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Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs: Symptoms & Treatment

This is not medical advice. For medical advice regarding pets, see your veterinarian.

Diseases transmitted from infected ticks to dogs are called tick-borne diseases. An infected tick can transmit more than one pathogen at a time. Not all species of ticks transmit diseases. The most common tick-borne diseases in pets are babesiosis, Lyme disease, and anaplasmosis.

The prevalence of tick-borne diseases in pets increases with the arrival of the warm season.

The tick is looking for a host to feed on and evolve into the next biological stage or lay eggs. If the tick feeds from an infected host, it will suck the pathogen along with the blood, becoming infected.

The infectious pathogen can be transmitted through the tick’s saliva to the next host when feeding.

In this article, you will learn if tick bites can make dogs sick, what tick-borne diseases are, what the most common diseases transmitted by ticks to dogs are, tick-borne disease prevention, and more.

Can Tick Bites Make Dogs Sick?

Not all tick bites can make a dog sick. Ticks are considered dangerous if they are infected with various pathogens. An infected tick can transmit diseases through its saliva when feeding.

Ticks are not born infected. They must consume infected blood from one or more hosts to become vectors (carriers) for those pathogens.

A tick can make a dog sick only if it is infected. Even if the tick has transmitted the pathogen, not all dogs will develop the disease. It depends on the body of the animal and the immune system, which fights pathogens.

Ticks can transmit more than one disease at a time. For example, if a tick is infected with Rickettsia rickettsii and Ehrlichia canis, it can transmit both while feeding on your dog.

Related: Can Ticks Kill Dogs?

Can Tick Bites Make Dogs Sick
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What Are Tick-Borne Diseases?

A tick-borne disease is a disease carried and spread by ticks. Ticks are feared by dog owners because they can transmit dangerous diseases. These diseases can have severe consequences for your dog’s health and even be fatal.

The time in which a tick transmits various pathogens depends on the pathogen. 

For example, a tick has to be attached for 3-6 hours before being able to transmit Ehrlichia, while it has to be attached for 24-72 hours before being able to transmit Lyme disease.

Each tick-borne disease has a certain period in which it evolves. 

For example, in babesiosis, the symptoms will occur 7-14 days after the tick bite, while in Lyme disease, your dog can show symptoms within 2-5 months.

Related: Ticks on Dogs Symptoms

What Are Tick-Borne Diseases
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Most Common Tick-Borne Diseases in Dogs

The most common tick-borne diseases in dogs are anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, hepatozoonosis, and bartonellosis. These diseases can lead to severe symptoms and, if left untreated, can cause the death of your pet.

Ticks are dangerous to dogs because they transmit diseases that can have a severe impact on a dog’s health. 

These parasites can transmit several pathogens in a single bite; pathogens that release toxins and trigger your dog’s immune system, leading to recurrent or chronic infections.

Anaplasmosis

Anaplasmosis is transmitted by the black-legged tick Ixodes scapularis, also known as deer tick.[1] If anaplasmosis is detected and treated in time, your dog has a good chance of recovery.

This disease is caused by the obligate intracellular bacteria:

  • Anaplasma phagocytophilum, formerly known as Ehrlichia phagocytophilum
  • A. platys, formerly known as E. platys

Anaplasma phagocytophilum targets the erythrocytes and neutrophils (blood granulocytes), while the bacteria known as A. platys infects platelets and causes infectious cyclic thrombocytopenia in dogs.[2]

Symptoms

Anaplasmosis symptoms occur approximately one week after a dog has been bitten by a tick. There are three stages of anaplasmosis in dogs and each differs in duration and symptoms.

Symptoms in the acute phase include:

  • Anemia – the main symptom
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Jaundice
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

In the second phase, your dog may look healthy because the bacteria have gathered in the spleen; spleen enlargement is commonly seen in this phase. A dog can stay in this phase for months or even years.

