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Most dogs like to be outdoors. No matter how much we want to see them happy, we must be aware of the potential dangers. Ticks love dogs and can transmit a multitude of diseases.
It is important to have a basic understanding of the tick and what it can spread to the dog and even to people. This article discusses common tick-borne diseases, vital information about each, and ways to prevent dog exposure to them.
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There are two known forms of anaplasmosis: the granulocytic cyclic thrombocytopenia and the infectious form. Granulocytic anaplasmosis, which affects white blood cells, is the most common form in dogs. Granulocytic anaplasmosis is the bacteria that cause infection.
It is transmitted through the bite of an Ixodes tick that carries bacteria. The tick attached for at least 24 hours could transmit Anaplasmosis. It takes about one to two weeks for a dog to develop clinical signs.
Clinical signs can be vague and include lethargy, decreased appetite, fever, and limping. Less common signs are vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, and shortness of breath. Anaplasmosis is diagnosed using blood tests and urine analysis. The limping dog will usually undergo X-rays and analysis of joint fluids. Treatment includes antibiotics, analgesics, and anti-inflammatory drugs.
Babesiosis occurs when a tick infected with Babesia bites a dog and releases Babesia sporozoan into the dog’s bloodstream. There are several species of Babesia that affect dogs, but the most common species is Babesia Canis.
A tick should feed for two to three days before transmitting Babesia. It can take up to two weeks for a dog to develop clinical signs, however, some cases are not diagnosed for months or even years.
Affected dogs may experience lethargy, decreased appetite, anemia, fever, jaundice, weight loss, and faded stool. Babesia may also involve spleen and lymph nodes. Babesia bacteria can sometimes be identified on a blood smear, blood placed on a blade, and examined under a microscope.
Antibody and DNA testing have also been used to diagnose Babesiosis. Treatment depends on the severity of clinical signs but may include antibacterial drugs and antibiotics, fluid therapy, and blood transfusions.
Infection with Ehrlichiosis Canis spreads through the bite of the brown tick and is a worldwide disease. These organisms affect and live inside white blood cells. An infected tick must attach to the dog for 24-48 hours to transmit ehrlichiosis.
It may take one to three weeks for clinical signs to develop. There are three clinical stages of Ehrlichiosis: Acute, subclinical and chronic.
The acute phase occurs within the first to third week after the infected tick bite. Clinical signs may include apathy, fever, and neurological signs, while the body invades white blood cells. The dog may also have a low thrombocyte count and enlargement of the spleen, liver, and/or lymph nodes.
During the subclinical phase, the dog may seem normal. It may remain in this phase for months up to years and may show only slight changes in laboratory tests.
During the chronic phase, the dog may become ill again. Clinical signs may include abnormal bleeding, uveitis, a deep inflammation of the pigment layer of the iris, neurological effects, and glomerulonephritis, the loss of urinary protein due to kidney inflammation.
There are two main tests for Ehrlichiosis: PCR testing for Ehrlichiosis DNA or blood testing for Ehrlichiosis antibodies. Treatment includes antibiotic therapy. In more complex cases, other drugs may be needed, such as steroids.
Lyme disease is one of the most common zoonotic diseases and occurs when a dog is bitten by a tick infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.
The bacterium is found mainly in Europe, North America where cases have been reported in each state, however, it is more prevalent on the east coast than on the west coast, and in Asia.
The infected tick must attach to the dog for a minimum of 48 hours to transmit the Borrelia bacteria. It may take months for clinical signs to appear.
Some dogs may not show clinical signs of Lyme disease. Although, these can include fever, loss of appetite, painful or swollen joints, limping that comes and goes swollen lymph nodes, and lethargy.
If not treated, the disease can lead to damage to the kidneys, nervous system, and heart. The diagnosis is often based on symptoms and history of medical records, however, blood tests can be useful in detecting chronic infection. Antibiotics are the main treatment, however, other therapies based on the affected organs may be needed.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever, RMSF, is transmitted when a dog is bitten by an infected tick that carries the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii.
Dermacentor variabilis, the American dog tick or wooden tick, Dermacentor andersoni, the Rocky Mountain wooden tick, and brown tick can transmit all RMSF.
Research has shown that Rickettsia transmission can occur faster by already-fed ticks, taking only minutes, than by unfed ticks, taking hours. Clinical signs can take up to 14 days to develop.
RMSF can affect any organ in the body. Clinical signs may be mild or severe enough to lead to the death of the dog. Common symptoms are listed below:
- Lack of appetite
- Eye/nose leak
- Bleeding of the nose
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Necrosis/thinning of the skin
- Peripheral swelling
Blood tests are used to help diagnose Rocky Mountain fever. Treatment is based on the use of antibiotics. A response can be seen in 24 to 48 hours; however, advanced cases may not respond at all. Blood transfusions may be needed to treat anemia and other supportive therapies.
How to prevent infection spread by ticks
Regularly check the dog’s fur after being outside, paying close attention if it has been in tall grass and bushes.
If you see a tick on your dog, remove it using fine-tip tweezers to grab the tick’s head, just where it gets into the skin. Pull the tick suddenly, making sure you do not catch or tighten the body. Your veterinarian is the most suitable to help you.
Ask your veterinarian if a vaccine is available to protect it. Your dog should be treated regularly with an effective product that prevents ticks. Your veterinarian will make the best recommendation, depending on its age, medical record, and weight.