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Lone Star tick on a leaf outdoors.
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If you’re a dog owner, you’re already likely concerned about ticks during your state’s tick season. Unfortunately, there are always more types of ticks to worry about. You may have heard of the lone star tick (Amblyomma Americanum). This breed of tick has been potentially linked to several different diseases, plus one surprising allergy in dogs and people. It’s unfortunately expanding its range — here’s what to know to help keep your dog safe this flea and tick season.

What Is a Lone Star Tick?

Luckily, lone star ticks don’t look as similar to other types of ticks. Adult female lone star ticks are especially easy to spot: they are reddish brown with a big white dot on their back. Male adult lone star ticks have a geometric, black pattern on their backs. Male and female larvae and “nymphs,” which are young ticks that are not yet fully grown, are both translucent yellow.

It can be confused with the American dog tick, which also has a white dot on its back. The American dog tick’s white dot is larger than that of the lone star tick’s, and it’s more towards the front of their back, near their head. Tick identification guides can help you tell the difference, also at different stages of a tick’s life. When ticks are “engorged,” they will also look different. Engorged ticks are ticks that have fed and are full of blood. Lone star ticks have oval to roundish bodies, and engorged lone star ticks are usually larger, and females turn grayish-brown in color when they’ve fed. This color change can make them harder to identify, because they’ll look more similar to other kinds of ticks. Female ticks range in size from 1/8 of an inch when not engorged to 1/2 inch when fully engorged. Male ticks are smaller.

Lone Star tick on a leaf.
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Lone star ticks are found mostly in the eastern and especially southeastern United States but have been extending their range westward and northward. In fact, they’ve been found as far north as coastal Maine and upstate New York, and west through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa to parts of Nebraska. In the south, they’ve been seen through the eastern parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Lone star ticks aren’t picky about who they bite. Larvae, nymphs, and adult ticks bite humans, dogs, cats, livestock, and wild animals. They seem to favor larger animals such as deer, but also often bite wild turkeys. They’re also often called the “turkey tick” because they’re often found on turkeys.

What Diseases Do Lone Star Ticks Carry?

Even though they bite, lone star larvae don’t carry disease. Bites from nymphs and adult lone star ticks, however, can cause tick borne diseases, including ehrlichiosis, tularemia and possibly Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Fortunately, the lone star tick doesn’t seem to transmit Lyme disease.

Lone star ticks transmit several other diseases that most likely don’t affect dogs. One condition is alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), that causes some people to develop allergies to red meat. However, despite one study finding alpha-gal antibodies in dogs, there’s no evidence of it ever causing problems in any species but humans, apes, and Old World monkeys.

Lone star ticks are also known to transmit Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) to humans, but not to dogs. They’ve also recently been identified as the carrier for the newly emerging heartland virus. Heartland virus hasn’t been identified in domestic dogs but antibodies to it have been found in coyotes.

Lone star ticks transmit a deadly disease to cats called bobcat fever. It doesn’t affect dogs, but it may be one more reason to keep ticks off your dog that could be brought inside to your cats.

How Can Lone Star Tick Bites Be Prevented?

It can be hard to avoid lone star ticks if you exercise your dog in densely green areas. These ticks prefer wooded habitats but can also be found in bushes and shrubbery. They also have preferences for spaces between wooded areas and meadows or grasslands, which are areas where deer tend to graze and dogs often sniff. Lone star ticks climb to the ends of leaves or tall grass and attach to anything that brushes by.

You can reduce tick habitat in your yard by removing leaf litter, keeping the grass cut short, removing any bushes or shrubs you don’t really like, and even fencing off wooded areas. Discourage wildlife from entering your yard by erecting tall fences and having little in your yard to entice them.

Owner taking a tick off a dog.
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Carefully examine both you and your dog after being outside. Ticks can be anywhere on your dog, but they like to settle most around the head, ears, under the neck, and in the armpits.

Talk to your veterinarian about tick prevention for your dog. Many tick products don’t repel the ticks but do kill them after they’ve been attached for 24 to 48 hours. While most diseases can take that long to be transmitted, some may be transmitted more rapidly. A manual inspection is still the best prevention.

A discussion of products for humans is available, but you should check with your veterinarian to make sure they’re safe and effective for your dog in your area.

If you spot any tick on your dog or yourself, remove it immediately but carefully. Never try to remove a tick without gloves, as there’s a chance it could burst and spread illness to you through any small cuts or openings on your skin. If you use fine-tip tweezers and a slow, steady force, the head will usually come out. Be sure to wash your hands with hot, soapy water after removing the tick, and talk to your veterinarian if you have any concerns.
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