There is basically no region of the country that can be considered free of tick borne diseases. These diseases can have a serious impact on your dog’s life, and being aware that they exist can help you detect symptoms early and get treatment when it will be most effective.
Ticks are active during the entire year in winter-free regions and will appear in colder areas as soon as the ground thaws. Never assume it’s too early or too cold to find ticks on your dog. Our Pip even got one from somewhere when there was 2 feet of snow on the ground. Check your dog over after every outing, even if it’s only been to the backyard. Catching ticks before they attach to the pet is much easier than prying them off later.
Most people probably think that ticks are insects, but they are actually a member of the spider family. An adult tick has 8 lets, just like a spider, and feeds on the blood of living animals. However, while spiders will form egg cases for reproduction, the female tick itself sometimes forms the egg case – in some tick species, the eggs mature inside the swollen body of the female, which eventually bursts to release hundreds of tick nymphs, while other species simply lay the eggs on the ground. These tiny ticks have only 6 legs and generally feed on smaller animals like mice and shrews until they mature.
Ticks feed by inserting their mouthparts into the flesh of their host and drawing blood out. An anticoagulant is used to keep the food supply flowing, and the bite itself causes extreme irritation including itching and oozing of clear liquid.
Removing ticks from your dog safely is important because they can either leave mouthparts in the skin or regurgitate into victim, opening the possibility of more infective agents entering the dog’s body. Use fine tweezers or a special tick removing tool to grab the tick as closely to the skin as possible, and use a slow, but steady motion to draw the tick out. From personal experience, I have found that swollen female ticks will inevitably leave their mouthparts in the skin regardless of how careful I have been, raising the chance of infection.
The types of ticks most dogs and people encounter are the dog or wood tick and the deer tick. There are actually about 90 species of ticks found in the United States, although some have a very limited geographic range.
Tick borne diseases can cause serious illness in dogs, as we found out with our French Bulldogs several years ago. The first to become ill, Iris, was taken to the vet the first day her symptoms of limping and lethargy appeared. A blood test revealed that she had both Lyme disease and Ehrlichiosis. Although she was on the appropriate antibiotic, she lost the use of all 4 legs in 3 days, and was unable to even drink on her own; we had to use a syringe. She ate nothing for over a week until the medicine finally kicked in. She was literally reduced to a loose bag of bones. Primmy and Pip also became ill, but not to as great an extent, and all the dogs recovered after a month of antibiotic treatment.
Ehrlichiosis is also called tracker dog disease and is a legacy of the Vietnam War. Returning dogs used by the military were infected with Ehrlichiosis, and it causes symptoms such as joint pain, high fever, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. Unless treated, long term damage can occur to the heart and joints.
Lyme disease causes many of the same symptoms as Ehrlichiosis, and the antibiotic used to treat it, doxycycline, is also the same.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is even more serious a disease than the above two, and can be fatal if untreated. Symptoms, again are similar to tracker dog disease and Lyme, but can include skin lesions and cough. Heart attacks can also occur. In addition to doxycycline, tetracycline can also be used to treat it.
Anaplasmosis is yet another serious tick borne disease and this time the infective agents target either the white blood cells or the platelets. This disease causes muscular pain, fever, general malaise, coughing, and diarrhea. Doxycycline is the medicine of choice to cure the dog.
Babesiosis is caused by a tiny parasite, and this one attacks the red blood cells. Anemia is one obvious result as well as red urine, lethargy, fever, and weakness. Unfortunately, treatment for this disease is more complicated than for the others, and often involves a combination of drug therapies combined with blood transfusions in extreme cases.
There are a number of products on the market that are applied to the dog’s back that will either kill ticks on contact or hopefully before they are able to infect the dog. Flea and tick collars also offer protection.
Carefully checking your dog after he or she has been outside is also a good way to prevent these diseases. Ticks often wander around for quite a while before settling in for a meal, and disease transmission depends on how long the tick has been attached – it usually takes about 72 hours before enough pathogens enter the system to do harm. You should check with your vet with any concerns or questions regarding tick borne illnesses in your pet.