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Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs That Every Pet Parent Should Know About

Tick-borne diseases can lead to some serious symptoms in dogs, or even be fatal. Today our Orange County vets look at 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 that are transmitted through the bite of infected ticks are dangerous and impact thousands of dogs across North America every year. Tick-borne diseases can produce potentially serious symptoms in dogs, and some of these diseases can even be fatal. When it comes to diseases spread through the bite of a tick, prevention is typically far better, easier and cheaper than treating the disease once it has been contracted by your pet.

Tick-Borne Diseases Seen in Dogs in The US

Lyme Disease

  • Lyme disease is caused by the boorelia burgdorferi bacteria which is transmitted by infected black-legged ticks or deer ticks. Lyme disease is quickly spreading around the world and poses a global health problem for people and pets alike. Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can include lameness, fever, joint pain or swelling, enlargement of lymph nodes, lethargy or limping. In dogs Lyme disease can be successfully treated, however in people Lyme can be much more serious.

Canine Bartonellosis

  • Transmitted by the brown dog tick, this tick-borne disease in dogs is less common than some others but symptoms can be very serious. Intermittent fever and lameness are often early symptoms of Canine Bartonellosis but if this condition is left untreated it can lead to liver or heart disease. People are also susceptible to this illness.

Rickettsial Diseases

Rickettsial organisms are small, intracellular bacteria which can lead to a number of conditions in dogs including canine anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Because interpreting diagnostic test results can be difficult when this bacteria is involved, multiple tests or rounds of treatment may need to be completed before a definitive diagnosis can be made.

Canine Anaplasmosis (Dog Tick Fever or Dog Fever)

  • This tick-borne disease is spread by the deer tick and can result in many of the same symptoms you’ll see with other diseases listed in this blog including lethargy, loss of appetite, stiff joints, fever, diarrhea and vomiting. In severe cases Dog Tick Fever can lead to seizures.

Canine Ehrlichiosis

  • Found across the globe, several types of ticks can spread canine ehrlichiosis, including the American dog tick, brown dog tick and lone star tick. The symptoms of Canine Ehrlichiosis begin about 1 -3  weeks after your dog has been infected and may include low blood platelets, fever and poor appetite. Low blood platelets can lead to other alarming symptoms which can include nose bleeds or bruising. Early diagnosis and treatment are the key to successful treatment of this disease. Treatment can be more challenging in dogs that develop chronic symptoms of Canine Ehrlichiosis.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is carried by the Rocky Mountain wood tick, brown deer tick and American dog tick and is seen across Central, South, and North America. This tick-borne disease can affect both dogs and humans. Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs can include swollen lymph nodes, joint pain, poor appetite and fever. Occasionally, your dog may experience neurological symptoms such as weakness or a wobbly stature. Low platelets can also found in this illness.

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 Canine Babesiosis is primarily spread through tick bites (from the brown dog tick and/or the American dog tick), it can also transfer through bites from other infected dogs, contaminated IV blood and transplacental transmission from a pregnant mother to her unborn puppies. With this condition, red blood cells break down, leading to symptoms such as jaundice, pale gums, lethargy, dark-coloured urine, and in some cases vomiting and weakness.

Canine Hepatozoonosis

  • While Canine Hepatozoonosis is tick-borne, your pup can contract the disease by eating an infected animal such as a bird or rodent. Many dogs infected with this disease will show mild or no symptoms however, depending on the strain of the disease more severe cases can lead to symptoms including reluctance to move 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

One unfortunate fact about tick bites is that your dog can contract multiple organisms from a single bite (coinfection), and different organisms can work together to release toxins and trigger your pet’s immune system. Once inside, these tiny organisms can enter your dog's cells and hijack their immune system. Tick-borne organisms can even help each other survive inside your pup’s body, which can lead 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 the early stages, however, it's important for pet parents to note that along with destroying bad bacteria, these antibiotics will also destroy beneficial bacteria. Giving your dog probiotics to prevent gastrointestinal issues from developing may be recommended by your vet. Recurring tick diseases can be difficult to control or eradicate. Even after your dog appears to have recovered, regular blood work may be recommended to detect recurrences.

Protecting Your Dog Against Tick-Borne Diseases

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

That said, no tick prevention method is 100% effective, so diligence is always a must. Whenever your dog has been in areas where ticks can thrive such as farmland, forests, or areas with tall grass, inspect your pup for ticks when you get home. Ticks are usually dark brown or black in colour and can be fairly large once they have begun to feed. An online search should help you to learn more about the types of ticks found in your area and what they look like.

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.

Our Board Certified Internal Medicine Specialist offers advanced diagnostic testing and treatment for dogs suffering from tick-borne diseases. Speak to your primary care veterinarian about a referral to Veterinary Medical And Surgical Group–OC (VMSG-OC) in Orange County, or contact us to learn more.

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