Could one small tick put your dog in big danger?
Generally it’s easy for me to separate my emotions from a particular pet disease I’m studying or teaching about. For example, if your pet has a skin infection, your vet may prescribe an antibiotic which your pet must take until completion–I can go on to advise the pet owner how to draw up the medication, how much to give, how long to store the medication, and what signs to watch out for. Most things in medicine are based on scientific research and are dealt with in a rational manner, keeping fears, exaggerations and imaginings out of the equation. This is true for me when dealing with most things…except for ticks. Those eight-legged, disease-carrying, blood-drinking vectors simply scare me. I’ve finally admitted it: I have a very healthy fear of ticks.
Until a few months ago, a tick to me was simply another parasite that must be treated with reason and logic; however, this changed when I took my dog Daisy for a hike in the woods during a hot Florida summer day. As I was getting her back in the car, I noticed one tick, then another, then another. There were actually ticks all over her! All I could think was that these small things would be tough to clear from all of her thick fur and that these ticks are considered vectors. Vectors are living organisms that are known to routinely transmit diseases to other living organisms. There are may be varying opinions in many areas of medicine relating to the removal or the prevention of a tick infestation, but every one of those scientists and doctors agree on one thing and that is that ticks are vectors. Ticks transmit bacterial diseases, viral diseases, and if that wasn’t bad enough, ticks also carry a neurotoxin that can potentially cause other neurological adverse effects in both pets and humans.
Diseases that are transmitted by ticks are usually difficult to diagnose early on, and are usually discovered much later. I was lucky that my dog did not get any diseases, but many dogs are not so lucky. Ticks can and do transmit some very serious diseases that should be watched for and treated properly. The most common and recognizable tick-borne disease is called Lyme disease or borreliosis. Transmission occurs when a deer tick that is infected with a particular bacteria called borrelia burgdorferi, bites the dog. Symptoms, which might not show up for months, include joint pain, lameness, swollen lymph nodes, tiredness, and fever. If Lyme disease is left untreated for a long period of time it may end up causing kidney failure, which is potentially fatal.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by a type of bacteria called R. rickettsia which is transmitted by the American dog tick and the Lone Star tick. Symptoms can include fever, joint pain, skin lesions (“spots”) caused by areas of hemorrhage, certain neurological problems, and the dog often seems to have difficulty walking around, among other issues. This disease is extremely dangerous and can also potentially be fatal. Another thing about Rocky Mountain spotted fever is that it seems to occur all over the country leaving everyone feeling vulnerable.
Canine ehrlichiosis is another disease that is transmitted by a tick, and it causes a bacterial infection in the white blood cells of the host dogs. The ticks that are to blame for the transmission of the disease are the brown dog tick and the Lone Star tick. Once a bite occurs, it can take a long time for this disease to show up and symptoms may not be obvious. Symptoms of canine ehrlichiosis include fever, depression or lethargy, and weight loss. Bleeding from the eyes and bruised gums are also seen with this infection. Sometimes this disease seems to go into some sort of remission for a while only to return at another time.
A disease that is also transmitted by ticks is called Canine babesiosis. The particular type of tick that transmits this disease is called Ixodid. This disease is quite different from all the other tick-borne diseases because is caused by protozoa and not by bacteria. Protozoa are single cell organisms that have the ability to move around on their own and get their food solely from other organisms. This organism attacks red blood cells, eventually manifesting as anemia. Symptoms may include poor appetite, lethargy, anemia, jaundice and a resulting discoloration of the urine and/or stool. Canine babesiosis is potentially fatal because it can cause a decrease in blood pressure causing to dog to go into shock.
Anaplasmosis is a disease caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum which is transmitted by the deer tick and the western black-legged tick. As a result, the dog stops eating, and may also have diarrhea and vomiting. Neck pain, muscle aches, seizures, lethargy and weakness, inflamed joints, and other neurological symptoms can also occur. Another form of the disease is transmitted by the brown dog tick, resulting in bruising and bleeding from the nose as a result of a decrease in the dog’s platelets.
Needless to say, these parasites are not the kind that live symbiotically with humans and pets—ticks must be dealt with quickly, and with a clear plan of action and a level head. The best way to deal with ticks is to prevent them altogether. Topical medications such as K9 Advantix, Frontline Plus, Preventic Amitraz Collar and Scalibor Protector Band for Dogs are all great ways to help protect your dog against ticks. Another new product worth a mention is called Activyl Tick Plus which is a monthly spot-on flea and tick treatment that contains an innovative new ingredient called indoxacarb to kills fleas, while also containing permethrin to control ticks and reduce the risk of disease. This brand-new technology is called bioactivation. Activyl Tick Plus is only for dogs and kills ticks, adult fleas, flea eggs and larvae. This product is also waterproof, quick-drying, and fragrance free.
If you see a tick attached on your dog, prompt action is important. Remove the tick with a pair of fine nosed tweezers by grabbing it as close as possible to its mouth and gently pulling the tick until it comes out. After removing the tick, remember that many diseases described here will manifest quite some time later, some up to several months later. To make matters even worse, tick-borne disease symptoms are more difficult to detect in pets than it would be in humans. A fever and joint pains may be easy to miss in a dog who doesn’t generally complain or show symptoms until it may be too late. If you know your pet has been bitten by a tick, pay close attention and be alert to potential symptoms over the next few weeks. If you do notice anything out of the ordinary, it is extremely important to take the dog to the veterinarian.
Treatment with the proper antibiotic along with supportive care and other treatments that the veterinarian can suggest may very well save your dog’s life. The earlier these diseases are caught and treated, the less pain and discomfort your dog will suffer and the less costly the treatment will be.
As always, if you have any medication related questions please don’t hesitate to call your 1800PetMeds pharmacist for assistance.