Tick borne diseases pose a very real health threat for dogs across North America. Symptoms of tick-borbe disease in dogs can be painful and even be life-threatening. Here, our Rochester vets describe a few of the most common tick borne diseases in dogs, their symptoms and why early treatment is essential.
Why You Should Be Concerned About Tick Borne Diseases in Dogs
Tick-borne illnesses affect thousands of dogs across North America each year and can cause life-threatening symptoms. Some of the diseases spread by ticks can be fatal to dogs.
Tick Borne Diseases & Your Dog’s Immune System
Ticks can transmit a single organism or multiple organisms to your dog through a single bite (coinfection), allowing different organisms to collaborate to release toxins and activate your dog's immune system. Once inside your dog, these organisms can infiltrate their cells and disrupt their immune system. Tick-borne organisms can even help each other survive inside your dog's body in some cases, which can lead to recurring or chronic infections.
Tick-borne diseases can infect and inflame your dog's organs and tissues, resulting in a variety of symptoms. Symptoms may not appear for several weeks after your pet has been infected with the disease in some cases.
Common Tick Borne Diseases Seen in Dogs
There are a number of tick borne illnesses seen in dogs across the US. Below are some of the most common tick borne illnesses that our Rochester vets see in dogs.
- Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is spread by infected black-legged ticks or deer ticks. This is a condition that affects both dogs and humans in North America. Lyme disease symptoms in dogs can include lethargy, lameness, fever, joint pain or swelling, and lymph node enlargement. Lyme disease in dogs can be treated successfully.
- Although Canine Bartonellosis is less common in dogs than some other tick-borne diseases, the symptoms of this disease can be severe. Intermittent fever and lameness are some of the first signs of Canine Bartonellosis, but if left untreated, this condition can lead to serious conditions such as heart or liver disease.
Rickettsial organisms are bacterial intracellular parasites that can be transmitted by infected ticks. Rickettsial bacteria are responsible for a variety of illnesses in dogs, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Canine Anaplasmosis. Bacterial diseases, such as those listed below, can be difficult to identify. Multiple tests or rounds of treatment may be required before a definitive diagnosis for your dog's symptoms can be made.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is spread by ticks such as the Rocky Mountain wood tick, brown deer tick, and American dog tick. This tick-borne disease is seen in dogs throughout Central, South, and North America, and it can also affect humans. Some of the most common symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs include swollen lymph nodes, joint pain, loss of appetite, and fever. Dogs may also experience neurological symptoms such as balance problems or weakness in some cases.
- There are several ticks that can transmit Canine Ehrlichiosis, including the American dog tick, brown dog tick, and lone star tick. Canine Ehrlichiosis symptoms typically appear 1 to 3 weeks after your dog has been infected and may include fever, poor appetite, nose bleeds, and bruising. The keys to successful treatment of this disease are early diagnosis and treatment. Canine Ehrlichiosis treatment can be more difficult in dogs who develop chronic symptoms.
- In extreme cases Canine Anaplasmosis can cause seizures in dogs, but the most common symptoms are similar to those seen with other tick-borne diseases, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, stiff joints, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Also transmitted by ticks are Protozoal intracellular parasites. These organisms can make their home in the dog’s red blood cells are the source of the Protozoal diseases listed below.
- Canine Babesiosis is most commonly transmitted by the bite of infected brown dog ticks or American dog ticks. This condition, however, can also be spread through the bite of an infected dog, contaminated IV blood, or transplacental transmission from a pregnant mother to her unborn puppies. Canine Babesiosis causes red blood cell breakdown, resulting in symptoms such as jaundice, pale gums, lethargy, dark urine, and, in some cases, generalized weakness and vomiting.
- Although Canine Hepatozoonosis is a tick-borne disease, your pet could get it by eating an infected animal, such as a rodent or bird. Dogs infected with this disease frequently exhibit only mild symptoms or none at all. However, depending on the strain of the disease, more severe cases can cause symptoms such as muscle, bone, and/or joint pain, which can seriously impair your pet's mobility. Fever, pale gums and skin, and enlarged lymph nodes are also symptoms of Canine Hepatozoonosis.
Treatment for Tick Borne Diseases in Dogs
Broad-spectrum antibiotics are commonly used to treat tick-borne diseases in dogs. While your dog is receiving antibiotic treatment, your veterinarian may advise you to give him probiotics to prevent gastrointestinal problems caused by antibiotic use.
Recurring conditions can be challenging to beat. Even after your dog appears to have recovered, regular blood work may be recommended in order to detect recurrences as early as possible.
Protecting Your Dog Against Tick Borne Diseases
Tick prevention medications given to your dog year-round are the most effective way to protect him from tick-borne diseases. Speak with your veterinarian to determine which parasite prevention medication is best for your dog based on where you live, the age of your pet, and the lifestyle of your dog. While these medications can help protect your dog, no tick prevention method is 100% effective, so caution is always advised.
If your dog has been in tick-infested areas, such as farmland, forests, or areas with tall grass, check your pet's skin for ticks as soon as you get home. Ticks are typically dark brown or black in color and fairly large once they start feeding. An online search should help you learn what ticks look like in your area and where they are most commonly found.
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.