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Can Dogs Get Sick from Ticks?


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Every summer there is a rash of posts and articles on the internet on how to avoid ticks, as well as dozens of home remedies for humans to remove ticks–not only from their furry companions but also from themselves. No animal is safe from ticks. Dogs and humans face the assault on an ongoing basis as the voracious little passengers look for their next meal. 

It is bad enough that these nasty parasites are searching for a place to hang out and grab a meal or two, but ticks also like to leave their own special calling card behind in the form of a few different diseases. Lyme Disease is the most well-known effect of this tiny little pest, but there are several other diseases that can be transmitted by a variety of ticks all over the country. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis are three of them.

Tick-borne disease in humans is often missed simply because it mimics so many other conditions, including the flu. If it is not diagnosed and treated, it can progress into a chronic condition that causes much more damage, is hard to treat, and may persist for months or even years. You cannot catch Lyme disease from your dog, but if you remove a tick from your furry companion, and do not destroy it, it can bite you as well.

Can Dogs Get Sick from Ticks?

Yes, dogs can get sick from ticks. These tiny little terrors can cause a great deal of havoc for your dog, hence the reason why so much effort has been expended in developing ways to prevent ticks from biting and diseases from taking hold. There are many products on the market designed to prevent tick-borne disease by repelling the ticks. Tick-borne diseases are frequently missed in dogs because many of them have no symptoms at all for the first few months. The longer disease goes on, the more damage it can cause, including to the kidneys, which can eventually be fatal.

Does My Dog Have an Illness from Ticks?

Diseases your dog may get from ticks depends on what area of the country you live in and what type of ticks are common in the region. Initially, your dog may have no symptoms at all and it could take months before you see any signs. If you suspect that a tick has made your dog ill, these are the signs you should look for:

  • Fever

  • Lameness

  • Limping

  • Joint pain

  • Joint swelling

  • Enlarged lymph nodes

  • Lethargy

  • Lack of appetite

  • Vomiting of bile

  • Discharge from eyes or nose

  • Weight loss

  • Low white blood cell counts

  • Arthritis

  • Neurological problems

  • Kidney failure

Tick-borne disease is caused by bacteria transmitted by a tick, usually acquired from wild animals who carry the bacteria. In the case of Lyme Disease, it is typically caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria lives in a number of mammals, including deer and mice. While the bacteria do not make these animals sick, when transmitted by the deer ticks to domestic animals and humans, the effects are very different. 

The transmission of other common tick-borne illnesses is very similar except that each bacterium is transmitted by a different type of tick, except for Lyme Disease and Anaplasmosis. Lyme Disease and Anaplasmosis are both transmitted by the deer tick, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever by the American dog tick, and Ehrlichiosis by the brown dog tick. 

It typically takes a full 24 hours for the disease to be transmitted after the tick starts to feed, so if you spot a tick, remove it quickly and your dog may not be affected. Blood tests are typically used to diagnose a dog with tick-borne disease. Blood tests are not always reliable, however. In areas where the deer tick is endemic for example, a high percentage of dogs will test positive but not have Lyme Disease, only test positive for exposure to the bacteria. On the other hand, during the early stages of the disease, it is possible that your dog may not test positive for the disease but still actually have it.  

To learn more, read our guide to Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs.

How Do I Treat My Dog for Tick-Borne Diseases?

Treatment will depend on when the tick or symptoms are discovered as well as the type of tick your dog was bitten by. In most cases, a wide spectrum antibiotic such as doxycycline is prescribed. Treatment with antibiotics is typically ongoing for several weeks, however, your dog should respond very quickly to the treatment. Within 24 to 48 hours your dog should start to feel better. Early diagnosis improves the chances that your dog will recover quickly and completely from tick-borne illnesses. 

For more information about treatment and recovery, check out our condition guides on tick-borne illnesses as well as learn about Lyme Disease

How is Tick-Borne Illness Similar in Dogs and Humans?

Dogs and humans can become the victims of these hungry hitchhikers, and both dogs and humans can share some of the telltale symptoms of tick-borne illnesses including:  

  • Symptoms do not always manifest for several weeks

  • The condition is frequently misdiagnosed

  • Symptoms include fever and chills, aches and pains, fatigue, and pain and swelling in joints

How is Tick-Borne Illness Different in Dogs and Humans?

While tick-borne illnesses carry a lot of similarities between humans and dogs, there are a number of symptoms that are not as common in canines as they are in humans. For example, chronic forms of Lyme Disease do not manifest in dogs nearly as often as they do in humans. For this reason, many of the symptoms of chronic tick-borne disease are rarer in dogs than humans, such as:

  • Dogs do not get the bullseye rash that humans often get with Lyme Disease

  • Dogs are less likely to get kidney damage than humans

  • Dogs are less likely to have neurological problems than human

  • Dogs are less likely to have heart complications

  • Dogs may get lameness, while humans may instead experience crippling, long term arthritis

Case Study

A two-year-old dog arrived at the vet’s office lame, and on further examination appeared to be very stiff and lethargic. The vet took a blood test, which confirmed that the dog had been exposed to the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. Upon questioning the dog’s owner, the vet found out that they lived close to a wooded area and that deer came to visit their yard on a regular basis. 

The vet decided to run a few more tests, such as a urinalysis and a complete blood profile, which confirmed the suspected diagnosis of Lyme Disease. A physical examination did not reveal a tick or any sign of a bite or rash, indicating that the bite likely happened at least several weeks ago. 

The vet decided to treat the dog with Doxycycline for four weeks, after which the pooch was again examined and determined to be fully recovered. The vet suggested that the owner follow up once a year to ensure that the condition did not recur.

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