The Truth About Ticks

You won’t find ticks jumping or flying or falling out of trees, but you will find them waiting to crawl on their host.  Ticks can be found all over the world and they can even be active in winter.  These sturdy creatures can even survive without food for 200 days! Pets can contract multiple diseases from a single tick bite.  There’s simply no way for pet owners to tell if a tick is carrying a disease or not. Some ticks are also known to carry more than one disease, which can lead to multiple infections.  And if this hasn’t unnerved you, most tick borne diseases are zoonotic; meaning that they can be transferred to both humans and animals.  (Please note that you cannot get one of these tick diseases directly from your pet.)

Understanding Tick Diseases

  • Lyme Disease is found throughout the United States and is transmitted by the deer tick and the western black-legged tick.  Lyme disease, an infection of the tissues, can lead to lameness, and is serious to both humans and their pets.  Symptoms can come and go and can have the appearance of other health conditions.  Cases vary from mild to severe, sometimes resulting in kidney failure and death.  A dog infected may show little signs of having the disease.  Common symptoms are lameness, fever, swollen joints, kidney failure, “not himself/herself”, and anorexia.
  • Erlichiosis is spread by the brown dog tick and the lone star tick.  It is the second most common infectious disease found in dogs after parvovirus.  Different strains are found throughout the United States and it comes in multiple forms depending on the geographic region.  Symptoms range from mild to severe and include loss of appetite, depression, fever, painful joints, bloody nose, and pale gums.  As the disease progresses, bleeding complications, autoimmune disease, blindness, and even death can occur.
  • Anaplasmosis is an infection of the white blood cells and is found throughout the United States.  Since it is transmitted by the same ticks that transmit Lyme Disease (deer tick and the western black-legged tick), there is a possibility of a coinfection.  Symptoms include lack of energy, high fever, swollen and very painful joints, loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is found throughout the United States and is transmitted by the American dog tick and the lone star tick.  This disease appears suddenly with severe illness that lasts about two weeks.  If not treated early enough, it can cause death.  Symptoms are arthritis-like symptoms such as stiffness when walking and neurological abnormalities.
  • Hepatozoonosis is found in the eastern and middle-southern regions of the United States.  It comes in two forms and is transmitted when a dog ingests an infected tick.  Hepatozoon americanum is transmitted by the Gulf Coast tick and affects muscle cells resulting in a weakening and possibly even fatal condition while Hepatozoon canis is transmitted by the brown dog tick.  Its symptoms are milder and include-appetite and weight loss and lethargy.
  • Babesiosis is an emerging tick disease that is found throughout the world; however most canine cases occur in the southern United States.  Most transmission is by the brown dog tick; however, it can be transmitted from dog to dog if an infected dog bites another (fighting, etc.) The incubation period averages about two weeks, but symptoms may remain mild and in some cases may not be diagnosed for months to years.  This protozoal parasite invades the red blood cells causing anemia.  Symptoms include lack of energy and appetite, pale gums, fever, enlarged abdomen, colored urine, yellow or orange skin, weight loss, and discolored stool.
  • Tick Paralysis or tickbite paralysis, is more widespread during the summer months and is caused by a potent toxin that is released through the saliva of a female tick and injected into the blood of a dog.  This toxin directly affects the nervous system and usually begins six to nine days after a tick has become attached to the skin.  Symptoms include vomiting, unsteadiness, high blood pressure, fast heart rate and rhythm, weakness (especially in the limbs), partial loss of muscle movement to complete loss of muscle movement, poor reflexes, difficulty eating, excessive drooling, and in severely affected animals, asphyxia due to respiratory muscle paralysis.

What can you do?

You know your dog better than anyone else.  That is why it is important to check your pet for ticks regularly, as well as be aware of the common signs associated with these diseases.  A simple screening test that is performed along with your heartworm test, should be done yearly to check for Lyme, Erlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis.  It involves a few drops of blood and a few minutes during your visit.  Using good tick control is crucial.  There are a variety of topical and oral preventions that are both safe and effective for your pet.  Talk to your veterinarian about what product is best suited for your pet and its lifestyle.

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(Information for the writing of this article taken from:  IDEXX Laboratories, PetMD, VCA Animal Hospital, www.tic-nc.org, www.dogsandticks.com)