From Pet Health Learning Center
Dog Tick-Transmitted Diseases
Signs and Symptoms
Even though ticks are tiny little insects, they pose a serious health risk to our canine companions. This is because dogs, like humans, are prone to contracting a variety of tick-borne diseases. The term tick-transmitted disease refers to a number of different illnesses that can be passed on to dogs by these critters. Some of the illnesses that dogs most commonly suffer from as a result of ticks include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick paralysis, and Ehrlichiosis. Since these diseases are capable of making your dog miserably sick, it's important to be aware of the danger that ticks pose. It also helps to be familiar with some of the common symptoms of tick-transmitted diseases, so that if your dog becomes a victim of such an illness, diagnosis and treatment can occur as swiftly as possible.
Since tick-transmitted diseases encompass several different illnesses, the symptoms and warning signs of a disease caused by one of these insects will not always be the same. Furthermore, even with respect to one specific disease, exhibited symptoms are not always the same from dog to dog. However, some of the most common warning signs that occur as a result of a variety of different tick-borne diseases include loss of appetite and lethargy. An elevated fever is also a typical symptom of many tick-transmitted illnesses.
In addition to these more general symptoms, certain diseases also tend to give rise to a number of more specific warning signs. For example, Lyme disease often causes lameness and arthritis in a dog. An animal suffering from this illness may have swollen joints, limp, and suffer from a stiff back. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can also cause joint disease in dogs, as well as depression, rashes, and skin hemorrhages. The symptoms of Ehrlichiosis tend to be quite subtle and can include bleeding tendencies, difficulty with breathing, and swollen lymph nodes. Tick paralysis is a condition characterized by a loss of mobility that begins to develop approximately seven to nine days after infection by the insect. This immobility can range from mild unsteadiness to complete paralysis of all four legs.
If you observe any of these symptoms in your dog, contact a veterinarian immediately. Even if you only notice subtle signs of illness, it's still important to have your dog examined by a professional who will be able to determine the source of your pet's suffering. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of a tick-transmitted disease will go a long way toward easing your pet's misery and protecting its health, comfort, and happiness.
Diagnosis of a tick-transmitted disease in a dog is based upon clinical signs and laboratory tests. When dealing with a canine patient that has potentially contracted a disease from one of these insects, a veterinarian will take the animal's complete medical history and conduct a thorough physical examination. This will allow the doctor to evaluate the dog's general health, check for clinical signs, and narrow down possible causes of the patient's suffering.
In addition to a physical examination, the veterinarian may perform a number of tests in order to confirm a diagnosis of a specific tick-borne disease. Such tests may include blood tests that will allow for the evaluation of levels of hemoglobin, certain enzymes, or other substances. In a case of suspected Lyme disease, for example, a blood sample will be taken in order to test for an increase in antibodies to the Borrelia organism. In order for the canine patient to test positive for an active infection, the levels of these antibodies must show a four-fold increase. Once the particular disease affecting the dog has been identified, an appropriate treatment plan can be developed and implemented.
Ticks are tiny, bloodsucking arachnids that feed off the blood of mammals and other animals. Ticks in North America belong to one of two families -- hard ticks or soft ticks. Hard ticks have an outer shell made of chitin, while soft ticks have a membranous outer layer. Within these families, there are many different species of ticks. For example, the deer tick is predominantly responsible for the spread of Lyme disease in North America while the dog tick transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Ticks go through several stages during their lifecycle and feed upon the blood of animals for several days during each stage. Once an adult female has filled herself with blood, she mates, leaves the host animal, lays a mass of eggs, and then dies. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae wait for an opportunity to attach themselves to a host, feed, drop of the host, and enter the next phase of their lifecycle. This continues until the tick becomes an adult and is ready to mate and begin the cycle over again.
Ticks are most abundant in the spring, summer, and fall, and live in bushes, grass, and weeds. Unlike fleas, ticks do not jump onto a host. However, whenever an animal comes in contact with a tick, the parasite will attach itself to the host's skin. Ticks can also sense the carbon dioxide emitted from warm-blooded animals and can crawl for several feet toward the source. Once a tick is attached to a host, it will insert its mouth under the skin and begin to slowly suck blood from the animal. It is during this time, when a tick is feeding, that diseases can be transmitted to the host animal.
As previously mentioned, tick-borne diseases are transmitted to dogs when one of these insects passes its infected or toxic saliva into the animal's blood stream as it feeds. Ticks attach to canines when the animals pass through bushes or grass where the ticks are living. Most of the common tick-transmitted diseases that affect dogs are caused by bacteria or toxins present in the saliva of one of these external parasites. The type of bacteria present will determine the type of disease that the dog contracts.
Lyme disease is the most common disease transmitted by these external parasites in both North America and Europe. When a tick carrying Lyme disease attaches to a host, it infects the animal with Borrelia burgdorferi, the type of bacteria that causes this illness. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a rickettsial illness, and is also passed to the host through the tick's saliva. Generally, however, the tick must remain attached to a host for several hours in order to transmit this disease. Canine Ehrlichiosis is also a rickettsial disease and develops in a dog when a tick transmits Ehrlichia bacteria to the host. Tick paralysis is caused by a toxin that is released in a female tick's saliva as she feeds. This toxin affects the dog's nervous system, which then leads to paralysis.
Most dog tick-transmitted diseases can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Doxycycline is a common antibiotic frequently used to treat both canine Lyme disease and canine ehrlichiosis. Typically, antibiotics work very well in such circumstances and dogs treated in this manner usually show marked improvement within two days. In a case of tick paralysis, symptoms generally begin to subside once the tick has been removed from the dog. Some dogs may also require supportive therapy, such as the administration of intravenous fluids, in order to help them fight the infection and overcome the disease.
Some dogs may also benefit from homeopathic remedies and supplements. Supplements that provided omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants help to boost a dog's immune system and improve its overall health, making it more able to combat any a number of diseases. Also, when a dog is sick, homeopathic remedies can help to relieve troubling symptoms. For example, omega-3 fatty acids, chondroprotectives, and a number of homeopathic products can help to reduce inflammation and relieve joint pain caused by Lyme disease. This increases a dog's comfort as it recovers from this tick-transmitted illness.
When dealing with tick-borne diseases and your dog, prevention is the best method of safeguarding your pet. Keeping your dog vaccinated against Lyme disease and regularly inspecting your pet for ticks are both important parts of preventative care. It's always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian about the dangers that ticks pose in your particular area so that you can educate yourself on how best to protect your individual dog.