Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs

Ticks can carry and transmit many diseases which can cause serious illness or death. In this post, our South Charlotte vets describe tick-borne diseases in dogs, symptoms, treatment and prevention options.


What are tick-borne diseases in dogs?

Tick-transmitted diseases are dangerous and impact thousands of dogs annually. These blood-sucking intracellular parasites can carry a range of diseases and live inside your dog’s cells, infecting them directly, and causing long-term damage.

Potentially serious symptoms can appear, and even cause death. Needless to say, it’s important to focus on prevention and have symptoms treated early. The most common tick-borne diseases in dogs across the United States include:

Canine Bartonellosis

Transmitted by the brown dog tick, this is one of the less common blood-borne diseases in dogs. Symptoms can include intermittent fever and lameness. If left untreated, this can lead to liver or heart disease. People can also catch this illness.

Lyme Disease

A quickly growing global problem, Lyme disease is caused by the borrelia burgdorferi bacteria and is transmitted by black-legged ticks or deer ticks. Symptoms can include lameness, fever, joint pain or swelling, enlargement of lymph nodes, lethargy or limping.

Rickettsial Diseases

Rickettsia is a type of bacteria that causes well-known tick diseases listed here, such as canine anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Rickettsial organisms are small, intracellular bacteria.

Because interpreting diagnostic test results can be difficult, multiple tests or rounds of treatment may need to be completed before a definitive diagnosis can be made for dogs with severe cases.

Canine Anaplasmosis

Also referred to as dog tick fever or dog fever, this disease is carried by the deer tick and can result in symptoms you’ll see with other tick-borne diseases, ranging from lethargy, loss of appetite, stiff joints and fever to diarrhea and vomiting. Extreme cases may lead to seizures.

Canine Ehrlichiosis

Found worldwide, several types of ticks can carry canine ehrlichiosis, including the American dog tick, brown dog tick and lone star tick.

Symptoms begin about one to three weeks after your dog has been bitten by an infected tick. may include low blood platelets (these cells help blood to clot), fever and poor appetite. Other alarming signs can include nose bleeds or bruising. While dogs diagnosed and treated early may have a better prognosis, if your dog develops chronic symptoms of the disease, it can make recovery more challenging.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

One of the more commonly recognized tick-borne diseases, this one is found throughout North, South and Central America. It’s carried by the Rocky Mountain wood tick, brown deer tick and American dog tick, and infect both dogs and humans.

Symptoms may include swollen lymph nodes, joint pain, poor appetite and fever. Occasionally, your dog may experience neurological challenges such as weak limbs and wobbly stature. Low platelets are also found in this illness.

Protozoal Diseases

Protozoal diseases originate from a protozoal intracellular parasite, which lives in your dog’s red blood cells. They include:

Canine Babesiosis

Though this disease is caused primarily by tick bites typically from the brown dog tick and/or the American dog tick, it can also transfer through bites from other dogs, contaminated IV blood and transplacental transmission.

Red blood cells break down, leading to symptoms such as jaundice (orange or yellow-colored skin or whites of eyes), pale gums, lethargy and dark-colored urine. Other symptoms can include vomiting and weakness.

Canine Hepatozoonosis

This tick-borne illness is different from the others in that your pup can pick it up by eating the protozoa, which can occur when your dog eats infected animals such as rodents or birds.

How can tick-borne diseases impact a dog’s immune system?

One unfortunate fact about tick bites is that your dog can contract multiple organisms from a single bite (coinfection), and different organisms can work together to release toxins and trigger your pup’s immune system.

Once inside your dog’s body, these tiny organisms can enter the cells and hijack the immune system. These organisms even help each other survive inside your pooch’s body, which can lead to chronic infections.

A number of organs and tissues may become infected and inflamed, resulting in a wide range of symptoms, including the ones discussed above that may not appear until weeks or months after your dog is bitten. Disease can hide within the inflamed tissue.

What other symptoms should I look for?

In addition to the hallmark common symptoms of fever, vomiting, swelling around joints, lameness and lethargy, other symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Discharge from nose and/or eyes
  • Swelling of limbs
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Skin lesions
  • Muscle pain

How are tick-borne illnesses treated?

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to successful treatment of tick-borne diseases in dogs. A number of broad-spectrum antibiotics can be used effectively in the early stages, with the caveat that along with destroying bad bacteria, they also destroy beneficial bacteria.

This can be addressed by giving your dog probiotics to prevent gastrointestinal issues from developing and following your vet’s recommended treatment plan.

Recurring tick diseases can be difficult to control or eradicate. If your dog recovers, he will still need regular blood work to detect recurrences. Consult your vet about how to control ticks.

How can I prevent my dog from getting a tick-borne disease?

At Sharon Lakes Animal Hospital, we carry a full line of parasite prevention products to protect your pet from ticks and other common parasites.

However, no method is 100 percent effective, so diligence is always a must when considering outings, applying tick control treatments before taking your dog into environments where ticks may flourish, and checking your pooch for ticks once you get home.

Check your dog for ticks daily during tick season, which lasts through spring, summer and fall (year-round in warm climates). Ticks are usually dark brown or block in color, and can transmit diseases within three to six hours of biting your pup.

To avoid infection, ticks should be removed promptly. If a tick is discovered, consider bringing your dog to our veterinary clinic where a vet can safely remove a tick.

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.

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