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About Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs

External parasites can make themselves at home on your pup, feeding on them and causing potentially serious conditions. Here, our vets in Placentia share information about tick-borne diseases in dogs, including the symptoms and how to treat and prevent them.

Tick-Borne Illnesses & Diseases in Dogs

Ticks are blood-sucking intracellular parasites that introduce dangerous bacteria to dog’s bodies, live inside their cells, and cause thousands of pooches to become ill every year.

The resulting conditions can also cause long-term damage, which can be serious and even fatal. For these reasons, preventing tick-borne illnesses and treating symptoms early if your dog contracts a tick-related condition is imperative.

Here are some of the most common tick-borne diseases in dogs throughout the United States:

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a rapidly growing global issue. The bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi causes the disease, which is transmitted by deer ticks or black-legged ticks. Symptoms may include limping, enlarged lymph nodes, swelling or joint pain, lameness, fever, and lethargy.

Canine Bartonellosis

While this may be one of the less common blood-borne diseases in dogs, it still causes deeply concerning symptoms, including lameness and fever. Left untreated, the condition can lead to heart or liver disease. It may also infect people. Canine bartonellosis is transmitted by the brown dog tick.

Rickettsial Diseases

The bacteria rickettsia causes widely recognized tick diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ehrlichiosis, and canine anaplasmosis. Small, intracellular bacteria make up rickettsial organisms.

Because diagnostic test results can be difficult to interpret, if your dog has a severe case, several rounds of treatment and many tests may be needed before your vet can diagnose.

Canine Ehrlichiosis

Many types of ticks, including the lone star, American dog, and brown dog ticks, can transmit canine ehrlichiosis, which is found worldwide.

Symptoms appear between one and three weeks after an infected tick bites your dog. Signs may include poor appetite, fever, and low blood platelets (cells that help blood to clot). You may also notice nose bleeds or bruising.

While dogs diagnosed with canine ehrlichiosis early may have better treatment outcomes, recovery may be more difficult if chronic symptoms develop as a result of the disease.

Canine Anaplasmosis

Also known as dog fever or dog tick fever, this disease is carried by the deer tick and can cause symptoms similar to other tick-borne diseases, ranging from loss of appetite, stiff joints, fever, and lethargy to vomiting and diarrhea. Extreme cases can lead to seizures.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)

The American dog tick, brown deer tick and Rocky Mountain wood tick carry RMSF. The disease is found throughout North, South, and Central America and is one of the more commonly recognized tick-borne diseases. It can infect both dogs and people.

Symptoms include fever, joint pain, poor appetite, low platelet levels, and swollen lymph nodes. Sometimes, your dog may experience neurological challenges such as wobbly stature or weak limbs.

Protozoal Diseases

These diseases originate from a protozoal intracellular parasite that lives in your dog’s red blood cells. These include:

Canine Hepatozoonosis

Your pooch can pick up this tick-borne disease by ingesting protozoa, which can happen when your dog eats infected animals such as birds or rodents. This makes it different from other tick-borne illnesses.

Canine Babesiosis

Though tick bites (typically from the American dog tick and/or brown dog tick) are primarily to blame for this disease, they may also be transferred through transplacental transmission and contaminated IV blood.

The breakdown of red blood cells can lead to symptoms such as pale gums, lethargy, jaundice (yellow or orange-colored skin or whites of eyes), and dark-colored urine. Other symptoms may include weakness and vomiting.

How do tick-borne diseases impact your dog?

Unfortunately, your dog can contract multiple organisms through a tick bite (co-infection). Different organisms may also work together to release toxins, triggering your pup’s immune system.

Once they enter your dog’s body, these tiny organisms can enter the cells and hijack your pooch’s immune system. These organisms can lead to chronic infections as they help each other survive inside your pet’s body, where several tissues and organs can become infected and inflamed.

Though this can result in many symptoms, the above signs may not appear until weeks or months after your dog is bitten, as the disease hides in inflamed tissue.

What are the signs of tick-borne diseases in dogs?

The hallmark symptoms of most tick-borne illnesses include lethargy, fever, vomiting, swelling around joints, and lameness. Other signs can include:

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

How are tick-borne illnesses and diseases treated?

Early diagnosis and successful treatment are critical for tick-borne illnesses. Your vet may prescribe many broad-spectrum antibiotics in the early stages of the disease, with the caveat that they also destroy beneficial and bad bacteria.

This issue can be addressed by providing probiotics to your dog to prevent gastrointestinal issues from cropping up and following your vet’s recommended treatment plan.

It can be difficult to control or eradicate recurring tick diseases. If your dog recovers, they will still need regular blood work to detect recurrences. Ask your vet about how to control ticks.

How can tick-borne diseases be prevented?

At Yolinda Animal Hospital, we offer a full line of parasite prevention products to protect your pet from ticks and other parasites.

However, remember that no method is 100% effective, so always be diligent when considering outings, apply tick control treatments before taking your dog to environments where ticks may thrive, and check your pooch for ticks when you arrive home.

Check your dog for ticks during tick season (which lasts through spring, summer, and fall, and year-round in warm climates). They are typically black or dark brown and can transmit diseases within three to six hours of biting your pooch.

If you discover a tick, it should be removed quickly to prevent infection. Consider bringing your dog to our animal hospital, where a vet can safely remove it.

Are tick-borne diseases in dogs contagious?

Though many pathogens that cause tick-borne diseases are zoonotic and can infect humans, the disease cannot spread directly between dogs and humans. This is because it is spread specifically through the bite of an infected tick.

One factor in the spread of tick-borne diseases is that dogs often bring ticks into the house after playing outside. This increases the risk of the tick biting you or a family member.

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.

Is your dog showing signs of illness? Contact our veterinarians at Yolinda Animal Hospital today to book an appointment for your canine companion. 

Yolinda Animal Hospital, Placentia

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