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About Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs

Ticks are an external parasite that can make themselves at home in your dog's fur, using them as a host for nutrition. Today, our vets in Turlock discuss tick-borne diseases in dogs, their symptoms, and the treatment and prevention options that may be available.

What are tick-borne illnesses & diseases in dogs?

Ticks are blood-sucking intracellular parasites that introduce dangerous bacteria to dog’s bodies, live inside their cells, and cause thousands of pooches to become ill every year.

They can also suffer long-term damage from the resulting conditions, which can be serious and even fatal. For these reasons, it’s imperative to prevent tick-borne illnesses and have symptoms treated early if your dog does contract a condition.

These are the most common tick-borne diseases in dogs throughout the United States:

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a quickly growing global issue. Transmitted by deer ticks or black-legged ticks, the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi causes the disease. Symptoms may include limping, enlarged lymph nodes, swelling or pain in the joints, lameness, fever, and lethargy.

Canine Bartonellosis

While this may be one of the less common blood-borne diseases in dogs, it still causes deeply concerning symptoms that include lameness and fever. Left untreated, the condition can lead to heart or liver disease. It may also infect people. Canine bartonellosis is transmitted by the brown dog tick.

Rickettsial Diseases

The bacteria rickettsia causes widely recognized tick diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, ehrlichiosis, and canine anaplasmosis. Small, intracellular bacteria make up rickettsial organisms.

Because it can be difficult to interpret diagnostic test results, several rounds of treatment and many tests may be needed before your vet can make a definitive diagnosis if your dog has a severe case.

Canine Ehrlichiosis

Many types of ticks can transmit canine ehrlichiosis, including the lone star tick, American dog tick, and brown dog tick. The disease is found worldwide.

Symptoms begin to appear between 1 and 3 weeks after an infected tick bites your dog. Signs may include poor appetite, fever, and low blood platelets (cells that help blood to clot). You may also notice nose bleeds or bruising.

While dogs diagnosed with canine ehrlichiosis early may have better treatment outcomes, recovery may be more difficult if chronic symptoms develop as a result of the disease.

Canine Anaplasmosis

Also known as dog fever or dog tick fever, this disease is carried by the deer tick and can cause symptoms similar to other tick-borne diseases, ranging from loss of appetite, stiff joints, fever, and lethargy to vomiting and diarrhea. Extreme cases can lead to seizures.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

RMSF is carried by the American dog tick, brown deer tick, and Rocky Mountain wood tick. The disease is found throughout North, South, and Central America and is one of the more commonly recognized tick-borne diseases. It can infect both dogs and people.

Symptoms can include fever, joint pain, poor appetite, low platelet levels, and swollen lymph nodes. Sometimes your dog may experience neurological challenges such as wobbly stature or weak limbs.

Protozoal Diseases

These diseases originate from a protozoal intracellular parasite that lives in your dog’s red blood cells. These include:

Canine Hepatozoonosis

Your pooch can pick up this tick-borne disease by ingesting protozoa, which can happen when your dog eats infected animals such as birds or rodents. This makes it different from other tick-borne illnesses.

Canine Babesiosis

Though tick bites (typically from the American dog tick and/or brown dog tick) are primarily to blame for this disease, they may also be transferred through transplacental transmission and contaminated IV blood.

The breakdown of red blood cells can lead to symptoms such as pale gums, lethargy, jaundice (yellow or orange-colored skin or whites of eyes), and dark-colored urine. Other symptoms may include weakness and vomiting.

What are the effects of tick-borne diseases on the immune systems of dogs?

Unfortunately, your dog can contract multiple organisms through a single tick bite (co-infection). Different organisms may also work together to release toxins, triggering your pup’s immune system.

Once they enter your dog’s body, these tiny organisms can get into the cells and hijack your pooch’s immune system. These organisms can lead to chronic infections as they help each other survive inside your pet’s body, where several tissues and organs can become infected and inflamed.

Though this can result in a wide range of symptoms, the signs discussed above may not appear until weeks or months after your dog is bitten as the disease hides in inflamed tissue.

What are the common symptoms of tick-borne diseases that I should watch for?

The hallmark symptoms of most tick-borne illnesses include lethargy, fever, vomiting, swelling around joints, and lameness. Other signs can include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Seizures
  • Swelling in limbs
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Discharge from eyes or nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin lesions

What are the treatment options for tick-borne diseases?

When it comes to tick-borne illnesses, early diagnosis and successful treatment are critical. Your vet may prescribe many broad-spectrum antibiotics in the early stages of the disease, with the caveat that they also destroy beneficial bacteria as well as bad bacteria.

This issue can be addressed by providing probiotics to your dog to prevent gastrointestinal issues from cropping up and following your vet’s recommended treatment plan.

It can be difficult to control or eradicate recurring tick diseases. If your dog recovers, she will still need regular blood work to detect any recurrences. Ask your vet about how to control ticks.

How can I prevent my dog from contracting a tick-borne disease?

At Community Veterinary Clinic, we offer a full line of parasite prevention products to protect your pet from ticks and other parasites.

However, remember that no method is 100% effective, so always be diligent when considering outings, apply tick control treatments before taking your dog to environments where ticks may thrive, and check your pooch for ticks when you arrive home.

During tick season (which lasts through spring, summer, and fall, and year-round in warm climates), check your dog for ticks. They are typically black or dark brown and can transmit diseases within 3 to 6 hours of biting your pooch.

If you discover a tick, it should be removed quickly to prevent infection. Consider bringing your dog to our animal hospital, where a vet can safely remove it.

Are tick-borne diseases in dogs contagious?

Though many of the pathogens that cause tick-borne diseases are zoonotic and can infect humans, disease cannot spread between dogs and humans directly. This is because the disease are spread spcifically through the bite of an infected tick.

One of the factors in the spread of tick-borne diseases is the fact that much of the time, your dog may bring the tick into the house with them after playing outside. Resulting in the risk of the tick biting yourself or a member of your family.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs that they may have been exposed to a tick-borne disease? Contact our veterinarians at Community Veterinary Clinic today, to book an appointment for your canine friend. 

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