to find the most helpful content on anything related to dogs and share it with fellow hardworking hound lovers. While everything I share is in line with the latest evidence-based veterinarian health guidelines, nothing should be construed as veterinary advice. Please contact your vet in all matters regarding your Fido’s health.