I am hearing from many of my clients “the ticks are really bad this year.” I agree. We had a mild winter and a mild start to our summer including a lot of rain. Conditions have been ideal for ticks to flourish.
Most people have heard of Lyme disease at this point. Some of my clients have been infected with Lyme disease and are suffering because of it. There are, however, other tick-borne diseases you need to be aware of. I will cover the most common diseases we see in this area including Lyme disease.
What causes Lyme disease and what are the symptoms?
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium (a spirochete) that is passed from the deer tick (ixodes scapularis) to the dog. Transmission of Lyme disease takes about 24 to 48 hours from the time a tick attaches. Dogs may become infected and never show signs of illness. If they do show signs of illness it may not be for weeks or months after the tick bite. Because the ticks are so small they can easily go undetected. If signs of illness develop, they typically include fever, lethargy, lameness in one or more legs and possible joint swelling.
Another potential sequela of Lyme disease is Lyme nephritis. This is a disease that affects the kidneys. Fortunately, this is a small subpopulation of Lyme positive dogs but it can be deadly. It needs to be ruled out with any Lyme positive dog.
Anaplasmosis is another disease spread by our good friend the deer tick. It has two forms of infection. One infects the white blood cells which are an important part of the dog’s immune system. The other infects the dog’s platelets which are an important part of clotting to stop bleeding. Signs may very from nothing to fever, lethargy, joint pain and swelling. Sound familiar? Signs can be similar to lyme disease. Other signs may include bruising. The easiest place to see this is on the gums, or places where there is less fur (belly, inner ears). Vomiting, diarrhea and coughing can be signs. As you can see, the signs are not very specific. Unlike Lyme disease, symptoms typically develop more quickly after a tick bite. Transmission from the time of the initial tick bite is thought to be at least 24 hours.
Ehrlichiosis is another tick born disease and there are various types. It can be spread by both the brown dog tick and the lone star tick. The lone star tick is easy to identify as it has a white spot on its back. As seen here.
For more on tick identification please visit: www.tickinfo.com/TICKIDPAGE.htm
Ehrlichiosis has two variants. One infects white blood cells. White blood cells are an important part of your dog’s immune system used to fight off infections. The other infects platelets which are important for clotting and to stop bleeding.
If platelets are affected, low platelet counts may occur and bleeding may result. There are three phases to the disease. The acute phase happens in the first one to three weeks. This is the period where platelet counts will drop. Signs may include lethargy, fever and enlarged lymph nodes. Next is the sub clinical phase which may last weeks to months. Ehrlichia hides in the spleen. There may only be subtle changes in blood work at this point and the dog will appear healthy. The chronic phase may show- bleeding issues, neurologic issues, kidney disease and uveitis (inflammation of the inside of the eye). Prognosis is poor for those in the chronic phase.
Ehrlichiosis is treated with doxycycline. Prognosis is good if caught early. If the dog makes it to the chronic stage prognosis is worse.
There are other tickborne diseases including Babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, etc.).
How can I protect my dog from tick-borne diseases?
Protecting your dog from tick borne disease is a multi-layered strategy. It includes:
- Keeping your dog out of the woods, anywhere there is tall grass or areas that are overgrown.
- Check your dog for ticks every time he or she comes inside and remove them promptly. If a tick is attached, use a tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin and possible and pull it out in a slow but deliberate pulling motion. Do not twist the tick. Do not squeeze the body of the tick as it will push stomach contents of the tick back into your dog and increase the chances of infection. If mouth parts are left in your dog, do not dig them out. In most cases the body will get rid of them like any other foreign body. Monitor the area for infection. Put the tick in a sealed container for possible analysis. DO NOT coat the tick in Vaseline, nail polish etc, as a form of removal. NEVER burn the tick off.
- Have your dog on a quality tick preventive. BE CAREFUL ABOUT WHAT PRODUCT YOU CHOSE. MANY OVER-THE-COUNTER PRODUCTS SIMPLY DO NOT WORK. We can help guide you on which tick preventive is best for your dog. There are options including collars, topical monthly medications and oral medications.
- Have your dog vaccinated for Lyme disease. Even if your dog has had Lyme disease in the past you should still vaccinated. Current infection DOES NOT prevent future infection. Lyme disease is currently the only tickborne disease for which there is a vaccine.
HAVE YOUR DOG TESTED. I cannot stress this enough. The economy is tough here in Schuylkill County. The recession hit us all hard. Money is tight. Many clients are skipping this test for financial reasons. I blame myself and the veterinary community for this. The test we run is a four-way test. It tests for heartworm disease and all the three tickborne diseases listed above. I and many others in the veterinary community typically refer to it as the heartworm/Lyme test. For those who are using heartworm prevention and vaccinated their dogs for Lyme disease it seems like an unnecessary expense. Unfortunately, we are seeing a lot of dogs infected with anaplasma, ehrlichia and coinfections with more than one of the diseases. Skipping this test potentially puts your dog at risk and delays treatment. Delayed treatment means worse prognosis. In addition, I have diagnosed two cases of heartworm disease this year- one in a cat and one in a dog. Foxes and coyotes carry heartworm disease so it is here in Schuylkill County. Delaying detection and treatment is a very bad idea.
Some of these diseases can affect people. Keeping your dog tick free not only protects your dog, it protects you and your family members.
- Ticks are bad.
- Tickborne diseases are worse.
- Protection must be multi-layered to be effective.
- PREVENT, VACCINATE, TEST.