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What You Need to Know About Tick Borne Diseases in Dogs

Tick borne diseases pose a very real health threat for dogs across North America. Symptoms can be painful and even be life-threatening for your pet. Here, our Memphis vets describe a few of the most common tick borne diseases in dogs, their symptoms and why early treatment is essential.

Why You Should Be Concerned About Tick Borne Diseases in Dogs

Tick borne illnesses impact thousands of dogs across North America every year and are capable of producing some very serious symptoms. Some of the conditions spread by ticks can even be fatal for dogs.

Tick Borne Diseases & Your Dog’s Immune System

Ticks are able to transmit a single type of organism or multiple organisms to your dog through a single bite (coinfection), allowing different organisms to work together to release toxins and trigger your pup’s immune system. Once inside your pup, these organisms can invade your dog's cells and hijack their immune system. In some cases, tick-borne organisms are even capable of helping each other to survive inside your dog's body, which can lead to recurring or chronic infections.

Diseases spread by ticks can cause your dog's organs and tissues to become infected and inflamed, producing a myriad of symptoms. In some cases, symptoms may not appear until several weeks after your pet has become infected with the disease.

Common Tick Borne Diseases Seen in Dogs

There are a number of tick borne illnesses seen in dogs across the US. Below are some of the most common tick borne illnesses that our Southeast Memphis vets see in dogs.

Lyme Disease

  • Lyme disease is caused by the borrelia burgdorferi bacteria which is transmitted by infected black-legged ticks or deer ticks. This condition is a condition seen in dogs and people across North American. In dogs, the symptoms of Lyme disease 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 we see in dogs, the symptoms of this disease can be very serious. Some of the earliest signs of Canine Bartonellosis include intermittent fever and lameness but left untreated this condition can lead to serious conditions such as heart or liver disease.

Rickettsial Diseases

Rickettsial organisms are bacterial obligate intracellular parasites that can be spread by infected ticks. Rickettsial bacteria can cause a number of illnesses in dogs 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

  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is carried by the Rocky Mountain wood tick, brown deer tick and American dog tick. 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. In some cases, dogs may also experience neurological symptoms such as balance issues or weakness.

Canine Ehrlichiosis

  • There are a number of different ticks that can transmit Canine Ehrlichiosis, including the American dog tick, brown dog tick and the lone star tick. Symptoms of Canine Ehrlichiosis typically begin to appear about 1 -3  weeks after your dog has been infected and may include fever, poor appetite, nose bleeds and bruising. Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to successful treatment of this disease. Treatment can be more challenging in dogs that develop chronic symptoms of Canine Ehrlichiosis.

Canine Anaplasmosis

  • In severe cases Canine Anaplasmosis can lead to seizures in dogs, however, the most common symptoms are much the same as other tick borne diseases and include lethargy, loss of appetite, stiff joints, fever, diarrhea and vomiting.

Protozoal Diseases

Also transmitted by ticks are Protozoal intracellular parasites. These organisms can make their home in the dog’s red blood cells are the source of 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 break down 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 will often show mild symptoms 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/or joint pain. Other symptoms of Canine Hepatozoonosis include fever, pale gums and skin, and enlarged lymph nodes.

Treatment for Tick Borne Illness in Dogs

Treatment for tick borne diseases in dogs typically includes broad-spectrum antibiotics. While your dog is undergoing treatment with antibiotics your vet may also recommend giving your pup probiotics to prevent gastrointestinal issues associated with antibiotic use.

Recurring conditions can be challenging to beat. Even after your dog appears to have recovered, regular blood work may be recommended in order to detect recurrences as early as possible.

Protecting Your Dog Against Tick Borne Diseases

Tick prevention medications given to your dog year-round are the number one defense against tick-borne diseases. Speak to your vet to find out which parasite prevention medication is best for your dog 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 a must.

If your dog has been in areas where ticks are known to live such as farmland, forests, or areas with tall grass, inspect your pet's skin for ticks as soon as you get home. Ticks are usually dark brown or black in color and fairly large once they have begun to feed. An online search should help you to learn what ticks in your area look like and where they are typically found.

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.

If you think that your dog may have contracted a tick borne illness contact your Memphis vet at Southwind Animal Hospital today to schedule an examination for your pet. 

Tick Borne Disease in dogs, Southeast Memphis veterinarian

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