Search Menu

AKC is a participant in affiliate advertising programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to If you purchase a product through this article, we may receive a portion of the sale.

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. The 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 due to climate change, de-foresting, and the changing living and migrating patterns of deer, birds, and rodents. This can vary yearly or even by season. Ticks are in virtually all parts of the United States, including some urban areas, and 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, Babesiosis, 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 Black-Legged Tick (more commonly known as the Deer Tick). This disease has typically been associated in the Northeast and upper Midwest areas of the United States. However, we are now also seeing it on the West Coast (Washington, Oregon, and California), as well as in Florida. In fact, Lyme has been detected on dogs in many parts of the country and also in some areas of southern Canada. The tick has to be attached to its host for about 36-48 hours for transmission of bacteria into the host. Signs of illness 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 grassy or shaded areas where ticks may reside. In urban areas, that may include your local dog park.

Bulldog rolling in the grass.
©otsphoto -

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. (Unlike Lyme in humans, dogs do NOT develop a “bull’s eye” rash.)

A veterinarian will usually use blood tests to diagnose a dog with Lyme disease. The initial test detects exposure to the tick-agent and helps the veterinarian determine additional testing as needed.

The treatment of a dog that is positive on the initial test but is otherwise healthy remains controversial amongst some veterinarians. When a veterinarian decides to treat a dog with Lyme, they’ll usually place the dog on antibiotics for 28-30 days.

There is a vaccination for Lyme disease and plenty of other tick preventatives. Though some question its duration and efficacy, the vaccine may reduce the rate and severity of the illness should it appear. 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 several types of ticks: The Brown Dog Tick, Lone Star Tick, and Black-Legged Tick. Signs include fever, poor appetite, and low blood platelets (cells that help the clotting of blood), often noted by nose bleeds 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 a good prognosis, but those who go on to the chronic phase have more difficulty recovering.

Standard Schnauzer puppy scratching himself in the grass.
©Christian Müller -


Anaplasma is a disease caused by a bacterium carried by the Black-Legged Tick (Ixodes). Though Anaplasma is seen worldwide, there are two Anaplasma species known to detect disease in North American dogs:

  • Phagocytophilum: Northeast and the upper Midwestern United States
  • Platys: California and coastal states

The signs are similar to Lyme disease, though dogs with Anaplasma often have low blood platelets, which cause bleeding disorders.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

One of the more commonly known tick-borne diseases, Rocky Mountain spotted fever can affect dogs and humans. The American Dog Tick, Rocky Mountain Wood Tick, and Brown Deer Tick can carry the disease. This disease has been found in much of North, South, and Central America. Signs include fever, poor appetite, swollen lymph nodes, and joint pain. A dog may also have a low platelet count. Neurological signs, such as wobbliness, can sometimes occur.


Babesiosis is another disease caused primarily by the bite of a tick, but can also transfer from dog bites, transplacental transmission, and possibly through contaminated IV blood. Multiple tick species can carry this disease. The main issue associated with Babesiosis is “hemolysis,” or the breaking down of red blood cells. Symptoms include lethargy, pale gums, dark-colored urine, and jaundice.

Golden Retriever laying down feeling lethargic.
stonena7/Getty Images Plus


Bartonella is an emerging infectious disease in dogs, as well as cats and humans. Also known as cat scratch disease (CSD), most infections occur after a flea-infested domestic or feral cat scratches a dog. CSD can occur wherever there are cats and fleas.


Hepatozoonosis is slightly different, in that a dog acquires the infection after ingesting an infected brown dog tick or Gulf Coast Tick. This disease is not zoonotic and 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.

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.

Related article: Ticks on Dogs: What to Look For
Get Your Free AKC eBook

Emergency First Aid for Dogs

Even the most responsible pet owner can't always protect their pet from a sudden accident or illness. Getting your pet immediate medical attention can be the difference between life and death. Download this e-book to learn more about what to do in an emergency situation.
*Turn off pop-up blocker to download
*Turn off pop-up blocker to download