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Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Discover a surprising fact: ticks can transmit numerous diseases to your precious pet, putting them at risk of severe sickness or even death. In this article, our team of vets at Fort Pierce delve into tick-borne illnesses affecting dogs, highlighting symptoms, and presenting preventive measures and treatment options.

What are tick-borne diseases in dogs?

Ticks are tiny parasites that live inside cells and feed on the blood of their hosts. They can pass on harmful bacteria to your dog, which can cause various illnesses. These bacteria reside within the cells and can infect many dogs each year. 

When a tick bites, it can lead to serious and sometimes fatal long-term damage. That's why preventing tick-borne diseases is crucial and promptly seeking veterinary treatment if your dog becomes infected. 

While some tick-borne diseases can affect humans, they cannot be directly transmitted between dogs and humans. The pathogens responsible for these diseases rely on ticks to complete their life cycle and become infectious.

Therefore, a tick bite is necessary to transmit the disease. Here are the most common tick-borne illnesses found in dogs throughout the United States:

Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease, a fast-growing global concern, is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, transmitted through black-legged or deer ticks. To infect a host, the tick needs to feed for at least 24 to 48 hours.

This illness can lead to various symptoms such as joint pain, swelling, limping, enlarged lymph nodes, fatigue, lameness, and fever. If left untreated, it can progress to severe complications like kidney failure, life-threatening cardiac issues, and neurological effects.

Canine Bartonellosis

Introducing a lesser-known blood-borne disease in dogs, which is spread by the brown dog tick. Canine bartonellosis leads to troubling symptoms such as fever, lameness, changes in brain function, seizures, loss of appetite, and irregular heartbeat. It's important to note that this condition can also affect humans. 

Rickettsial Diseases

Rickettsia is a type of bacteria that can lead to tick-borne illnesses like canine anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These bacteria are small and live inside cells. Diagnosing these diseases can be difficult, so if your dog is seriously ill, your veterinarian may need to perform multiple rounds of treatment and tests to confirm the specific diagnosis.

Canine Anaplasmosis

The deer tick carries the disease known as dog tick fever or dog fever. Infected hosts may show symptoms similar to other tick-borne diseases, including lethargy, fever, stiff joints, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, and in severe cases, seizures.

Canine Ehrlichiosis

Ticks like the brown dog tick, lone star tick, and American dog tick can transmit canine ehrlichiosis, a disease found worldwide. If your dog gets bitten by an infected tick, symptoms may appear within 1 to 3 weeks. Look out for signs such as fever, bruising or nosebleeds, and loss of appetite. Testing can show low blood platelets, which help with clotting. Treating canine ehrlichiosis can have positive results, but it may be harder for your dog to recover if chronic symptoms have developed.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Tick-borne diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) can be carried by ticks such as the Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick, and brown deer tick. These ticks are commonly found in North, South, and Central America. It's important to note that both dogs and humans can get infected.

The symptoms of RMSF include swollen lymph nodes, low platelet levels, fever, poor appetite, and joint pain. In some cases, dogs may also experience neurological challenges, such as weakness in limbs or an unsteady stance.

When a tick attaches to your dog, it can transmit bacteria that cause diseases like canine ehrlichiosis and RMSF. This transmission can occur within 3 to 6 hours.

Protozoal Diseases

This tiny parasite lives inside your dog's red blood cells and can lead to various diseases, such as:

Canine Babesiosis

Tick bites, especially from the brown dog tick and American dog tick, are the primary sources of this disease. However, it can also spread through transmission during pregnancy or contamination of intravenous blood.

The disease can cause the breakdown of red blood cells, resulting in symptoms like jaundice (skin or eyes turning orange or yellow), dark urine, pale gums, and fatigue. Additional symptoms may include vomiting and weakness.

Canine Hepatozoonosis

When your dog eats infected animals like rodents or birds, they can get this tick-borne disease, which is different from other tick-borne illnesses, due to ingesting protozoa.

What other symptoms should I look for?

Hallmark signs of tick-borne diseases in dogs include vomiting fever, swelling around joints, lameness and lethargy. Other symptoms may include:

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

How are tick-borne illnesses in dogs treated?

Early detection and effective treatment are crucial for tick-borne diseases. In the initial phase of the illness, your vet may prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics, but be aware that they can harm both harmful and beneficial bacteria.

To prevent digestive problems, probiotics can be recommended. It is important to adhere to your vet's treatment plan.

Tick diseases can be challenging to manage and eliminate. Even if your dog recovers, regular blood tests are necessary to detect any potential recurrences. Consult your vet for advice on controlling ticks and protecting your pet.

How can I prevent my dog from contracting a tick-borne disease?

When it comes to tick-borne illnesses, prevention is crucial. At Fort Pierce, we have a wide range of products to protect your pet from ticks and other parasites.

Although no method is 100% foolproof, it's important to be cautious during outings and apply tick control treatments before exposing your dog to tick-prone areas. Once you return home, don't forget to check both your dog and yourself for ticks.

Remember to check your dog for ticks periodically throughout the tick season, which spans spring, summer, and fall (and can be year-round in warmer climates). Ticks are usually dark brown or black and can transmit diseases within a few hours of biting your dog.

If you find a tick, it's essential to remove it promptly to prevent infection. Consider bringing your dog to our animal hospital, where our veterinarians can safely remove the tick for you.

Is your dog showing signs of a tick-borne disease? Our staff at Sunrise City Animal Hospital can help diagnose and treat various illnesses and conditions. Schedule an appointment with us today.

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Sunrise City Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Fort Pierce companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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