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Tick-Borne Disease in Dogs - Symptoms & Treatments

Tick-borne diseases pose a significant threat to dogs and cause a range of serious health issues. Understanding the dangers of these diseases, their symptoms, and how to prevent them is crucial for every dog owner. Our vets explain more about tick-borne illnesses in dogs.

Tick-Borne Disease in Dogs

Every year, thousands of dogs in the US are affected by tick-borne diseases. These diseases can cause serious and painful symptoms in pets and even be fatal.

Tick-Borne Diseases & Your Dog’s Immune System

Ticks can transmit a single type of organism or multiple organisms to your dog through a single bite (coinfection). This allows different organisms to work together to release toxins and trigger your dog’s immune system. Once inside your pet, these organisms invade your dog's cells and take over their immune system.

Some organisms spread by ticks can even help each other survive inside your pet's body, leading to recurring or chronic infections. Conditions spread by ticks can cause your dog's organs and tissues to become infected and inflamed, resulting in a variety of symptoms. In some cases, symptoms may not appear until several weeks after your pet has become infected with the disease.

Some Common Tick-Borne Diseases Seen in Dogs

Several tick-borne illnesses affect dogs in North America. In some instances, these diseases are transmitted by ticks found near the dogs' homes, while in other cases, the pets contract these illnesses while away from home, such as during out-of-state camping trips with their owners. Below are some of the most commonly diagnosed tick-borne diseases in dogs in the Memphis area.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria and is transmitted by infected black-legged or deer ticks. It is seen in dogs and people across North America. Lyme disease symptoms in dogs can include lethargy, lameness, fever, joint pain or swelling, and the enlargement of lymph nodes. Lyme disease in dogs can be successfully treated.

Canine Bartonellosis

Although Canine Bartonellosis is less common than some other tick-borne diseases in dogs, its symptoms can be very serious. Some of the earliest signs include intermittent fever and lameness but left untreated; it can lead to serious conditions such as heart or liver disease.

Rickettsial Diseases

Rickettsial organisms are bacterial obligate intracellular parasites that infected ticks can spread. Rickettsial bacteria can cause many dog illnesses, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Canine Anaplasmosis. Bacterial diseases such as those listed below can be very challenging to diagnose. Multiple tests or rounds of treatment may be needed before a definitive diagnosis can be determined for your dog's symptoms.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

RMSF, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, is carried by the Rocky Mountain wood, brown deer, and American dog ticks. 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. Dogs may also sometimes experience neurological symptoms such as balance issues or weakness.

Canine Ehrlichiosis

Several ticks, including the American dog, brown dog, and lone star, can transmit canine Ehrlichiosis. Symptoms typically appear about 1 -3 weeks after your dog has been infected, including fever, poor appetite, nose bleeds, and bruising. Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to successfully treating Canine Ehrlichiosis. Treatment can be more challenging in dogs that develop chronic disease symptoms.

Canine Anaplasmosis

The most common symptoms of Canine Anaplasmosis are similar to those of 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 Diseases

Ticks also transmit protozoal intracellular parasites. These organisms make their home in dogs' red blood cells and cause the Protozoal diseases listed below.

Canine Babesiosis

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 breakdown of red blood cells, resulting in symptoms such as jaundice, pale gums, lethargy, dark-colored urine, and, in some cases, generalized weakness and vomiting.

Canine Hepatozoonosis

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 often show mild 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 joint pain. Other symptoms of Canine Hepatozoonosis include fever, pale gums and skin, and enlarged lymph nodes.

Signs and Symptoms of Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs

The symptoms of tick-borne diseases in dogs can vary widely, but common signs include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Joint pain or swelling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Pale gums
  • Neurological symptoms such as seizures or uncoordinated movement

Treatment for Tick-Borne Disease in Dogs

Dogs diagnosed with tick-borne illnesses are typically treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics. While your dog is undergoing antibiotic treatment, your vet may also recommend probiotics to prevent gastrointestinal issues.

Recurring tick-borne conditions can be challenging to beat. Even after your dog appears to have recovered, regular blood work may be necessary to detect recurrences as early as possible.

Preventing Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs

Year-round tick prevention medications are the number one defense against tick-borne diseases in dogs. Speak to your vet to determine which parasite prevention medication is best for your pet 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 necessary.

Whenever your dog has been in areas where ticks are known to live, such as farmland, forests, or areas with tall grass, inspect its skin for ticks as soon as you get home.

Examining Your Dog For Ticks

Most ticks are dark brown or black in color and fairly large once they have begun to feed. An online search should help you 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 adequately removing 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.

Are you concerned that your dog might have a tick-borne condition? Contact us today to book an examination for your canine companion.

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