Tiny ticks can cause big problems for dogs.
The tick, a type of insect parasite, attaches itself to animal skin, feasting on the host's blood. Infected ticks, however, can spread diseases to their host. Diagnosis of canine tick-borne diseases is based on blood analysis.
Thousands of canine tick-borne diseases are diagnosed annually. Many more go undiagnosed and therefore untreated. Though many tick-borne diseases exist, seven are considered more common than others.
Ticks can be picked up in vegetative areas like forests and meadows. The inquisitive nature and low-lying stature of canines compared to humans also makes them more susceptible to infestations and thus, potential infection. However, if dogs are bringing infected ticks home with them, the ticks can crawl off the canine and onto the owner, biting and infecting the human. Direct disease transmission between dogs and humans has not been found.
So, what are the most common canine tick-borne diseases?
1. Lyme Disease
Transmitted by the bite of an infected deer tick, this disease is found globally but most prevalent in New England regions near its discovery in Lyme, Connecticut. However, it is not exclusive to these areas. Deer ticks can hitch free rides all the way to Texas, and the prevalence of Lyme Disease is spreading.
Symptoms range from joint pain, lethargy, and lameness to decreased appetite and fever. Signs of infection can take months to appear. It is also worth noting that dogs do not get the tell-tale bullseye rash common in humans at the bite site of a tick carrying Lyme disease.
Nicknamed "dog fever," symptoms of this infection are similar to Lyme disease with additional concerns for vomiting and diarrhea. Seizures can also occur in severe situations. Like Lyme, biting by infected deer ticks spreads this disease. Distribution correlates with Lyme disease as well.
This tick-borne disease exists globally and is one of the most common. It is caused by the bite of an infected brown dog tick. Signs of the illness include fever, decreased appetite and weight loss, depression, runny nose or watery eyes, respiratory distress, frequent bloody noses, and enlarged lymph nodes or limbs. Symptoms can also be delayed from infection.
4. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Onset of symptoms is much quicker with this disease, usually appearing within a few days of the bite. Your dog might have contracted the disease if he has a fever, joint or muscle pain, anorexia, anemia, depression, neurological abnormalities, skin lesions, or is vomiting.
Four ticks are known to spread the disease with their bite: the American dog tick, the wood tick, the brown tick, and the Lone Star tick. Contrary to the name, RMSF is found throughout North and South America.
This disease is more oddly transmitted by a dog ingesting an infected brown dog tick or Gulf Coast tick. If your dog shows signs of fever, runny nose and watery eyes, bloody diarrhea, or muscle pain, it is a good idea to have him tested for this disease.
Two species exist worldwide, congregating mostly in tropical and temperate regions.
The American dog tick and brown tick spread this disease. Anemia is the most common sign of infection but also look for dark urine, fever, swollen lymph nodes and weakness. Babesiosis is found all around the globe but in the U.S., New England states hold the most prevalence.
Infected brown ticks and other biting insect parasites like lice and fleas can transmit this infection. Lameness, fever, painful lymph nodes, nausea, shivering and restlessness are some possible symptoms. Untreated Bartonellosis can cause extreme complications including heart and liver disease. It can be found worldwide.
Don't fret just yet if you keep finding your pup covered in parasites; not every tick carries a disease. But it is a good idea to take precaution no matter how prevalent ticks or their diseases are in your region.
Preventing transmission of tick-borne diseases is relatively easy. Tick prevention collars, monthly liquid treatment, and even pills are all available to fit your pet's needs.
If your canine does carry ticks home, you can carefully remove the parasite with a set of tweezers, but be sure to pinch off the whole body as sometimes the head can get left behind. Proper technique involves squeezing at the base of the bite site, not pulling at the back end of the tick.
Drop the ticks into a jar of isopropyl alcohol to kill them. Ticks are common in warmer, pocketed areas of the body like ears, armpits, groins, and between toes in the paw pads.
No prevention protocol is 100%, though. So be sure to keep an eye on your dog for any abnormal behavior, in which case a visit to the vet is a good idea.