What do ticks look like & how to spot them

As a dog owner, it’s important to know what ticks look like to keep your dog safe. Ticks can cause serious and potentially fatal diseases in dogs, so it’s important to keep up to date with your knowledge on these parasites, including what they look like and how to protect your dog.

Types of ticks

There are three main species of ticks that infest dogs in Australia; paralysis ticks, brown dog ticks, and bush ticks. The most important of these is the deadly paralysis tick, found on the east coast from northern Queensland to Victoria. Most ticks need humidity and mild weather to survive. For this reason, ticks are most frequently found in the warmer months, but can be found throughout the year.

tick table
tick table

What does a paralysis tick look like?

Identifying the species of a tick can be difficult and so it’s best to contact your veterinary clinic for advice. The eastern paralysis tick is the cause of most cases ofif tick paralysis in Australia. The first and fourth pairs of legs of the eastern paralysis tick are darker in colour (brown) compared to the second and third pairs of legs (beige).

If you find a tick on your dog it should be removed as soon as possible. If you are unsure as to whether it’s a paralysis tick or not, it’s best to assume the worst (just in case) and take steps to quickly remove it – or take your dog to your vet immediately and ask them to do it for you. Learn more about tick removal here.

It is important to know the signs of tick paralysis in dogs so you can act quickly if you suspect your dog has been bitten.

Paralysis tick symptoms can include:

  • Loss of coordination in the hind legs (wobbly or not being able to get up) which may progress to paralysis
  • Change in bark
  • Retching, vomiting or loss of appetite
  • Coughing
  • Laboured or rapid breathing

If your dog shows any of these symptoms you should seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. The recovery time from tick paralysis can be several days or weeks and tick paralysis can be fatal, even with the best treatment.

paralysis tick table
paralysis tick table

What does a bush tick look like?

Identifying the species of a tick can be difficult and so it’s best to contact your veterinary clinic for advice. Bush ticks have short mouth parts and tiny spurs on their head which helps to identify them but this can only be seen with magnification. Bush ticks in Australia are found along parts of the east and west coast. Bush ticks can cause skin irritation and can also transmit potentially fatal diseases when they bite (e.g. babesiosis).

bush tick
bush tick

What does a brown dog tick look like?

Brown dog ticks have eyes which differentiates them from other common ticks which infest dogs in Australia, although identifying the species of a tick can be difficult and so it’s best to contact your veterinary clinic for advice. The brown dog tick is widely distributed throughout Australia. Although these ticks cannot cause paralysis, they can cause skin irritation and heavy infestations may result in anaemia from excessive blood loss. Brown dog ticks can also transmit potentially fatal infections from one dog to another. Ehrlichia canis is one such bacteria that is transmitted by brown dog ticks. This potentially fatal brown dog tick disease was identified for the first time in Australia in 2020. Cases have been detected almost exclusively in remote communities of Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

brown dog tick table
brown dog tick table

What do tick bites look like on dogs?

If the tick is still attached to the skin, it will appear as a small lump protruding from the skin. Upon closer inspection you may be able to see the tick’s legs. Learn more about tick removal here. It can be difficult to identify a tick bite if the tick is no longer attached to the skin, but the site of the bite may be red and slightly raised.

What do baby ticks look like?

Ticks go through four life stages; eggs, larvae, nymphs and adults. Tick larvae or nymphs are very small, and may be difficult to see. Tick larvae have six legs while nymphs and adults have 8 legs.

How to spot ticks

When a tick first attaches to your dog they are small and often difficult to find. They enlarge as they feed, so the longer they are attached, the easier they are to find.  Unfortunately, the longer they are attached, the more likely they are to cause problems. Most of the time ticks are found around the head and neck area, however they can be anywhere on the body so checking all over is required. It is recommended to check your dog for ticks daily, even if they are on a tick control product.

To search for ticks on your dog:

  1. Gently move your fingertips through the coat at the level of the skin, feeling for any bumps.
  2. Start at the head and neck (don’t forget the mouth and ears). Continue down the front legs to the paws, checking in between and underneath the toes. Search the chest, belly, back, tail and back legs.
  3. Remove the collar and search for ticks that may be hiding underneath it.

Want more information on the treatments available for your dog or puppy? Learn more about NexGard® for Dogs and NexGard SPECTRA® for Dogs for protection against ticks and other parasites.


  • What are the effects of ticks on dogs?

    Depending on the tick species, ticks can cause deadly tick paralysis or transmit other harmful and potentially fatal diseases to dogs. At the very least, a tick bite may cause irritation where it attaches to your dog.

  • How old does a dog need to be before I give it a tick control product?

    NexGard for Dogs can be used in puppies from 8 weeks of age and 2 kg bodyweight. NexGard SPECTRA for Dogs can be used in puppies from 8 weeks of age and 1.35 kg bodyweight.

  • How do I protect my dog from ticks?

    To protect your dog against ticks you should use a proven tick treatment like NexGard for Dogs or NexGard SPECTRA for Dogs all year round. Just one monthly chew provides effective control of pre-existing paralysis ticks within 24 hours and provides protection for a full month against paralysis ticks, brown dog ticks and bush ticks. Although tick control products will control most of the ticks that your pet may be exposed to, it only takes one tick to cause tick paralysis. For this reason, it is important to also perform daily tick searches on your pet.



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