New Tick Disease on the Rise: Can Pets Get the Powassan Virus?

Posted by Stacey Venzel

The Powassan virus is worse than Lyme disease, but can dogs, cats, and horses get it?

Crippling tick-borne diseases like Lyme, Anaplasma, Ehrlichia, Babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, are concern enough for pets and people. But the Powassan virus is infecting ticks and the number of reported cases is increasing.

The most common tick-born diseases cause debilitating joint pain, fever, lethargy, and more. Lyme disease is often called "The Great Imitator" because its vast symptoms can mimic so many serious ailments, including thyroid disorders and chronic fatigue in pets.

But something more troubling than Lyme is on the rise. The Powassan virus causes encephalitis--or brain inflammation--which can be fatal or lead to permanent disabilities in 60 percent of infections.

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While the other illnesses are caused by bacteria, Powassan is a virus. The other diseases take at least 24 hours of tick-host attachment for infection to occur, but the Powassan virus can be transmitted in only 15 minutes.

Fifty cases have been reported in the past decade in humans. So far, no detected canine, feline, or equine infections have been reported. But other forest-dwelling, backyard-romping mammals have contracted the virus, including chipmunks and squirrels. Though no cases have been discovered incidentally, experimental conditions have been able to transmit the virus to dogs, cats, and horses, suggesting that contraction is possible in the natural world.

Of increasing concern is the fact that tick-borne illnesses are on the rise, most notably Lyme disease. Weather conditions are simply making the environment more habitable for ticks, increasing their populations and posing more vector possibilities.


The Powassan virus was previously only found in ticks that didn't usually bite humans, but that's changed. Now the common deer tick has shown infection, making not only humans, but also pets, more susceptible to a bite from a Powassan-infected organism.

Additionally, testing is not widely available, especially for pets, as the virus is just now entering the spotlight.

Despite the majority of ticks not carrying any disease, it is wise to take preventative measures, especially with animals, who spend much more time wandering outdoors than humans. Investing in flea and tick collars could save your pet from infection.

Be sure to check your pets frequently for ticks if you're in an area where the insects frequently roam, such as in tall grasses and woodlands. Baths after hikes and trail rides can also help animals stay tick-free.

Has your pet ever had a tick-borne illness? Tell us in the comments below.

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New Tick Disease on the Rise: Can Pets Get the Powassan Virus?