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6 Tick-Borne Diseases You Should Know About

May 18, 2017

6 Tick-Borne Diseases You Should Know About | Golden Meadows

If you love to take your dog with you on summer vacations, this article is for you. After all, what’s the point of enjoying a few days camping, hiking, or otherwise having fun if your furry friend isn’t by your side?

Most pet parents think of everything when going away: extra food, treats, a bed, leashes and collars with tags, and favorite toys, too. But what about flea and tick protection? Keeping your pup free from parasites and pests–that’s important, too. The most common type of protection comes in a liquid that you simply drip on behind the shoulder blades once per month. Others come in easy-to-dose pills.

Ideally, you’ll give these medicines to your dog in advance. But what happens if you forget, or the current dose lapses while you’re away? The truth can be quite frightening for both you and your pup. The information here will help you identify potential symptoms and problems so you can seek treatment quickly when problems occur.

Where Do Ticks Live?

Many tick species call the United States home, so you’ll find them all the way from New Mexico right to the Canadian border. That said, they are especially prevalent in wooded areas or meadows–exactly where most dogs love to run, frolick, and play. Due to their closeness to the ground, dogs are far more likely to pick up ticks from grass and fields than their human counterparts, even with the right prevention.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is currently the most famous and the most well-known tick-borne disease. It comes from the deer tick, a little critter commonly known in the northeastern United States as a black-legged tick.

Though the deer tick was first found near Lyme, Connecticut (where the disease got its name), the disease spread quickly and now exists throughout much of North America. Essentially, where there are ticks there may be lyme.

What makes Lyme especially dangerous is that it can be passed on to humans through tick bites, too.

It’s easy to overlook symptoms in furry friends, especially in dogs who might be older or those that have other health problems. Symptoms include lethargy, joint pain, and lameness, but can also include loss of appetite and fever. Unfortunately, these signs may take months to appear, and the tick bite won’t always show the typical bullseye that appears on humans when Lyme is present. Symptoms may also come and go, and often mimic the symptoms of other health problems, making it harder to diagnose.

Most vets recommend that you telephone your vet anytime you know a deer tick has fully latched on for more than a few minutes or seconds. If your vet judges it to be a risk, he or she can issue prophylactic antibiotics.


Given the nickname “dog fever,” this disease is also spread by deer ticks and has the same range as Lyme Disease. Due to being carried by the same ticks, dogs can get both this and lyme disease at the same time by an infected tick. Both diseases will exacerbate each other if this happens.

Symptoms are similar to Lyme Disease: lethargy, lameness, joint pain, fever and loss of appetite.  But anaplasmosis also provides its own set of symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.

Anaplasmosis can be treated if caught early, so if your pup is bit or experiences symptoms, seek a vet’s care.


Ehrlichiosis is found in tick populations all over the world, not just within the United States. Caused by the bite of an infected Brown Dog Tick, the disease’ symptoms can also be delayed by infection, like with Lyme Disease. The rate at which your dog experiences symptoms is often directly representative of how long ago the bite occurred, as the infection needs time to travel through the body.

Ehrlichiosis symptoms are often severe and always alarming. Some of the easier-to-spot symptoms include a runny nose and watery eyes, respiratory distress, enlarged lymph nodes or limbs, and frequent bloody noses. Harder-to-spot symptoms include depression, fever, weight loss, or loss of appetite depending on your dog’s health.

Ehrlichiosis is treatable with antibiotics, but identifying the pathogen must come first. Your vet will do blood work to identify the disease and then treat it with one or more antibiotics, often with IV treatment coming first.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is caused by a nasty little critter known as Rickettsia rickettsii. It is neither a virus nor a bacteria, but a pathogen at the same time, making it especially difficult to treat. There are four types of tick that can spread this disease, making it one of the most proliferant in the American Northeast:

Though these names do pinpoint where you’ll most frequently find these ticks, it’s actually common throughout both North and South America as a disease. That makes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever a problem for just about everyone–including your dog.

Unlike the other diseases so far, this one only takes a few days for symptoms to show up. Like with other bites, some of the symptoms are very similar to Lyme and other mild canine illnesses. Vets often look for disease-specific symptoms like neurological abnormalities, anorexia, anemia, skin lesions, and vomiting when ruling out other possibilities.

Unfortunately, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever treatment is often difficult and more about managing symptoms than anything else. That said, with the right supportive care most dogs do survive and go on to be well.


Hepatozoonosis is a weird little disease that dogs can get only by EATING an infected brown dog tick or a gulf coast tick–eugh! But let’s be honest; dogs love to eat bugs (as evidenced by these dogs who all ate bees). Thus, it’s still important to be aware of this one, even if it’s rare for pups to contract it.

Thankfully, this disease is generally only found in temperate and tropical regions rather than the entire world. But that does place it smack in the middle of the American south, so anyone living between Florida and Virginia (laterally) should take note.

If you’re the proud friend of a bug-eater, you should look symptoms like runny nose, watery eyes, bloody diarrhea, muscle pain, and fever. If your dog has any or all of these symptoms, a visit to the vet is definitely in order. Treating hepatozoonosis is difficult, but is possible with early and aggressive intervention.


Even with a name as possibly cute as this one, it’s not a fun disease for your pooch. Caused by a parasite rather than a bacterium or virus, babesiosis can also be difficult to treat. The American dog tick and the brown tick are both carriers for this disease, as are quite a few other tick species. Babesiosis is found all over the world, but is particularly concentrated in New England and the American Northeast.

While the most common sign of this one is anemia, other symptoms include dark urine, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and weakness.

To detect babesiosis, your vet will need to do a blood draw and then a smear on a slide. If identified, the treatment is usually targeted to the exact species of babesiosis identified. It may include IV infusions of Imidocarb dipropionate, Atovaquone, or clindamycin.

Though these illnesses aren’t pleasant, all of them are treatable with veterinary care. As with most canine illnesses, prevention is worth a pound of cure, so use spot treatments monthly whenever possible. Even if they are not 100 percent effective, they will significantly reduce the risks your dog faces during warmer summer months. Always remove ticks as soon as you find them. Flush or drown them once removed. The faster you notice a bite, the faster your buddy can be treated and get back on their happy little paws.

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