The health of people and pets across the United States is at serious risk from a host of tick-borne diseases. These illnesses impact thousands of dogs throughout North America every year and are capable of producing some very serious symptoms. In some cases, tick-borne diseases can even be life-threatening or fatal. Not only that, multiple organisms can be transmitted to your dog through a single bite of an infected tick, allowing different organisms to work together to release toxins and trigger your pet’s immune system. These organisms can invade your dog's cells and hijack their immune system often leading to recurring or chronic infections.
Many people think that ticks can only affect humans, but, in fact, dogs are more commonly used as a host than humans. Not only can ticks be shocking and disturbing to find feeding on your pet, but they can also pass serious diseases.
Here at Braden Run Animal Hospital we use the Flex 4 test to screen our dogs annually for an immune response to three common tick-borne diseases, Lyme, Erlichia, and Anaplasma. Unfortunately, all three diseases have been diagnosed in patients in our hospital just this year, and its only February!
Below are some of the most common tick borne illnesses in dogs.
Tick Borne Illnesses Seen in Dogs
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can affect humans, mammals, and birds. It is spread mainly through the bite of a deer tick.
Lyme disease is a condition seen in dogs and people caused by the borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. This bacteria can be transmitted to dogs by infected black-legged ticks or deer ticks. In dogs the symptoms of Lyme disease can include lameness, fever, alternating lameness, joint pain or swelling, enlargement of lymph nodes, and lethargy. Lyme disease in dogs can be successfully treated, however in people Lyme can be much more serious.
Your pet may start showing symptoms 2 to 5 months after the tick has transmitted the bacterial disease. In house laboratory tests such as the Flex 4 will help screen for Lyme disease even if your pet is not showing any clinical signs. Additional diagnostic testing, such as a urine sample and additional bloodwork, may be necessary to help diagnose the disease.
Lyme disease is treatable, but the organism can be difficult to fully eliminate from the dog’s body. Treatment consists of a four-week course of antibiotics to clear the organism. However, if unsuccessful, the organism can cause lifelong disease and permanent damage to your dog’s body and lead to a recurrence of symptoms.
Canine Bartonellosis is less common than some other tick-borne diseases seen in dogs however it's worth noting because the symptoms of this disease can be very serious. Symptoms of Bartonellosis include intermittent fever and lameness in the early stages, but if the condition is left untreated it can lead to liver or heart disease. People are also susceptible to this tick borne disease.
Tiny intracellular bacteria called Rickettsial organisms are also transmitted by ticks. Rickettsial are responsible for range of conditions in both dogs and people. These conditions can be particularly challenging to diagnose. Multiple tests or rounds of treatment may be needed before a definitive cause for your dog's symptoms can be determined.
Below are some of the most common Rickettsial diseases seen in dogs.
Canine Anaplasmosis (Dog Tick Fever)
The most common symptoms of Anaplasmosis in dogs are stiff joints, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. In severe cases this tick borne disease can also lead to seizures. We have had 2 patients die from this disease in just February. Signs of a possible anaplasmosis infection include lethargy, lameness, neck pain, bruising of gums and belly, and neurological symptoms. The majority of pets may show no symptoms, whereas some pets may show symptoms for one to seven days. The most frequently seen signs that would alert you as an owner would be lameness and stiffness of joints.
Similar to Lyme and Ehrlichiosis, the presence of symptoms may be the only means of diagnosing the disease. Bloodwork and a Flex 4 test are also used to a get a more accurate diagnosis. If caught in its early stages, the prognosis of this infection is good.
Ehrlichiosis is a Rickettsial disease spread mainly through the bite of the lone star tick. The disease effects dogs and humans.
Some acute nonspecific symptoms include fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy, evidence of bleeding, and lameness. Chronic symptoms are similar to the acute symptoms for Erlichia, just usually more severe and are accompanied by a few other symptoms including weight loss, swelling of the joints, and weakness. Your pet may start showing acute symptoms 1 to 3 weeks after being infected with canine granulocytic ehrlichiosis. However, clinical symptoms may take months to a year to show. Some pets may never develop symptoms after exposure to the disease.
Symptoms of Canine Ehrlichiosis generally start to appear between 1-3 weeks after your dog has been infected. Symptoms of this condition that pet parents should watch for include fever, reduced appetite, bruising and nose bleeds. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for preventing chronic symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in dogs.
The presence of symptoms may be the only means of diagnosing the disease. Bloodwork and a Flex 4 test are also used to a get a more accurate diagnosis. If caught in its early stages, the prognosis of this infection is good. If caught too late it can be life threatening or cause persistent infection despite treatment.
Treatment for ehrlichiosis is similar to that for Lyme disease. Many pets clear the infection without treatment and with no prolonged effects. However, subsequent annual 4dx tests may continue to be positive, which indicates exposure, but not necessarily active disease.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a tick-borne condition that can be seen in dogs across Central, South, and North America. Joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, decreased appetite and fever are some of the most common symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs. Some dogs suffering from this condition also experience neurological symptoms such as balance issues or weakness.
Protozoal diseases originate from a tick borne protozoal intracellular parasite which can thrive in your dog’s red blood cells. Some of the most common tick-borne protozoal diseases seen in US dogs include Canine Babesiosis and Hepatozoonosis.
Canine Babesiosis is primarily spread through the bite of an infected tick however, this condition can also be spread through the bite of an infected dog, contaminated IV blood or transferred to unborn puppies from a pregnant mother through transplacental transmission. This tick borne illness causes the break down of your dog's red blood cells, resulting in symptoms such as jaundice, pale gums, lethargy, dark-colored urine, and in some cases vomiting and weakness.
As well as being a tick-borne disease, your dog could contract Canine Hepatozoonosis by consuming another infected animal such as a bird or rodent. Many infected dogs show no symptoms of this disease, whereas others suffer painful symptoms which can seriously impact their 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 Diseases in Dogs
Dogs with tick borne diseases are typically treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics. Probiotics may also be recommended while your dog is on antibiotic treatment to help prevent gastrointestinal issues. Recurring tick borne conditions can be particularly challenging to beat. Even after your pup appears to have recovered, regular blood work may be recommended to help detect recurrences early so that treatment can prevent the condition from becoming more serious.
OVERALL TICK PREVENTION:
Monthly flea and tick preventive. Products such as Simparica Trio and Credilio are helpful in prevention of ticks while providing protection against fleas as well.
Have your pet tested yearly with the in-house Flex 4 test. This test screens for four diseases; heartworms, Lyme, Erlichia and Anaplasma.
For Lyme disease, and after a negative 4dx test, have your pet vaccinated with yearly Lyme vaccine (only recommend for certain lifestyles.)
Perform regular tick checks after your pet as spent time outside, especially during the warmer months.
So what do I do if I find a tick on my pet?
If during your tick checks you find a tick, don’t hesitate to call us here at Prairie View Animal Hospital with any questions. You are more than welcome to bring your pet in if you would like assistance in removing a tick that is attached to your pet.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has outlined the steps to remove a tick from your pet. Please visit this website http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html