American Dog Tick

Image of a female American dog tick
Female American dog tick with a dime for size reference.

Need to know

  • The American dog tick is the most common tick species found in Iowa. 
  • Adults are most active from late April through May.
  • It has a wide host range feeding on both large and medium-sized mammals.
  • Protecting yourself with repellants when in tick habitat (tall grass) and check yourself, children, pets when returning indoors.

Description of American dog ticks

The American dog tick is the most common tick found in Iowa. They are a fairly large (5 mm) and females have a cream colored shiel covering the upper potions of their bodies.  Males have a mottled appearance.   

Life cycle of the American dog ticks

Like all ticks, the American dog tick goes through an egg, larva, nymph, and adult stage during its development. While they may be found throughout the year, adults are most active from late April through May. The larva, nymph, and adult stages must each have a blood meal before they can develop to the next stage.

Damage caused by American dog ticks

The American dog tick has a fairly wide host range. Adults commonly infest both large and medium-sized mammals such as dogs, cattle, deer, raccoons, and opossum. The immature stages may feed on these same hosts but prefer to infest smaller mammals such as meadow mice, squirrels, and chipmunks. All stages of the American dog tick will also feed on humans if given the opportunity.

Although they are abundant, the American dog tick is not considered to be a serious human health threat in Iowa. Specifically, they do not transmit Lyme disease. Although dog ticks do not carry Lyme disease, they are the main carrier of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in the Midwest states. Although this disease is relatively rare in Iowa it is important to remove ticks promptly and report properly identify any engorged tick to determine if it has the potential to carry disease. 

Management of American dog ticks

Control of American dog ticks in outdoor areas is extremely difficult. While several insecticides are labeled for outdoor tick control, they are usually not effective in eliminating large numbers of ticks in brushy, heavily wooded areas. There are, however, some management techniques that can discourage a buildup of ticks in these areas. Habitat modification is considered to be the most permanent approach to tick management. Since ticks must be in areas of high humidity in order to survive, they are most commonly found in grassy, brushy, wooded, and shaded areas. Therefore, reducing the humidity in these areas by keeping grass well-clipped, removing brush, and pruning trees to allow more sunlight to penetrate to the soil surface will discourage ticks from becoming established in these areas. The best approach when working or recreating in tick-infested areas is to use personal protection in the form of repellents, wear protective clothing, and carefully inspect for and promptly and safely remove any attached ticks.

How do I get a tick identified?

You can submit ticks for identification to the ISU Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic.  Please note that we do not test for tick-borne diseases, including Lyme's disease.  Please click here for submittal information.

Additional Resources on American dog ticks

Do you live in Iowa and have an insect you would like identified?

The Iowa State University Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic will identify your insect, provide information on what it eats, life cycle, and if it is a pest the best ways to manage them.  Please see our website for current forms, fees, and instructions on preserving and mailing insects.

Contact information for each state's diagnostic laboratory for U.S. residents.  If you live outside of Iowa, please do not submit a sample without contacting the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic

Last reviewed:
November 2021

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on September 12, 2016. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.