Tick-borne diseases pose a very real threat to the health of dogs and people. Symptoms of these conditions can be painful and even life-threatening for your dog. In today's blog, our Mount Vernon vets explain some of the most common tick-borne illnesses in dogs, and the symptoms to watch for.
Tick-borne Illness In Dogs
Tick-borne diseases impact thousands of dogs across the US every year 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.
How Tick-Borne Diseases Attack Your Dog’s Immune System
Ticks can transmit a single type of organism or multiple 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 found their way into your dog 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. In some cases these diseases are spread by ticks that dogs encounter near home, in other cases, these diseases have been contracted by the pet while away from home (often while on out-of-state camping trips with pet parents).
Below are some of the most common tick-borne diseases diagnosed in dogs.
- Caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria which is transmitted by infected black-legged ticks or deer ticks, Lyme disease is seen in 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.
- Although Canine Bartonellosis is less common than some other tick-borne diseases we see in dogs, the symptoms of this disease 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.
Rickettsial organisms are bacteria obligate intracellular parasites that can be spread by infected ticks. Rickettsia bacteria can cause several illnesses in dogs including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Canine Anaplasmosis. 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
- RMSF or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is carried by the Rocky Mountain wood tick, brown deer tick and American dog tick. This tick-borne condition can be seen in dogs across Central, South, and North America, and can also affect humans. Swollen lymph nodes, joint pain, poor appetite, and fever are some of the most common symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs. 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 the lone star tick. Symptoms of this condition typically begin to appear about 1 -3 weeks after your dog has been infected and may include 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 much the same as 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.
Also transmitted by ticks are Protozoal intracellular parasites. 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, this condition can also be spread through the bite of 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.
- Although Canine Hepatozoonosis is a tick-borne disease, your pet could contract the disease by eating another infected animal such as a 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 Disease 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 giving your dog probiotics to prevent 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.
Protecting Your Dog Against Tick-Borne Diseases
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 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 dog'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.