Dog Tick Diseases

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About 80 percent of ticks attach to a dog's head or neck.
About 80 percent of ticks attach to a dog's head or neck. (Image: thomascroft1/iStock/Getty Images)

Ticks are small, external parasites that firmly attach themselves to their canine hosts and suck out blood. As they feed, ticks can transmit various infectious organisms directly into your dog's body. Broad-spectrum antibiotics can effectively treat most tick-transmitted diseases if you catch them in their early stages. Understanding common tick-borne disease can help you recognize the symptoms so you can get your dog to the vet quickly giving him a better chance of a speedy recovery.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) transmitted by deer ticks. Once the bacterium enters your dog's bloodstream, it travels throughout his body and settles in his joints. Symptoms typically include lameness, stiffness and swollen joints. Some dogs also experience appetite loss, fatigue, depression or fever. If left untreated, dogs can suffer from seizures, kidney failure or heart problems. Veterinarians typically treat Lyme disease with doxycycline, ceftriaxone or amoxicillin. Dogs must take the antibiotic for three or four weeks, but symptoms frequently improve within just a few days.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by an organism (Rickettsia rickettsii) carried by various ticks, including wood ticks, Lone Star ticks and American dog ticks. Symptoms generally appear in about three days and include fever, joint aches, muscle pain, stiffness, lethargy and skin lesions. Severe cases can kill dogs by causing shock, vascular collapse or hemorrhaging. Vets primarily use doxycycline to treat Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Your dog will need to take the antibiotic for 14 to 21 days.

Canine Ehrlichiosis

Caused by brown dog ticks infected with bacterialike organisms (Ehrlichia spp.), ehrlichiosis has three phases. The acute stage lasts 7 to 28 days, and symptoms include appetite and weight loss, fever and breathing difficulties. During the subclinical stage, which lasts one to four months, the dog exhibits no symptoms as his immune system tries to get rid of the disease. If it can't, the chronic stage begins and your dog might suffer from depression, swollen limbs, lameness, anemia and eye problems. Vets typically prescribe doxycycline, often for at least six weeks.

Canine Anaplasmosis

Anaplasmosis is caused by a bacterium (Anaplasma phagocytophilum) carried by deer ticks. Anaplasmosis symptoms usually include fatigue, lameness, stiff joints, appetite loss and fever. Some dogs also experience diarrhea, vomiting, breathing difficulties or seizures. Vets typically treat anaplasmosis with doxycycline. Dogs must take the antibiotic for 30 days, but symptoms often improve just 24 to 48 hours after beginning treatment.

Canine Babesiosis

Canine babesiosis is caused by a protozoal parasite (Babesia spp.) transmitted by brown dog ticks and American dog ticks. The protozoa invades the red blood cells and triggers anemia symptoms, including weakness, pale gums and vomiting. Some dogs also experience fever, depression, lack of appetite and weight loss. Babesiosis is generally treated with two doses of imidocarb diproprionate, an antiprotozoal agent, administered 14 days apart.

Canine Bartonellosis

Transmitted by brown dog ticks carrying a bacterial pathogen (Bartonella spp.), bortonellosis can cause fever, intermittent lameness, anemia and weight loss. If left untreated, infected dogs might develop liver or heart disease. Dogs typically receive antibiotics for three to four weeks to eliminate infections. Commonly used antibiotics include doxycycline, enrofloxacin and azithromycin.

Tick Paralysis

Tick paralysis can be caused by deer ticks, Lone Star ticks, dog ticks and Rocky Mountain wood ticks. This illness occurs when a female tick releases a salivary neurotoxin into a dog as she feeds. Symptoms typically start within seven days of attachment and include lethargy, muscle pain and weakness in the rear legs that quickly progresses to paralysis of all four legs. If the tick isn't removed, dogs can experience respiratory failure, convulsions or death. Symptoms improve within 24 hours of tick removal, and most dogs make a complete recovery within 72 hours. Vets often give dogs an anti-tick toxin serum to speed up the recovery process.

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