AKC’s Chief Veterinary Officer Weighs In On Tick-Borne Diseases

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Tick borne disease is a growing threat to both canine and human health. Ticks are parasites that attach themselves to animals and people, feed on blood, and transmit diseases directly into the host’s system. Disease occurs when an infected tick bites a dog or a human and transmits the disease into the victim’s body.

The geographic distribution of ticks is changing and can vary yearly or even by season. Ticks are in virtually all parts of the United States, including some urban areas, and in many parts of the world. They present a danger to both people and pets.

The most important tick-borne diseases that affect dogs are Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesosis, Bartonellosis, and Hepatozoonosis. All can have serious health consequences for dogs and many can have serious health consequences for people as well.
 

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by a spirochete bacteria (Borrelia) carried by the common Brown Deer Tick. It is usually found in the Northeast and upper Midwest areas of the United States. The tick has to be attached to its host for more than 48 hours, and signs occur about 2-5 months after a tick bite. It’s important to do a thorough check for ticks and remove them promptly after a walk in the woods or other areas where ticks may reside. In urban areas, that may be your local dog park.

Signs of Lyme disease may include fever, lameness, limping, joint pain/swelling, enlargement of lymph nodes, and lethargy. Lyme disease can progress to kidney disease, which can become fatal.

Lyme disease is usually diagnosed via blood tests. The test detects exposure to the tick-agent and helps the veterinarian determine the best course of treatment.

Lyme is treated with antibiotics for at least 14 days, though treatment can last 30 days.

There is a vaccination for Lyme disease, though some question its efficacy. However, the vaccine may reduce the rate and severity of the illness. Dog owners should speak to their veterinarian to determine if the vaccine is appropriate for their pet.
 

Canine Ehrlichiosis

Canine Ehrlichiosis is found worldwide. It is caused by the Brown Deer Tick. Signs include fever, poor appetite, and low blood platelets (cells that help the clotting of blood), often noted by nose bleeding or other signs of bruising or anemia. Signs start about 1-3 weeks after the bite of an infected tick. Dogs diagnosed and treated promptly can have good prognosis, but those who go on to the chronic phase have more difficulty recovering.
 

Anaplasma
 

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Anaplasma is a disease caused by a bacterium carried by the Black-Legged Tick. It can be seen worldwide, but is more commonly seen in the Northeast and upper Midwestern United States, as well as northern California. The signs are similar to Lyme disease, although one type of Anaplasma can cause bleeding disorders.
 

Rocky Mountain Spotted fever

Rocky Mountain Spotted fever is one of the more commonly known tick-borne diseases to affect dogs and humans. It is carried by the American Dog Tick and the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick, as well as the Brown Deer Tick. This disease has been found in much of North, South, and Central America. Signs include fever, poor appetite, swollen lymph nodes, and joint pain. On occasion, neurologic signs such as wobbliness and low platelets, which lead to abnormal bleeding, may also be present.
 

Babesiosis

Babesiosis is another disease caused primarily by the bite of a tick, but can also transfer from dog bites, blood transfusions, and transplacental transmission. The main issue associated with Babesioisis is hemolysis, or the breaking down of red blood cells. Symptoms include lethargy, pale gums, and jaundice (yellow/orange colored skin or sclera -- the “whites” of the eyes).
 

Bartonella

Bartonella is an emerging infectious disease in dogs, as well as cats and humans. It has also been known as cat scratch fever, though it may not be acquired by a cat’s scratch or bite. Bartonella is transmitted to dogs by ticks, fleas, sand flies and lice. Dogs present with a wide range of clinical signs including fever, heart abnormalities, lymph node enlargement, joint pain, as well as possible neurologic signs.
 

Hepatozoonosis

Hepatozoonosis is slightly different, in that the infection is acquired after a dog ingests an infected tick while either grooming itself or from feeding on prey infested with parasitized ticks. This disease is not zoonotic, in other words, people cannot catch this from infected dogs. This disease is generally found in the southern United States. Signs of the disease are pain and reluctance to stand or move, fever, muscle wasting, and mild to moderate anemia. This disease is severely debilitating and often fatal.
 

How To Prevent Tick-Borne Disease
 

tick prevention


These diseases can present a serious risk to the health of dogs and to people. It’s important that dog owners talk with their veterinarian to determine the best approach to flea and tick control measures for their dogs.

Further information can be found through the American Kennel Club’s Canine Health Foundation by clicking here.

A map showing the prevalence of Lyme disease can be found at the Center for Disease Control by clicking here.
 

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