Tick-borne diseases pose a very real health concern for people and pets throughout North America. Symptoms can be painful and even be life-threatening for your dog. In today's post, our Bartlett vets describe some common tick borne diseases seen in dogs, their symptoms and why early detection is essential.
Ticks in North America
Tick borne illnesses impact thousands of dogs across North America every year and are capable of producing some very serious symptoms. Some of the conditions spread by ticks can even be fatal for dogs.
Tick Borne Disease in Dogs
- Lyme disease is a condition seen in dogs and people caused by the borrelia burgdorferi bacteria which is transmitted by infected black-legged ticks or deer ticks. In dogs, the symptoms of Lyme disease can include lameness, fever, joint pain or swelling, enlargement of lymph nodes, and lethargy. Thankfully, Lyme disease in dogs can be successfully treated.
- While Canine Bartonellosis is less common than some other tick-borne diseases we see in dogs across the US, the symptoms of this disease can be very serious. Early signs of Canine Bartonellosis include intermittent fever and lameness but left untreated this condition can lead to liver or heart disease.
Rickettsial organisms are tiny, intracellular bacteria that can cause a variety of illnesses in dogs including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis and Canine Anaplasmosis. Bacterial diseases such as these can be very challenging to diagnose. Multiple tests or rounds of treatment may be needed before a definitive diagnosis can be determined.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) 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.
- There are a number of different ticks which can transmit Canine Ehrlichiosis, including the American dog tick, brown dog tick and the lone star tick. Symptoms of Canine Ehrlichiosis 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 key to successful treatment of this disease. Treatment can be more challenging in dogs that develop chronic symptoms of Canine Ehrlichiosis.
- In severe cases Canine Anaplasmosis can lead to seizures in dogs, however the most common symptoms are much the same as other tick borne diseases and include lethargy, loss of appetite, stiff joints, fever, diarrhea and vomiting.
Protozoal diseases are caused by the protozoal intracellular parasite, which makes its home in the dog’s red blood cells. Below are some of the most common tick-borne protozoal diseases seen in dogs.
- 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 break down of red blood cells, resulting in symptoms such as jaundice, pale gums, lethargy, dark-coloured 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 serious 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.
Tick-Borne Diseases & Your Dog’s Immune System
Ticks are able to transmit multiple organisms to your dog through a single bite (coinfection), allowing different organisms to work together to release toxins and trigger your pup’s immune system. Once inside your pup, these organisms can invade your dog's cells and hijack their immune system. In some cases tick-borne organisms are even capable of helping each other to survive inside your dog's body, which can lead to recurring or chronic infections.
Diseases spread by ticks can cause your dog's organs and tissues to become infected and inflamed, producing a myriad of symptoms. In some cases, symptoms may not appear until several weeks after your pooch has become infected with the disease.
Treating Tick Borne Illness in Dogs
Tick-borne diseases in dogs are primarily treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics. While your dog is undergoing treatment with antibiotics your vet may also recommend giving your pup probiotics to prevent gastrointestinal issues associated with 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 number one defense against tick-borne diseases. Ask your vet which parasite prevention medication is best for your dog 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.
Whenever your dog has been in areas where ticks are known to live such as farmland, forests, or areas with tall grass, inspect your pet's skin for ticks as soon as you get home. Ticks are usually dark brown or black in color and fairly large once they have begun to feed. An online search should help you to learn more about ticks found in your area and what they look like.
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.
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