Diseases from ticks are a constantly increasing threat to human and dog health. These little parasites attach to the skin of people and animals to feed on blood and thus transmit diseases in the bloodstream of the host.
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Why are tick populations increasing?
Due to the climate changes the geographical distribution of ticks is changing and they are expanding to places where they couldn’t be found before. De-forestation and alternation in the migrating patterns of rodents, birds, and deer also contribute to an increased tick population.
There are some minor differences from season to season and from one year to another, but generally, you can find ticks in all parts of the United States and Europe. It’s not only the wilderness, but urban areas can have large numbers of ticks too.
These insects can’t jump or fly – they just crawl. Waiting on the tips of vegetation they grab onto a host (animal or human) when they pass and brush against a bush.
There are a handful of diseases from ticks in dogs. The most important tick-borne diseases are:
- Lyme Disease
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Every one of them can produce serious conditions in dogs. We are going to describe the symptoms and treatment options. In case you spot ticks on your pet get to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Early removal of ticks along with testing them for the presence of infectious diseases can save your dog’s life. Early diagnosis and treatment are very important in all of the diseases listed previously.
Ticks that carry Lyme Disease are likely to live in thick brush, marshes, woods, and tall grasses. They are called Deer Ticks or Black-Legged Ticks.
An infected tick attached to the dog’s body can transmit the disease in 24-48 hours. That’s why it’s important to be removed fast.
The illness is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia Burgdorferi. Once it enters the body the microorganism travels to the joints and other organs where it reproduces and causes problems.
The first case was noted in Lyme, Connecticut almost 50 years ago. Nowadays it happens in every state in the USA, but more than 90% of cases are from the Upper Midwest, the Northeast, and the Pacific Coast.
Transmission to people and other pets
People too can get infected with Borrelia but there is no way your pet can transmit the disease to you or other pets. The only way to get the bacteria inside one’s organism is through a tick bite.
When dogs are diagnosed with Lyme disease it’s a good idea to ask for a piece of advice from a vet or physician whether you, your family members, and other dogs you might have should be tested. Since all of you were in the same outdoor environment there is some associated risk.
Lyme Disease Symptoms and Diagnosis
The incubation period (time from infection to the first symptoms) for Lyme Disease in dogs is 2 to 5 months. Symptoms of the disease include:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Enlarged lymph nodes
Dogs don’t develop the typical bull’s eye rash like people infected with Borrelia.
When the disease is left untreated the severity of the symptoms increases and it can lead to kidney failure which is very serious and possibly fatal.
Lyme Disease in dogs is diagnosed with blood tests along with the medical history of the pup. If you happen to still have the tick there are ways to test the insect if it carries diseases.
Lyme Disease Treatment
Dogs with Lyme Disease need to take antibiotic treatment prescribed by the veterinarian for up to 30 days. There is a vaccine available that can reduce the incidence of the illness or its severity when the symptoms appear.
Ehrlichiosis in dogs is a worldwide distributed disease transmitted by the American Dog Tick, Lone Star Tick, and Brown Dog Tick. The last one is the main carrier or Ehrlichia microorganism in nature.
Ehrlichia canis is rickettsial organism. Rickettsiae are a genus of gram-negative bacteria that don’t develop spores and can be found in different forms and shapes.
The disease was discovered in military dogs returning from Vietnam in the 1970s. German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers are particularly vulnerable to Ehrlichiosis.
Canine Ehrlichiosis Symptoms and Diagnosis
The symptoms start 1 to 3 weeks after an infected tick bites the dog. The disease according to the symptoms can be divided into an acute, sub-clinical, and clinical (chronic) stage.
The acute stage is mostly seen in dogs living in areas where Ehrlichiosis is widely spread among the tick population. The most prevalent signs of this stage are:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Low appetite
- Respiratory problems
- Hemorrhages/bleeding (bleeding disorders)
- Neurological signs
The acute stage can last for a few weeks and the dogs either enter the sub-clinical stage or eliminate the infection.
The sub-clinical phase goes by without any symptoms. The only way to know that the bacterium is present is to test the dog’s blood for it. A vet may be suspicious of Canine Ehrlichiosis when there is prolonged bleeding from a puncture site.
Some owners don’t notice these first 2 stages and the dog goes into the third stage completely untreated.
The immune system that didn’t manage to get rid of the disease lets the Ehrlichiosis infection become chronic. Symptoms of chronic Ehrlichia Canis in dogs include:
- Episodes of bleeding
- Eye problems
- Swollen limbs
Veterinarians diagnose E. canis by testing the dog’s blood for antibodies. That can be a bit tricky in the early stages when the body still hasn’t developed them.
The microorganism can also be seen microscopically in blood smears or samples of lymph nodes, spleen, and lungs. Complete blood cell count and biochemistry are always necessary with anemia and thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) being the most persistent findings.
Canine Ehrlichiosis Treatment
The main course of treatment for Canine Ehrlichiosis is a few weeks of Doxycycline regiment. In some cases, dogs receive intravenous doses of Imidocarb.
Severe anemia requires blood transfusion and supportive treatment (I/V fluids, vitamins) as well. There are no vaccines for E. Canis so tick prevention is the best way to protect your dog from this nasty disease.
