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Tick-borne Diseases

Do you know the health risks that ticks carry for your pet? Ticks can transmit diseases like Lyme, Ehrlichia, and Anaplasmosis to our pets- This article will cover information on ticks, tick-borne diseases, treatment and prevention.

Ticks are an external parasite that feed on the blood of animals. They are attracted to the

carbon dioxide that animals exhale, as well as the heat their bodies produce. They tend to linger in areas of tall grass, and the border between field and forest. Tick bites are normally not painful, and are

generally around the pets head, ears, neck and feet. It usually takes several hours for an attached tick to transmit disease.


Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease we see in this area. Lyme disease is caused

by a spirochete bacteria that can be transmitted from a tick while feeding. Once the bacterium is

transmitted into your animal’s bloodstream it can travel to the skin, joints, muscle, lymph nodes and

connective tissues within your pet’s body. Symptoms of Lyme disease include lameness, fever,

decreased appetite, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes and warm, swollen joints. In some cases, symptoms

may include vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, increased urination and fluid buildup in the abdomen;

these may be an indication of renal disease.


Ehrlichia is a type of bacteria that infects white blood cells. There are three phases of illness with

ehrlichiosis: The acute phase occurs one to three weeks after the pet is bitten. The bacteria is replicatedand attaches to the white blood cells. The platelet count will drop, and your animal may be lethargic and may have a fever, loss of appetite, and enlarged lymph nodes. If treated in this stage most dogs will clear the organism and recover well. In the subclinical stage, your animal may appear normal, this is because the organism is now hiding out in the spleen. This phase can last months or even years. The only thing that may show ehrlichia is lurking is a slightly reduced platelet count or elevated globulin on a blood test. The chronic phase is when the animal gets sick again. They may have abnormal bleeding due to the decreased platelet count, they may also get a condition called uveitis- a deep and painful inflammation of the eye. Neurological effects may be seen, and sometimes serious urinary protein loss can occur.


Anaplasmosis is a disease with symptoms quite similar to Lyme. Signs include fever, lethargy,

lameness that shifts from leg to leg, not eating well, reluctance to move, vomiting, diarrhea, and

sometimes neurologic signs. Pets may develop liver or kidney damage, and some pets may get bleeding

disorders that show up as nosebleeds, blood in the urine or abnormal bruising of the skin. Also, a

decrease in their platelets.


Diagnosis comes from a simple blood test we run here in the office. We use the SNAP Canine

4dx Plus, which screens for the antibody response to these diseases. This test shows that the animal has been exposed to the bacteria, that together with clinical signs is enough for a diagnosis. Additional

testing may be necessary to stage the disease and its effects on your pet. This may include an urinalysis

and/or additional blood work such as a complete blood count or chemistry panel.


Treatment for these three diseases is very similar- often a month-long course of an antibiotic

such as Doxycycline helps alleviate the clinical signs and hopefully, clear the infection. Some pets remain persistently infected despite treatment.


Prevention is the simplest way to keep your animal safe from tick-borne disease. The first line of

defense should be a topical oil product which is applied once monthly. These help to protect your pet

by killing the tick before it can transmit disease. Examples of products we recommend are Vectra,

Frontline Plus, and Advantix for dogs, and Frontline Plus or Revolution (only labeled for one type of tick)

for cats. Another level of protection available for dogs is a vaccination against Lyme disease- after the

initial 2 vaccine series this is a once-yearly vaccination. Another important habit to get into is to check

your animal for ticks by hand, or by using a flea comb. If you find a tick, the easiest way to remove it is to grasp it with tweezers as close to the animal’s skin as possible, then twist and pull. There are also plastic tools, like the Tick Twister, available in pet stores. Monitor the site for redness and swelling, a small amount is normal but if it doesn’t resolve within a few days seek medical advice.