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6 Tick Diseases in Dogs

6 min read

Once a tick bites, dogs who are not on preventative medication are left completely vulnerable.

 

All dogs not protected with flea and tick medicine are considered susceptible to tick-borne diseases, which are passed on to pets through tick bites.

 

When a tick attaches to your pet to feed on blood, the tick can deposit a disease-causing organism into your pet.

 

Ticks often have to be attached for 24-48 hours to transmit disease, but some diseases may be transmissible within just hours of tick attachment.

 

Tick diseases in dogs can have similar symptoms to other serious diseases and are difficult to diagnose without appropriate testing. If you suspect that your dog has a tick-borne disease, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

 

You can help keep your dog safe by being informed on the potential outcomes of a tick bite. Be sure to keep your pet protected against these six most common tick diseases found in dogs.

 

Canine Lyme Disease

 

Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease in dogs that is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme is transmitted to dogs by the deer tick or black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis). To transmit the disease, the deer tick must be attached to a dog for 36-48 hours.

 

Lyme disease is seen mostly in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Midwest. 

 

Clinical Signs

 

The majority of dogs exposed to Lyme disease never develop any identifiable illness. For those that do exhibit clinical signs, it tends to affect the joints and, less commonly, the kidneys.

 

Clinical signs include: 

 

  • Fever

  • Intermittent or shifting leg lameness

  • Lethargy

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Increased drinking and urination

  • Anorexia

  • Vomiting

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Heart complications or neurologic signs (rare)

 

Treatment

 

Antibiotics are the treatment of choice. In more complicated Lyme infections, like those affecting the kidneys, hospitalization and supportive care will be recommended.

 

Prevention

 

There is a Lyme vaccine that can be helpful for protecting dogs against Lyme disease. Your veterinarian will be able to decide if that is the right choice for your dog.

 

Canine Ehrlichiosis

 

Ehrlichiosis is another common tick-borne disease in dogs. This tick-borne disease is caused by the Ehrlichia canis bacterium and can lead to multisystemic complications in dogs.

 

Ticks responsible for carrying ehrlichiosis are the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus), American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) and deer tick. 

 

Most cases of ehrlichiosis occur within the Southwest and Gulf Coast regions.

 

Clinical Signs

 

Ehrlichiosis impacts multiple body systems. The severity of the disease will vary depending on factors like the duration of infection, the immune status of the patient and the strain of Ehrlichia.

 

Clinical signs include:

 

  • Lethargy

  • Anorexia

  • Bleeding disorders (bruising or bleeding from nose or into body cavities)

  • Stiffness or swollen joints

  • Fever

  • Enlarged lymph nodes or spleen

  • Difficulty breathing and cough

  • Ocular changes

  • Bone marrow suppression

  • Neurologic signs

 

Treatment

 

Antibiotics are the common treatment, but due to the multisystemic nature of the disease, additional supportive therapy may be warranted.

 

The sooner this disease is treated, the better the prognosis. Acute cases carry a better prognosis, while more chronic infectious cases carry a guarded prognosis.

 

Prevention

 

Various species of Ehrlichia can cause infections in both dogs and people. There is no vaccine available at this time, so daily, reliable tick prevention is extremely important in protecting your pet and yourself.

 

Canine Anaplasmosis

 

Canine anaplasmosis can be caused by two different species of bacterium. The first, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, infects the white blood cells and is the type that can also infect humans. The second, Anaplasma platys, infects a dog’s platelets.

 

It is spread by deer ticks and is most commonly seen in California, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Northeast.

 

Clinical Signs

 

Many dogs show no clinical signs of anaplasmosis. For those that do, illness will set in within a few weeks of the tick bite. Clinical signs include:

 

  • Fever

  • Lethargy

  • Inappetence

  • Stiffness and lameness

  • Bleeding disorders (anemia)

  • Ocular changes

 

Less common signs:

 

  • Vomiting/diarrhea

  • Enlarged lymph nodes

  • Neurologic signs

 

Treatment

 

Antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment of this disease. Prognosis is good if pets are treated early in the disease.

 

Prevention

 

Dogs can be reinfected, so using a reliable tick preventative is important for pets that may be at risk of exposure.

 

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

 

Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a tick disease in dogs caused by a bacterium, known as Rickettsia rickettsia, which uses the American dog tick and the brown dog tick as its main carriers. This is typically an acute disease that lasts for about two weeks. 

 

This tick-borne disease tends to be seen in the Southeast and South Central US; however, it has been reported across the United States.

 

Clinical Signs

 

Most dogs do not show signs, but if signs do develop, they include:

 

  • Fever

  • Depression

  • Vomiting, diarrhea

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Cough

  • Bleeding disorders, anemia

  • Neurologic signs

  • Arrhythmias

 

Treatment

 

Pets who contract RMSF may require hospitalization. Treatment includes appropriate antibiotic therapy and supportive care for any fluid loss, blood abnormalities and anemia. Prognosis once clinical signs develop is fair.

 

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Humans

 

RMSF is a zoonotic disease, meaning that humans can contract it as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), classify RMSF as a “nationally notifiable condition,” which means that confirmed cases should be reported to local or state health departments (depending on local laws).

 

Canine Babesiosis

 

Babesia is a protozoal disease that attacks the red blood cells in the body. The parasite can be transmitted through dog fights or blood transfusions (rare), but the most common mode of transmission is through tick bites.

 

Variations of babesia exist around the world, with the most notable in the US being B. gibsoni.

 

Clinical Signs

 

Canine babesiosis tends to cause the following clinical signs:

 

  • Lethargy

  • Pale mucous membranes or jaundice

  • Fever

  • Enlarged lymph nodes or spleen

 

Treatment

 

Treatment with antiprotozoal drugs will be needed, and in some cases, antibiotics will also be used. Specific treatment depends on the babesia species identified and the severity of disease. Some pets will require hospitalization, IV fluids and blood transfusions.

 

Canine Bartonellosis

 

Canine Bartonellosis is a disease caused by the bacterium Bartonella spp. A version of this disease in people is commonly referred to as "cat scratch fever." The specific organism that transmits the disease has not yet been identified in the dog; however, ticks are suspected.

 

This is a disease that can affect cats and people as well.

 

Clinical Signs

 

  • Enlarged lymph nodes

  • Ocular changes

  • Lameness

  • Neurologic changes

 

Treatment

 

Treatment with an antibiotic or a combination of antibiotics is necessary for at least one month. Prognosis is good in those treated promptly. This is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be contracted by pet owners.

 

This is another reason why flea and tick preventatives are so important for our pets.

 

Flea and Tick Prevention Can Help Keep Your Dog Protected

 

Because ticks can transmit diseases that can be harmful to both dogs and humans, proper year-round tick prevention (even in the winter months) is extremely important for your pet. Many products can help you do this.

 

Flea and tick prevention products your veterinarian could recommend may include:

 

 

Talk to your veterinarian about which would be a good fit for your pet.

 

Maintaining strict tick control on your dog and in the surrounding environment is key to preventing tick-borne illnesses. Examine your pet for ticks frequently and remove all ticks immediately.

 

In addition, keep grass, hedges and overgrowth on your property trimmed back to reduce the foliage for ticks and animals that carry them.

 

By: Dr. Monica Tarantino, DVM

Featured Image: iStock.com/Alfa Studio

 

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