What are Tick-Borne Diseases?
Although it is impossible to know if a tick is carrying a disease, just one bite from them can infect your dog. The worry is that symptoms can initially be vague and owners may not realise until too late that their pet has been infected with a tick-borne disease.
Many diseases transmitted by ticks are known as zoonotic, which means that you (as a human) can get infected too if the tick latches onto you. If your dog is found to have a tick, it is vital to check your family and yourself to ensure there no other ticks around.
Ticks bring with them the possibility of several serious diseases for your dog which includes Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Symptoms of Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs
There are many combinations of symptoms of tick-borne disease depending on the disease carried by the tick including:
- Blood clotting issues and abnormal white blood counts
- Loss of interest in food
- Weight loss
- Changes in the gum color within your dog’s mouth
- Discharge coming from the eyes or nose areas
- Vomiting of bile
- Pain in the neck or back – tender to touch
- Neurological symptoms such as seizures
- Uncontrolled urination
- Enlarged spleen or lymph nodes
- Swelling of limbs or joints
- Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can affect dogs and humans and is transmitted by deer ticks and western blacklegged ticks
- Ehrlichiosis is a blood infection that is transmitted by the brown dog tick; symptoms are slow to become apparent only showing until months after the first bite
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever symptoms include fever, a stiff awkward gait, and neurological problems such as the development of seizures
- Anaplasmosis is a blood cell infection transmitted by deer ticks and western blacklegged ticks; it shows symptoms similar to Lyme disease but can also cause vomiting, diarrhea and the development of seizures
Causes of Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs
- Tick bite symptoms show a small lump, redness of the skin and swelling of joints if your dog has been bitten on a limb
- Ticks carry more than one of these diseases so your dog can develop multiple infections
- Sometimes the tick will detach and fall off after a feed, but attached ticks need careful removal so that their head and mouth parts are not left in the skin
- Stage one of a tick disease occurs within the first to fourth week after being bitten
- Your dog feels unwell, has no appetite, and may develop diarrhea and lameness
- Your dog may be tender to touch
- Bloodwork shows a decreased blood count, increased white count and high liver enzymes
- Sub- acute stage is a slightly inactive phase of the parasite, and your dog’s symptoms may appear near normal, but undue stress can disrupt the parasite pushing into the next stage
- The chronic state is an attack phase by the parasite impacting upon your dog’s immune syste
- Due to the parasite having lived in one or more of the organs, it becomes difficult to treat
- Sadly, treatment can be ineffective, and death may occur
Diagnosis of Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs
Prevention is the best management to avoid these nasty parasites. Their bites may respond to treatment but leave adverse effects on your dog’s health for many years to come. If you live in an area where ticks are around, checking your dog thoroughly after walks especially if you have visited bushy areas and long grass, is advisable. (Also check yourself as humans are susceptible to tick bites too.) If your pet is off his food, feeling tender to touch (yelping when you pet him) or is showing any other symptoms, transport your dog to the veterinarian clinic for a full check-up.
Some symptoms of tick disease can mimic other diseases, so it is best to find out in the early stages what the cause of your pet’s discomfort is. Your veterinarian will do a full physical check of the body, especially in areas where your dog’s fur is not so thick to see if there are any bite signs or ticks still attached. He will be able to show you the correct way to remove ticks. Blood tests will be done to determine what the disease is. Often your dog may have more than one tick-transmitted disease which typically causes more severe symptoms. Your dog may need blood transfusions or intravenous fluids especially for Ehrlichiosis.
Treatment of Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs
The drug chosen for treatment will depend on the specific disease that the tick has infected your dog with. Doxycycline is the most popular and effective for the three most common diseases (Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Lyme disease.) The dose is determined via body weight, and the dosage will need to be administered twice a day for six weeks or longer. All tick-borne diseases in dogs are administered treatment in the form of a broad spectrum antibiotic therapy. Ideally, the best results come from treating when the disease is in its early phases.
Screening for tick-borne diseases should become a natural part of your dog’s annual check-up. The prognosis for treatment during the acute phase is good if your dog gets immediate treatment. German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers tend to have a more severe chronic form of the Ehrlichiosis disease, and the prognosis here is quite poor. Depending on the time that has passed since your dog was first infected, the treatment and recovery time can vary considerably. Your dog will require home care and plenty of rest to allow treatment to work effectively.
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Recovery of Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs
There is a vaccination for Lyme disease, although it is not considered suitable for all dogs. It will be recommended on a case by case basis; your veterinarian may suggest that you get your dog vaccinated.
A tick preventative product prescribed by your veterinarian will help prevent ticks. Getting into the habit of checking your dog each evening for ticks is another great management tool. If you find an embedded tick, careful removal and disposal are advised.
Being proactive in protecting your dog against ticks, you will be able to enjoy walks and exploring safely. If your pet is on a veterinarian prescribed treatment for tick-borne diseases, home care will help him to recover. Plenty of rest on a comfortable soft bed, easy to digest food to tempt his appetite and fresh water will all aid in his recovery.
Tick-Borne Diseases Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
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