Do You Know What’s Out There? Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases in Pets
Like Mungo Jerry says, in the summertime when the weather is hot, we got… well, to be honest, we got ticks on our mind. It’s not quite as romantic as the song, but warm weather definitely has the team at Rutland Veterinary Clinic thinking about ticks and your pet. Why? Ticks can transmit many serious illnesses to your pet and even to you. It’s no laughing matter, which is why we want to share more about how to protect your pet against ticks and tick-borne diseases.
Ticks are an arachnid and are closely related to spiders. There are more than 80 species of ticks in the United States. Only a few are harmful to pets and people. The most concerning is the brown dog tick, deer tick, and American dog tick.
Ticks are found in all 50 states. They’re most prevalent in early spring through late fall; however, many species are well adapted to temperature extremes and can go dormant in cold temperatures, only to revive with the first warm day. They live in wood piles, brushy areas, and tall grasses, preferring dark, moist places in which to lay their eggs.
Ticks hang on to tall grasses and shrubs, waiting for a host to walk by. When your pet brushes up against the grass or shrubs, the tick will grab onto the hair, making their way to the skin. Once attached, they begin taking a blood meal, typically staying attached for several days. Their tiny body becomes engorged with blood as they feed. Cats who roam or hunt small rodents can be exposed to ticks, but even indoor cats are susceptible if a dog or person brings one into the home.
Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases
Not only are tick bites painful and irritating, they can also transmit serious diseases to your pet or your family. Thousands of dogs annually become infected with a tick-borne illness. Although we typically think of ticks as a dog issue, cats can also get ticks and are also susceptible to disease.
The bacteria that cause tick-borne diseases can be transmitted to your pet in as little as 24-48 hours after a bite. Once the bacteria enter your pet’s blood stream, they thrive and multiply, spreading throughout the body. Diseases are diagnosed using a thorough history of your pet’s whereabouts and lifestyle, along with running various tests.
Here are the most common tick-borne diseases:
- Lyme disease – Transmitted by the deer tick, this disease may not be noticed until several months after infection. Signs include joint stiffness and pain, swollen limbs that may resolve and then reoccur, fever, and fatigue.
- Ehrlichiosis – Transmitted primarily by the brown dog tick (but also the American dog tick and the lone star tick), ehrlichiosis is found worldwide. Signs may not appear for months or even years and include fever, loss of appetite, depression, nose bleeds, weight loss, and swollen limbs.
- Anaplasmosis – Both Lyme disease and anaplasmosis are found in the same geographic location, and are transmitted by the same type of tick (the deer tick, or black-legged tick, and the western black legged tick). However, the diseases are different. Dogs with anaplasmosis may exhibit similar signs as Lyme, such as lameness, joint pain, fever, and lethargy, but may also have vomiting, diarrhea, coughing and, rarely, neurologic signs. Infection may also cause platelets to decline periodically, a condition called cyclic thrombocytopenia. This may cause bruising and bleeding, including nosebleeds. Anaplasmosis is considered a zoonotic disease, so if your dog tests positive, it’s apparent that ticks carrying the disease are in the area and could transmit it to humans. Strict tick control measures should be taken.
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever – Transmitted by the American dog tick, wood tick, and the lone star tick, signs include fever, stiffness, lethargy, skin lesions, and neurological problems.
- Babesiosis – Typically transmitted by the American dog tick and the brown dog tick, signs include anemia, pale gums, weakness, and vomiting.
- Bartonellosis – Signs include intermittent lameness and fever. This disease is commonly transmitted by the brown dog tick and can result in heart or liver failure if left untreated.
Effective treatment depends on an early diagnosis. The usual treatment is antibiotics. Although many pets will begin feeling better quickly, it’s important to continue the entire course of medication as directed. Because signs will sometimes reoccur, don’t assume your pet is out of the woods once they show signs of improvement. Follow-up blood testing and careful monitoring is necessary to make sure the disease is cleared.
As with all disease, prevention is the best medicine. Tick prevention includes:
- Perform a “tick check” after your pet has been outside.
- Keep pets out of tick habitats as much as possible.
- Remove ticks safely and quickly (ask us how!).
- Use a monthly tick preventive year-round.
For more information about ticks and tick-borne diseases, please give us a call.