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Tick Borne Diseases & Illnesses in Dogs

Tick-borne diseases can lead to some serious symptoms in dogs, or even be fatal. Today our Liberty Lake vets look at a few tick-borne diseases seen in dogs throughout the US and describe some of the symptoms to watch for, and how these diseases can be treated.

Ticks in North America

Diseases transmitted by infected tick bites are dangerous and affect thousands of dogs across North America each year. Tick-borne diseases in dogs can cause potentially serious symptoms, and some of these diseases can be fatal. When it comes to diseases spread by tick bites, prevention is usually far better, easier, and less expensive than treating the disease after your pet has contracted it.

Tick-Borne Diseases Seen in Dogs in The US

Lyme Disease

  • Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is spread by infected black-legged ticks or deer ticks. Lyme disease is rapidly spreading around the world, posing a global health threat to both humans and pets. Lyme disease symptoms in dogs can include lameness, fever, joint pain or swelling, lymph node enlargement, lethargy, or limping. Lyme disease can be successfully treated in dogs, but it can be much more serious in humans.

Canine Bartonellosis

  • This tick-borne disease in dogs is less common than in others, but the symptoms can be severe. It is transmitted by the brown dog tick. Intermittent fever and lameness are common early symptoms of Canine Bartonellosis, but if left untreated, this condition can lead to liver or heart disease. This illness can also affect people.

Rickettsial Diseases

Rickettsial organisms are small intracellular bacteria that cause a variety of diseases in dogs, including canine anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Because interpreting diagnostic test results with this bacteria can be difficult, multiple tests or rounds of treatment may be required before a definitive diagnosis can be made.

Canine Anaplasmosis (Dog Tick Fever or Dog Fever)

  • The deer tick transmits this tick-borne disease, which can cause many of the same symptoms as the other diseases listed on this blog, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, stiff joints, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. Seizures can occur in severe cases of Dog Tick Fever.

Canine Ehrlichiosis

  • Ticks, such as the American dog tick, brown dog tick, and lone star tick, are found all over the world and can transmit canine ehrlichiosis. Canine Ehrlichiosis symptoms appear 1 to 3 weeks after your dog has been infected and may include low blood platelets, fever, and poor appetite. Other concerning symptoms of low blood platelets include nose bleeds and bruising. The key to the successful treatment of this disease is early diagnosis and treatment. Canine Ehrlichiosis treatment can be more difficult in dogs who develop chronic symptoms.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is spread across Central, South, and North America by the Rocky Mountain wood tick, brown deer tick, and American dog tick. Both dogs and humans are susceptible to this tick-borne disease. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs can cause swollen lymph nodes, joint pain, a loss of appetite, and fever. Your dog may occasionally exhibit neurological symptoms such as weakness or a wobbly gait. This illness can also cause low platelets.

Protozoal Diseases

Protozoal diseases originate from a protozoal intracellular parasite, which lives in your dog’s red blood cells. Some of the most common tick-borne protozoal diseases seen in dogs include:

Canine Babesiosis

  • While tick bites (from the brown dog tick and/or the American dog tick) are the most common way Canine Babesiosis is transmitted, it can also be transmitted through bites from other infected dogs, contaminated IV blood, and transplacental transmission from a pregnant mother to her unborn puppies. Red blood cells degrade in this condition, resulting in symptoms such as jaundice, pale gums, lethargy, dark-colored urine, and, in some cases, vomiting and weakness.

Canine Hepatozoonosis

  • While Canine Hepatozoonosis is transmitted by ticks, your dog can contract it by eating an infected animal such as a bird or rodent. Many dogs infected with this disease will exhibit mild or no symptoms; however, depending on the strain of the disease, more severe cases may exhibit symptoms such as aversion to movement due to muscle, bone, and/or joint pain, fever, pale gums and skin, and enlarged lymph nodes.

How Tick-Borne Diseases Can Impact Your Dog’s Immune System

Unfortunately, your dog can contract multiple organisms from a single tick bite (coinfection), and different organisms can collaborate to release toxins and activate your pet's immune system. These tiny organisms can enter your dog's cells and hijack its immune system once inside. Tick-borne organisms can even aid in each other's survival inside your dog's body, leading to chronic infections.

Tick-borne diseases can cause numerous organs and tissues to become infected and inflamed, resulting in the range of symptoms listed for the diseases above. In some cases, tick-borne diseases may not begin to produce symptoms until several weeks after your pup has become infected.

Symptoms That May Indicate a Tick-Borne Disease in Your Dog

Beyond the common symptoms of fever, vomiting, swelling around joints, lameness, and lethargy, other symptoms of tick-borne diseases in dogs may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Discharge from nose
  • Discharge from eyes
  • Swelling of limbs
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Skin lesions
  • Muscle pain

Treatment for Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs

Broad-spectrum antibiotics can be used to effectively treat many tick-borne diseases in their early stages; however, pet parents should be aware that, in addition to killing bad bacteria, these antibiotics will also kill beneficial bacteria. Your veterinarian may advise you to give your dog probiotics to prevent gastrointestinal problems. Tick diseases that reoccur can be difficult to control or eradicate. Even if your dog appears to be on the mend, regular blood work may be advised to detect recurrences.

Protecting Your Dog Against Tick-Borne Diseases

Year-round tick prevention medications are your number one defense against tick-borne diseases. Speak to your vet to find out which parasite prevention medication is best for your dog based on your pet's age and lifestyle.

However, no tick prevention method is 100% effective, so caution is always advised. Inspect your dog for ticks when you get home if he has been in areas where ticks can thrive, such as farmland, forests, or areas with tall grass. Ticks are typically dark brown or black in color and can grow to be quite large once they begin to feed. An online search should help you learn more about the ticks that live in your area and how they look.

Transmission of diseases from ticks typically occurs within three to six hours after biting your pet. To avoid infection, ticks should be removed promptly using the correct method. If you find a tick on your dog, consider bringing your dog to your veterinary clinic where a vet can safely remove a tick, and teach you how to remove any ticks found in the future.

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.

Do you believe your dog to be suffering from a tick-borne disease? Contact Legacy Animal Medical Center in Liberty Lake right away to be seen by our vets.

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