Tick-Borne Diseases and Your Dog

Tick-Borne Diseases and Your Dog

by Scritch

Along with all of the fun in the sun that we associate with the warmer months, spring through fall are also the peak seasons of activity for one of nature’s not-so-nice wild critters: ticks!

Exposure to ticks, either from the woods, at the local dog park, or even in our own yards, puts your canine companion at risk of several diseases carried by these dirty little parasites, making it essential that you choose an appropriate tick repellant for your pup.

Lyme Disease

Tick Species: Blacklegged Tick (also known as a deer tick) and Western Blacklegged Tick

Geographical Regions: Northeast and west of the Great Lakes

The incidents of reported cases of Lyme Disease in people have been on the rise in the last decade, up to about 30,000 cases a year in the U.S., according to the CDC. However, since the disease is both difficult to diagnose and often asymptomatic for years, the actual number of new infections annually may be as high as 300,000 per year.

Most dogs infected with Lyme Disease will never show any symptoms, however 5-10% of those affected may show lameness that may shift between different legs and show up and disappear periodically.

Left untreated, the disease can progress to include kidney failure as well as some other rare but life threatening complications.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Tick Species: American Dog Tick and the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick

Geographical Regions: Central Eastern states through the Midwest and along the Pacific Coast

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is another common tick-borne disease that affects dogs in the United States. Dogs and humans appear to be the only mammals that can get this disease.

Early symptoms vary widely and may include:

  • Fever (usually within 4 days of the bite from an infected tick)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Lameness

Left untreated, this disease can quickly progress to include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Anemia
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Neurological problems including tremors, difficulty walking, and lack of coordination
  • Abnormal bleeding, bruising, and swelling
  • Blood in feces or urine
  • Heart abnormalities

Early diagnosis is critical for successful medical care which usually involves aggressive treatment with antibiotics such as doxycycline.

Ehrlichiosis

Tick Species: Brown Dog Tick and the Lone Star Tick

Geographical Regions: Can be found across the U.S., but most common on the Gulf Coast, Southwestern coast, and the eastern seaboard

This bacterial infection is also known as Rickettsia. The offending bacteria target white blood cells and typically progress along three general stages:

Within 1-3 weeks:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Overall weakness, lethargy, or signs of depression
  • Decreased appetite
  • Trouble breathing
  • Swelling in the limbs

Remission (months to years):

  • Symptoms may disappear entirely

Chronic stage (if left untreated):

  • Abnormal bleeding such as nosebleeds, blood in urine or stool
  • Fever
  • Weight loss and anemia
  • Neurological symptoms such as loss of coordination, trouble walking, seizures, head tremors or tilting
  • Recurring joint inflammation and lameness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Kidney failure
  • Partial or complete paralysis

Certain breeds, particularly Dobermans and German Shepherds, tend to be more sensitive to this infection and are more likely to develop severe symptoms associated with it. Prognosis for a full recovery is good if caught and treated early.

Preventing Tick-Borne Disease in Dogs

In this article, we have covered three of the most common tick-borne illnesses that affect dogs, however there are several other diseases that can be spread to our canines through these nasty parasites. These diseases include Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Bartonella, and Hepatozoonosis.

It is clear that giving your dog protection from these diseases is part of responsible dog ownership. Here are some tips to make sure you are doing all you can for your trusty canine companion:

  • Consult with your veterinarian: At your next vet visit, ask about the tick species and tick-borne illnesses that are common in your area. Since both ticks and the specific diseases they carry are regional, knowing the most likely symptoms of infection could make the difference between early diagnosis/treatment and a serious medical emergency.
  • Acaricides: The specific forms of pesticides that work to effectively kill ticks are called acaricides. When it comes to pet products, commonly used acaricides include permethrin, ivermectin, formamidine and organophosphates. Common treatment options include topical drops, medicated dog collars, and shampoos. Ticks (and fleas) can develop resistance to pesticides commonly used for their control. Your vet will know which specific products are most effective in your area.
  • Vaccines: Currently the only vaccine widely available for tick borne illness in dogs is for Lyme disease. If you happen to live in an area where this disease is common, your vet may recommend vaccination.
  • Landscaping measures: It is a common misconception that the only way to come into contact with ticks is to go into the woods. The majority of Lyme cases, however, are actually contracted in residential areas. Making your property less attractive to both ticks and their common hosts such as deer and mice is a good precautionary measure. If it is impractical to maintain your entire property, consider keeping a well-manicured section of your yard near the house where your dogs and children can spend the most time in a less-tick prone environment.

Here are some tips for reducing tick populations in your yard:

  • Keep grass mowed and weeds under control.
  • Build wide paths through gardens and wooded areas to prevent brushing against leaves and branches on walks.
  • Trim low hanging branches from trees and clear a space at the bottom of shrubbery to lower humidity near the ground.
  • Clean up leaf litter in areas of the property near high traffic areas.
  • Control mice populations using traps and by reducing habitats near your home.
  • Plant deer resistant plants to discourage deer from coming in to browse.
  • In areas where tick densities are known to be high, you may want to weigh the risks of using broad applications of lawn and garden pesticides against the risk of tick borne illness.

Daily Tick Checks

Many tick borne illnesses require 4-48 hours of exposure to an attached tick before infection can occur. This means that manual checking for ticks on a daily basis may reduce the chances of your dog getting infected as well as making sure they are not dragging these unwanted pests into your home.

A daily brush with a tick comb (outdoors) is a good habit to get into during the warm months. In addition, use a damp cloth to wipe down areas such as the inner legs, belly and around the ears—many ticks will seek out these areas because of the thinner skin found there.

Luckily, there are many precautions you can take to help reduce your dog’s risk of tick borne illnesses. Start by learning which ticks and their associated diseases are most common in your neck of the woods so that you can be on the look out for early symptoms. Then, take ticks seriously by following your vet’s recommendations for the most effective products to give your dog the protection they deserve. Finally, keep the outdoor areas where you and your dog spend the most time less inviting to ticks by keeping your landscaping under control.

Photo by flickr photographer olgierd