What To Look For If Your Pet Is Bitten By A Tick

bitten by a tickWith the spring weather rapidly approaching,  you and your pet are probably excited to get out and explore the great outdoors.  However, lurking in the woods are some old eight-legged nemesis’ that can cause harm to your pets. If your pet is bitten by a tick, it can spread harmful diseases through their bites.

Each year thousands of dogs are infected with dangerous tick-transmitted diseases-with the risk rising. Between 2006 and 2010 there was a 30 percent increase in the rate of dogs exposed to tick-transmitted diseases.

Ticks are parasites that attach themselves to dogs and cats, feed on their blood and transmit diseases directly into the their system. There are many tick-borne diseases seen throughout the United States. Some of the major tick-borne diseases that are seen in the Midwest include:

  • Lyme disease, which is spread by the deer tick,  can cause enlarged, swollen and sore joints with a loss of appetite, fever and fatigue.  Severe cases can lead to kidney disease and heart disease.  There are vaccines that are available for dogs to prevent the dog from getting infected with it.
  • Canine ehrlichiosis, Carried by the brown dog tick, this disease is the most common and one of the most dangerous tick-borne disease organisms known to infect dogs.  This disease can cause depression, anorexia, fever with stiff, painful joints and bruising.  Severe cases may include dogs suffering with seizures.  There are no vaccines available.  If it is diagnosed, antibiotics are used to help control the bacterial numbers in the dog.
  • Anaplasmosis, also called dog fever or tick fever, is transmitted from the deer tick.  It is seen in both dogs and cats. Like most of the other related diseases, clinical signs include pain in the joints and fever.  Anaplasmosis can also cause diarrhea and nervous system disorders.  The clinical signs usually persist about 2 weeks after the tick bite.  It is also treated with long term antibiotics.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever comes from the American dog tick, the wood tick and the lone star tick.   Symptoms include fever, stiffness, neurological problems and skin lesions.  Typically the illness last about two weeks, but serious cases can result in death.
  • Babesia is a protozoan organism that is transmitted to dogs and cats from the American dog tick or the brown dog tick. This protozoan then attaches to the red blood cells and causes anemia.  Severe signs in dogs include pale gums, depression, dark-colored urine, fever and swollen lymph nodes.  Collapse and shock can be seen in severe cases.  There are no vaccines available.
  • Tularemia is seen more in cats than dogs.  With this disease in cats, a high fever, swollen lymph nodes, nasal discharge or abscesses may be seen.  Dogs tend to present with a reduced appetite, depression, and a mild fever.
  • Hemobartonella  is a tick-borne disease that causes the red blood cells to break down leading to anemia and weakness.  In cats it is known as Feline Infectious Anemia.  Treatment consists of long term antibiotics with blood transfusions possibly necessary in severe cases.
  • Tick paralysis is caused by a secreted toxin from ticks.  It affects the dogs’ nervous system with weakness starting in the rear legs and progressing to all four legs followed by breathing and swallowing difficulties.

The key to curing tick-borne disease is early diagnosis and treatment.  Several broad-spectrum antibiotics are generally effective, especially in the early stages of the disease.  Since antibiotics don’t differentiate between the “good” and “bad” bacteria, you may want to add a probiotic to avoid gastrointestinal problems.  Be sure to follow the advice of your veterinarian.

There are numerous products and medications available to prevent ticks on your pet over the counter and from your veterinarian.  No method offers 100 percent protection.  If you have a field dog, they are vulnerable to tick-borne diseases because of the time spent in the tick-infested environment.  So owners should diligent about applying topical and systemic treatments before outings.  It is important to check your pets daily during the tick season and be removed properly if present.  Ticks need to be embedded at least 24 to 48 hours to spread infections, so if checked every day, then the risk of infections being spread are lessened.

Tick-borne disease can rebound rapidly if your pet’s treatment only succeeded in suppressing rather than killing ticks.  Since recurring tick diseases are harder to control or eradicate, don’t relax too soon if your pet recovers.  Make sure that your pet has recovered completely and give it time to get back to recover completely.  To further protect your pet, remain vigilant with regular blood work to detect recurrences.

Finally, to make an informed decision about protecting your pet from tick-borne diseases, talk to your veterinarian about the best tick-control approach for your dog.