Anaplasma is sometimes referred to as dog tick fever. It’s a rickettsial disease just like Ehrlichia. It can infect humans and the only way of getting it is through an infected tick. The Brown Dog Tick and the Deer Tick are predominant carriers of Anaplasma.
Symptoms and diagnosis of Anaplasma in dogs
The symptoms of Anaplasma start 1 to 7 days after the infection. While some dogs only experience minor signs, others are presented with more serious form presented with:
- Lack of appetite
- Vomiting and Diarrhea
- Joint pain/lameness
- Difficult breathing
- Ataxia (lack of movement control)
- Nose bleed
Anaplasmosis in dogs is diagnosed using the same methods as with Lyme and Ehrlichia. Because of the symptoms, some vets have a hard time distinguishing between Lyme and Anaplasma. Sometimes a dog can be infected with both microorganisms at once.
Treatment of Anaplasma in Dogs
Dogs with Anaplasma infection will run through a course of 30 days of doxycycline treatment. After that period you will need to retest your pooch to see whether the treatment should be prolonged.
After the initial dose, the dogs improve within a day or two. Never go against the vet’s therapeutic recommendations even when you see your dog back to his normal self.
Babesia is a protozoan parasite that destroys the red blood cells in dogs and other mammals. Protozoal organisms are made up of one cell and feed on organic matter.
The most vulnerable dog breeds to this disease are Pit Bull Terriers and Greyhounds.
What’s different than other diseases from ticks? – Babesia can sometimes be transferred when an infected dog with abrasion or oral lesions bites another dog. Unborn puppies can also get the disease through the placenta when the mother is infected.
So the bite from a tick isn’t the only mechanism of transmission. The acute phase lasts for a week.
Symptoms and diagnosis of Babesia
The variety and severity of symptoms in dogs with Babesia can vary from one dog to another. Some pups have slowly progressing infections and no apparent signs while others react with collapse and systemic shock.
The acute form of Canine Babesiosis is manifested with:
- Dark urine
- Pale gums
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fever and weakness
Antibody testing for the disease is limited because sometimes the immunity doesn’t develop them and sometimes they can persist years after the dog has been infected. Precise diagnosis can be achieved with PCR tests.
Treatment of Babesiosis
The only widely approved drug for dog Babesiosis is Imidocarb. Combinations of few antibiotics such as Clindamycin and Azithromycin are still tested whether they help with eliminating the parasite.
The Bartonella bacterium that dogs get via ticks produces a disease widely known as the Cat Scratch Fever. CSD is transmitted through fleas, sand fly and lice bite as well. The symptoms of Bartonellosis in dogs and humans are pretty similar:
- Nose inflammation and irritation
- Painful lymph nodes (around the area of biting)
- Chills and shivers
- Reduced appetite
- Muscle pain
- Pink eye (inflammation of the conjunctiva)
- Nasal discharge/nose bleed
A selection of antibiotics is given to dogs individually. Because the spectrum of possible symptoms is wide, the therapeutic approach may depend on the patient’s presentation.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a rickettsial disease spread throughout South, Central, and North America. The ticks involved in spreading the disease depend on the geographical area. The annual number of new cases has its peaks between March and October.
An infected tick must feed on your dog for 5-20 or more hours to transmit the disease. The incubation period ranges from 2 days to 2 weeks.
Symptoms and treatment of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
The symptoms of RMSF are quite non-specific. Dogs infected with this rickettsial can have anything from muscle and joint pain, to coughing, vomiting, swelling of the legs and face, etc. Just like most other tick-borne diseases the animal can have hemorrhages in the gums and eyes or nosebleed.
Wobbling or ataxia as neurological signs or painful reactions to touch can also be seen in dogs with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Doxycycline and tetracycline are effective in fighting the disease. However young animals and pregnant females cannot take them.
Chloramphenicol and enrofloxacin are sometimes used also – both have negative and positive sides though. With early treatment the prognosis is excellent and the dog will soon be completely healed.
Intravenous fluids and supportive care in hospital conditions are needed for dogs that are severely affected by the disease or suffered some form of organ failure.
The difference between Hepatozoonosis and the rest of the diseases we mentioned is that in this case dogs get infected after they swallow an infected tick. Humans can’t get infected with Hepatozoonosis.
The disease is often fatal and has symptoms similar to Lyme disease. In many cases, the outcome is fatal for the pups.
Dog that got disease manage to live up to 12 months. According to a study even when the body partially deals with the infection the remission of clinical signs is within 6 months.
Prevention of diseases from ticks
Always check your dog’s coat for ticks after each trip outdoors. If you find one and are confident enough to remove it by yourself do it as soon as possible – if not there is always the vet office at your service.
The dog should be on active tick and flea prevention throughout the whole year. Since some of the diseases can have a chronic character it’s better to avoid exposure altogether.
Tick prevention doesn’t only mean preventing your dog from accessing green areas, it also means using spot-on solutions, collars, shampoos, or pills that repel and kill ticks.
There are many products on the market with different degrees of efficiency. Choose one that fits your dog’s lifestyle the best and when you are not sure consult your vet about the product that will provide the best protection for your furry friend.
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