Tick-borne diseases pose a very real threat to the health of dogs and people throughout Fort Worth. Symptoms of these conditions can be painful and even life-threatening for your pup. In today's blog, our vets explain some of the most common tick-borne illnesses in dogs, and the symptoms to watch for.
Tick-Borne Illness in Dogs
Tick-borne diseases affect thousands of dogs across the US every year and can cause some very serious and painful symptoms for your pet. Ticks can spread some conditions that can even be fatal for dogs.
How Tick-Borne Diseases Attack Your Dog’s Immune System
Ticks can transmit a single organism or multiple organisms to your dog through a single bite (coinfection), allowing different organisms to collaborate to release toxins and activate your dog's immune system. Once these organisms have entered your dog, they infiltrate its cells and hijack its immune system. Some tick-borne organisms can even help each other survive inside your pet's body, leading to recurring or chronic infections.
Ticks spread illnesses that infect and inflame your dog's organs and tissues, causing a myriad of symptoms. In some cases, the disease may not show symptoms until several weeks after your pet becomes infected.
Common Tick-Borne Diseases Seen in Dogs
Dogs throughout North America commonly experience tick-borne illnesses. Ticks near their homes spread these diseases to dogs in some cases, while in others, the pet contracted the disease while away from home (often while on out-of-state camping trips with pet parents). In the Fort Worth area, dogs commonly contract the following tick-borne diseases.
- Lyme disease, caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria and transmitted by infected black-legged ticks or deer ticks, is seen in dogs and people across North America. Lyme disease symptoms in dogs can include lethargy, lameness, fever, joint pain or swelling, and lymph node enlargement. Lyme disease in dogs can be treated successfully.
- Although Canine Bartonellosis is less common than some other tick-borne diseases we see in dogs, the symptoms of this disease can be very serious. Some of the earliest signs of Canine Bartonellosis include intermittent fever and lameness but left untreated this condition can lead to serious conditions such as heart or liver disease.
Infected ticks spread rickettsial organisms, which are bacterial intracellular parasites. Rickettsial bacteria cause a variety of illnesses in dogs, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Canine Anaplasmosis. Identifying bacterial diseases, such as those listed below, can be difficult. Before making a definitive diagnosis of your dog's symptoms, we may need to perform multiple tests or rounds of treatment.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, also known as RMSF, is transmitted by the Rocky Mountain wood tick, brown deer tick, and American dog tick. This tick-borne disease is seen in dogs throughout Central, South, and North America, and it can also affect humans. Some of the most common symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs include swollen lymph nodes, joint pain, loss of appetite, and fever. Dogs may also experience neurological symptoms such as balance problems or weakness in some cases.
- Canine Ehrlichiosis can be transmitted by a variety of ticks, including the American dog tick, brown dog tick, and lone star tick. Symptoms of this condition may include fever, poor appetite, nose bleeds, and bruising. The keys to successful Canine Ehrlichiosis treatment are early diagnosis and treatment. Treatment can be more difficult in dogs who develop chronic disease symptoms.
- The most common symptoms of Canine Anaplasmosis are much the same as other tick-borne diseases and include lethargy, loss of appetite, stiff joints, fever, diarrhea, and vomiting. In severe cases, however, Canine Anaplasmosis can lead to seizures in dogs.
Protozoal intracellular parasites are also transmitted by ticks. These organisms live in the dog's red blood cells and are responsible for the Protozoal diseases listed below.
- Canine Babesiosis is most commonly transmitted by the bite of infected brown dog ticks or American dog ticks. This condition, however, can be spread through the bite of an infected dog, contaminated IV blood, or transplacental transmission from a pregnant mother to her unborn puppies. Canine Babesiosis causes red blood cell breakdown, which causes symptoms such as jaundice, pale gums, lethargy, dark-colored 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 seriously 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.
Treatment for Tick-Borne Disease in Dogs
Veterinarians typically treat tick-borne illnesses in dogs with broad-spectrum antibiotics. While your vet is treating your dog with antibiotics, they may advise you to administer probiotics to prevent gastrointestinal problems.
Recurring tick-borne conditions can be challenging to beat. Even after your dog appears to have recovered, regular blood work may be necessary in order to detect recurrences as early as possible.
Protecting Your Dog Against Tick-Borne Diseases
Tick prevention medications are the number one defense against tick-borne diseases in dogs year-round. Consult your vet to determine the most suitable parasite prevention medication for your pet, considering factors such as your location, your pet's age, and your dog's lifestyle. While these medications provide significant protection for your dog, it is important to remember that no tick prevention method is 100% effective, so you must always be diligent.
If your dog has been in areas where ticks are known to live such as farmland, forests, or areas with tall grass, be sure to inspect your dog's skin for ticks as soon as you get home. Most ticks are dark brown or black in color and fairly large once they have begun to feed. An online search should help you to learn what ticks in your area look like and where they are typically found.
Ticks need to be removed carefully to protect your pup's health. Contact your vet for instructions on how to properly remove ticks from your dog's skin.
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.