Painful and potentially life-threatening symptoms can occur due to tick-borne diseases. Today, our Everett vets discuss the signs and prevention of tick-borne diseases in dogs.
Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs
Tick-borne diseases affect thousands of dogs across the US annually and are capable of producing some very serious and painful symptoms for your pet. Some of the conditions spread by ticks can even be fatal for dogs.
Tick-Borne Diseases & Your Dog's Immune System
Ticks can transmit one or multiple kinds of organisms to your dog through a single bite (coinfection), allowing different organisms to work together to release toxins and trigger your dog’s immune system. Once these organisms have entered your pet's body, they invade your dog's cells and hijack their immune system. Some tick-borne organisms are even capable of helping each other to survive inside your pet's body, which can lead to recurring or chronic infections.
Illnesses spread by ticks result in your dog's organs and tissues becoming infected and inflamed, producing a myriad of symptoms. In some cases, symptoms may not appear until several weeks after your pet has become infected with the disease.
Common Tick-Borne Diseases Seen in Dogs
There are several tick-borne illnesses seen in dogs across North America. Sometimes, dogs encounter infected ticks near home, and in other cases, these diseases have been contracted by the pet while away from home (e.g on out-of-state camping trips with pet parents). Below are some of the most common tick-borne diseases diagnosed in dogs.
- Although less common than some other tick-borne diseases, the symptoms of Canine Bartonellosis can be very serious. Some of the earliest signs of Canine Bartonellosis include intermittent fever and lameness but left untreated this condition can lead to serious conditions such as heart or liver disease.
- Caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria which is transmitted by infected black-legged ticks or deer ticks, Lyme disease can affect dogs and people across North America. The symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can include lethargy, lameness, fever, joint pain or swelling, and the enlargement of lymph nodes. Lyme disease in dogs can be successfully treated.
Rickettsial organisms are bacterial obligate intracellular parasites that can be spread by infected ticks. Several diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Canine Anaplasmosis are caused by Rickettsial bacteria. Bacterial diseases such as those listed below can be very challenging to diagnose. Multiple tests or rounds of treatment may be needed before a definitive diagnosis can be determined for your dog's symptoms.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is carried by the Rocky Mountain wood tick, brown deer tick, and American dog tick. This disease is seen in dogs across Central, South, and North America, and can also affect humans. Common symptoms in dogs include swollen lymph nodes, joint pain, poor appetite, and fever. In some cases, dogs may also experience neurological symptoms such as balance issues or weakness.
- Several different ticks can transmit Canine Ehrlichiosis, including the American dog tick, brown dog tick, and lone star tick. The symptoms usually take between 1-3 weeks to begin showing after your dog and can include signs like fever, poor appetite, nose bleeds, and bruising. Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to the successful treatment of Canine Ehrlichiosis. Treatment can be more challenging in dogs that develop chronic symptoms of the disease.
- The most common symptoms of Canine Anaplasmosis are similar to those of other tick-borne diseases and include lethargy, loss of appetite, stiff joints, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. In severe cases, however, Canine Anaplasmosis can lead to seizures in dogs.
Protozoal intracellular parasites are also transmitted by ticks. These organisms make their home in the dog’s red blood cells and are the cause of the Protozoal diseases listed below.
- Canine Babesiosis is primarily spread through the bite of infected brown dog ticks or American dog ticks. However, it can also be transmitted via a bite from an infected dog, contaminated IV blood, or transferred from a pregnant mother to her unborn puppies through transplacental transmission. Canine Babesiosis causes the breakdown of red blood cells, resulting in symptoms such as jaundice, pale gums, lethargy, dark-colored urine, and in some cases generalized weakness and vomiting.
- Canine Hepatozoonosis is a tick-borne disease, but your pet could also contract the disease by eating another infected animal (e.g. rodent or bird). Dogs infected with this disease will often show mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. That said, depending on the strain of the disease more severe cases can lead to symptoms that can seriously impact your pet's mobility such as muscle, bone, and/or joint pain. Other symptoms of Canine Hepatozoonosis include fever, pale gums and skin, and enlarged lymph nodes.
Treatment for Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs
Dogs diagnosed with tick-borne illnesses are typically treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics. While your dog is undergoing treatment with antibiotics your vet may also recommend providing your pet with probiotics to head off gastrointestinal issues.
Recurring tick-borne conditions can be challenging to beat. Even after your dog appears to have recovered, regular blood work may be necessary to detect recurrences as early as possible.
Prevention of Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs
Year-round tick prevention medications are the number one defense against tick-borne diseases in dogs. Speak to your vet to find out which parasite prevention medication is best for your pet based on where you live, your pet's age, and your dog's lifestyle. While these medications go a long way to protecting your dog, no tick prevention method is 100% effective, so diligence is always a must.
If your dog has been in areas where ticks are known to live such as farmland, forests, or areas with tall grass, be sure to inspect your dog's skin for ticks as soon as you get home. Most ticks are dark brown or black in color and fairly large once they have begun to feed. An online search should help you to learn what ticks in your area look like and where they are typically found.
Ticks need to be removed carefully to protect your pup's health. Contact your vet for instructions on how to properly remove ticks from your dog's skin.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.