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Diseases Carried by Ticks

November 12, 2000

Hi Everyone,

This week's topic was suggested by PAW volunteer/adopter Ann Phillips after her sweet dog Brady was diagnosed as having Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Brady seemed to be in pain when stretching out his hind legs and had trouble finishing the long walks he always loved. Antibiotics are clearing up the disease nicely, but it took two months for the vets to confirm a diagnosis. We've known of other dogs suffering from RMSF recently, too.


Diseases Carried by Ticks

The following information was adapted from http://www.healthypet.com/Library/health-13.html with additional information from Jennifer Fry, DVM, from the webpage http://vetmedicine.about.com/health/vetmedicine/library/viewers/uclyme-a.htm

There are hundreds of kinds of ticks, including the dog tick and the deer tick. Diseases that ticks can transmit to companion animals include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis (a bacterial infection), and babesiosis (a blood disorder).

Ticks live in cracks and crevices in the home or outside in grassy meadows, woods, brush, and weeds. They attach themselves to any living creature that brushes them. Ticks can also detect the carbon dioxide given off by warm-blooded animals and can crawl several feet to the carbon dioxide source.

Lyme Disease

The first human outbreak of Lyme disease was identified in Lyme, CT, in 1975, after an unusually large number of cases of arthritis resembling rheumatoid disease occurred. Dogs from the same location also developed arthritis similar to that in human Lyme disease. Although Lyme disease is common to humans and animals, there is no evidence that it can be transmitted from one to the other.

Signs of Lyme disease in pets include loss of appetite, lameness, lethargy, fever, joint swelling and lymph node enlargement.

Dr. Fry states that response to therapy with antibiotics in the penicillin or tetracycline families is usually seen within 3-5 days. Antibiotics reduce the signs of disease, but do not clear the spirochetes from the body. The more spirochetes in the tissue, the worse the clinical signs in that area of the body. Natural infection does not lead to protection against the disease.

Lyme disease vaccinations are available for dogs. (There has been some controversy over this vaccine, but discuss with your vet.)

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Dogs that live in wooded or mountainous areas are more susceptible to this disease. Depression, fever, rashes, skin hemorrhages, and joint disease are typical signs.

Antibiotics are effective if the disease is caught in the early stages. Improvement in the animal's health is usually seen in 12-24 hours. Once an animal has recovered from this disease, it may be immune for up to 12 months. However, re-infections can occur if the animal is re-exposed.

Tick Paralysis

Female ticks release a toxin while feeding that causes tick paralysis. The toxin affects the nervous system and can cause weakness and even paralysis that develops 7-9 days after the tick attachment. The signs can vary from a mild form of unsteadiness of all four legs, to acute quadriplegia that leaves all four legs completely immobilized.

Tick Removal

Ticks can be difficult to find. Common hiding places are the head, neck, ears and feet. The longer a tick is attached to its host, the greater the chance for disease. If you find a tick, remove it immediately with tweezers. (There is also a handy removal tool called a tick scoop.) To protect yourself, wear gloves and do not touch the tick. Carefully grasp the exposed section of its body near the pet's skin. Gently pull until the parasite lets go. Help prevent inflammation by applying antiseptic onto the bitten area.

To dispose of the tick, wrap it in tissues and flush it down the toilet. Or drop it in a small container of rubbing alcohol (ticks won't drown in water). Do not crush, burn, or suffocate the tick; this may spread infectious bacteria.

Preventative Care

Inspect dogs regularly for ticks, especially after trips to the woods or mountains. By thoroughly combing your dog within 4-6 hours of exposure, you can help prevent ticks from attaching to your dog.

Consult your vet about tick control. Dr. Fry states that prevention is the key via vaccination and tick control. She recommends Frontline, TopSpot, or Preventic Collars in addition to yearly Lyme vaccination. Preventic collars paralyze ticks, which prevents them from attaching. TopSpot kills ticks too, but it may take 24-48 hours.

Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport