Tick Borne Diseases That Affect Dogs
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By Bob Franklin, CT
Most of us with Jack Russell Terriers are constantly pulling ticks out of our dogs’ ears or off their necks and bodies. Many JRT owners have had dogs infected with Lyme Disease, a tick borne disease, (especially those of us in the Northeastern USA since the disease gets its name from Lyme, CT where it was first discovered not all that many years ago). BUT, there are three other, major tick borne diseases that affect dogs in the USA. These diseases are – Ehrlichiosis, Basesiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The scary thing about these other three tick borne diseases is that they all may be fatal unless diagnosed in time and treated aggressively. Lyme Disease can usually be diagnosed through blood tests, is readily treatable and unless the disease has reached an advanced stage, it is rarely fatal. However, if your terrier is ailing and the symptoms you see make no sense AND your vet cannot get a firm diagnosis, there is a good chance that your dog has a tick borne disease. It is sad that there are still some vets who have limited knowledge about tick borne diseases other than the fact that they do exist.
There are a number of excellent websites that provide detailed information about all four of these tick borne diseases. The link to one of the best Tick Disease websites is given below, but a Google search for “tick diseases” will come up with more related websites.
Most of the information in this article comes from a website developed by Mirage Samoyeds in an article written by Pam Barbe, MT (ASCP).
Symptoms and stages of Tick Diseasess
There are so many symptoms for the various tick borne diseases that they are often misinterpreted for other problems. The most common, noticeable symptoms are: anorexia (loss of appetite), weight loss, fever, lethargy (mild to severe), diarrhea, apparent arthritis or other unexplained lameness, neurological signs including seizures, muscle wasting, pale gums or tongue, weakness, increased thirst or urination, nosebleeds plus many, many other blood test indicators determined only through lab work. No canine ever has all of these symptoms and often the symptoms are very subtle and go undetected. Interestingly, man is just as susceptible to tick borne diseases as are canines and felines.
Tick diseases can be in acute phases (1 to 4 weeks post infection) and the dog displays several symptoms simultaneously - in particular, fever, lethargy, depression of appetite, flu-like symptoms, lameness or painful to the touch and will yelp when picked up. At this stage, strong antibiotic therapy is probably the only effective means of treating the illness since the canine’s own immune system has not been strong enough to ward off the infecting organisms.
If mild and therefore undetected and untreated, tick diseases may move into the sub-acute or sub-clinical phase. In this phase, the dog’s weight normalizes and laboratory abnormalities may be quite subtle. This phase can last for months so long as the dog is not subjected to something that causes unusual stress since the parasite is essentially living in the host in stasis and is not overpowering the canine’s immune system.
However, if the disease is sequestered perhaps in the bone marrow, spleen, liver, etc. from an extended sub-acute stage and if this balance is disturbed by stress, other infections, immuno-deficiency, over fatigue, surgery, etc., then the canine can enter the chronic stage of illness. Because the organisms are so thoroughly sequestered in the canine’s body and the canine’s immune capabilities are usually impaired (ability to make antibodies) the disease is very difficult to treat effectively and death can occur.
Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis disease symptoms can mimic many other medical conditions are often are mis-diagnosed. This aspect of our discussion of tick borne diseases is complicated and will not be covered in this article, but can be studied in detail in the extensive website link mentioned earlier in this article. Also, this website goes into detail about the lab tests that can be used for each of the tick diseases.
Lyme disease is probably the most common tick borne disease affecting canines and there are two types of ticks now known to transmit Lyme disease in the USA. They are the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus). What is important for transmission in any locale is the availability of animal reservoirs – deer and small mammals (mostly mice) and how many of the ticks actually carry the infection. Literature reports that in Connecticut here Lyme is endemic, the population of deer ticks actually carrying Lyme disease is in the 10 to 30% range whereas in the western USA areas inhabited by the black-legged ticks the infection rates are much lower at 1 to 3%.
The American Dog Tick (Dermacenter Variabilis) – sometimes called the brown dog tick - can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and ehrlichiosis and some think the brown tick can also transmit Lyme Disease, but this is still somewhat conjecture. Again the complications and variations of the ticks and the diseases is more than this article can discuss so you are again referred to the website link provided for more details. Testing suggestions for veterinarians and available laboratories to do the testing are also detailed in the website.
How do you remove an attached tick?
Basic rule is DO NOT use alcohol, nail polish, hot matches, petroleum jelly or other methods to remove ticks. These methods may actually traumatize ticks causing them to regurgitate their gut contents into the animal and thus greatly increase the of chance infective organisms being expelled into the dog or human. Do not crush the tick after removal and get the contents of a potentially infected tick on your hands.
If possible wear gloves and use a tweezers when removing ticks keeping in mind that an infected tick can just as easily infect a human since most tick borne diseases also infect people. Grab the body of the tick with the tweezers as close to the head as possible and pull the tick straight out , DO NOT TWIST or JERK and try not to puncture the body of the tick. Try to get the tick’s head out if you can, but on a wriggling canine it is hard to use a needle to remove the head. Cleanse the wound with soap and water and then alcohol. Either squash the tick with a stick or stone and grind it into the soil if you are in the field or keep a small bottle of alcohol in your pack to put the tick into. Flushing the tick down the toilet usually won’t drown the tick. If you want, you can save the tick in a sealed ziplock bag for future examination should your canine friend start exhibiting symptoms at some future date and you want to take the tick to the lab for examination as alcohol may interfere with the testing procedure.
Preventive measures to avoid ticks on your dog
Of course avoiding tick prone areas is the best way – ie. stayng away from low shrubs and grasses. But, what self respecting JRT owner is willing or even can do this with their JRT. Therefore, the most effective means to avoid ticks on your JRTs are probably prophylactic measures and there are a couple of products available. NOTE: I am not recommending the use of either product because that should be your decision after first consultating with your veterinarian.
Frontline – (Rhone-Merieux.Inc.) -- Frontline is a spray or topspot application to the skin in the shoulder area. The active ingredient is Fipronil which is a neurotoxin specific to invertebrates (including fleas and ticks). It over stimulates the flea or tick’s nervous system causing convulsions and death within a few hours for fleas and within 48 hours for ticks. The website referred to earlier provides tips on how to best apply Frontline.
Preventic Tick Collar for dogs (Virbac, Inc.) -- This collar contains amitraz, which is an arachnicide, not an insecticide ( it will not kill fleas). Amitraz appears to interfere with the ability of the tick to actually feed on the pet by paralyzing the mouth parts of the tick. It will also kill ticks that have already attached, but this can take up to 48 hours to accomplish The collar must be on the dog for 24 hours before it starts to work. Amitraz is not systemic – it mixes with the natural oils of your dog’s skin and spreads from head to tail. Amitraz is very toxic if ingested so if you have several dogs in your household that are prone to playing with another dog’s collars, BE CAREFUL. Again more information about Preventic use is provided in the website.
There are several drugs used to treat various tick borne diseases and your veterinarian should be the one to prescribe necessary treatments. The links and material in this article are provided for educational and informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with a veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Also, the accuracy of the information provided is subject to the accuracy of the various sources.