In the chronic phase, symptoms include:

  • Joint pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Neurologic problems
  • Kidney failure[3]
Anaplasmosis

Treatment

The treatment of Anaplasmosis involves administering the antibiotic doxycycline once or twice a day, depending on the severity of the disease, for four weeks (sometimes longer).

In severe cases, other medications may be needed, including hospitalization.

Ehrlichiosis

The symptoms of ehrlichiosis are not very specific. Ehrlichiosis is difficult to diagnose without blood tests. Some dogs do not show any symptoms after the acute phase, being called “healthy carriers”.

Ehrlichiosis is caused by Ehrlichia canis, an obligate intracellular bacterium that can be transmitted by:

  • Lone star tick Amblyomma americanum
  • Brown dog tick Rhipicephalus sanguineus

E. canis infects the mononuclear cells from the blood, such as monocytes and lymphocytes.

Related: Ehrlichia in Dogs

Symptoms

Ehrlichiosis has three stages: acute, sub-clinical, and chronic.

The acute phase can evolve in the span of 8-20 days and is manifested by:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Most of the time, this phase goes unnoticed.

The sub-clinical phase lasts between 2 and 3 months, after which the dog may go directly into the chronic phase, or the symptoms of the acute phase may intensify.

The chronic phase occurs two to four months after the tick bite, and symptoms can include:

  • Bruising on the animal’s stomach area
  • Blood in the urine
  • Swelling of the joints and scrotum in males
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Neurological signs
Ehrlichiosis

Treatment

Treatment consists of administering doxycycline for at least 21 days. The response is usually quick and favorable, and the improvements are noticeable from the first days.

Babesiosis

Babesiosis is one of the most severe tick-borne diseases in dogs. The average incubation period is approximately one to two weeks but the symptoms can remain mild. Some dogs can go undiagnosed for several weeks.

Babesiosis is caused by the intracellular parasite that infects the red blood cells, Babesia canis. The main vector for Babesia canis is the tick Dermacentor reticulatus, also known as ornate dog tick or cow tick.[4]

Symptoms

The clinical symptoms of babesiosis are:

  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Dark urine – the color of the coffee grounds
  • Dark stools
  • Jaundice or pale mucous membranes
  • Anemia
sick dog

Treatment

In cases of severe anemia, transfusions and hospitalization may be needed. Although blood transfusions can help your dog, they can still die from hypotension and shock.

In milder forms, the treatment consists of the administration of antibiotics and other drugs. Babesia infections are persistent, and even after recovery, the dog should be monitored.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is one of the most feared tick-borne diseases for pets. Some dogs may have no symptoms, while symptoms for others can appear 2-5 months post-infection.

Ixodes scapularis can transmit the spirochete bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which is responsible for Lyme disease.[5]

Related: Lyme Disease in Dogs

Symptoms

Pets infected with Lyme disease may be asymptomatic for 2-5 months. After this period, the following may occur:

  • Joints inflammation – it can last from a few days to weeks
  • Lameness
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • In some cases, Lyme disease can also cause:
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Lack of appetite
  • Difficult breathing

Lyme disease can be difficult to differentiate from anaplasmosis because the symptoms are very similar.

Lyme Disease symptoms

Treatment

Doxycycline or other antibiotics may be prescribed to treat Lyme disease. The treatment lasts four weeks or more.

An improvement in your dog’s symptoms should be seen 3-5 days after starting the treatment. Otherwise, your dog must be re-evaluated by the veterinarian.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever disease is transmitted by Rickettsia rickettsii, a bacterium carried by the brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus.

This disease can also be transmitted by other species of ticks, such as:

  • The American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis
  • The Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni)[6]

Symptoms

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever has two phases: subclinical and acute.

In the subclinical phase, dogs are infected but show no signs of disease.

In the acute phase, the symptoms appear between 2-14 days after the tick bite. Dogs can have a variety of clinical signs, which can mimic many other conditions, and include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes and edema of the face and limbs
  • Pneumonia or cardiac dysrhythmias that can cause spontaneous death
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Neurological signs in most dogs
  • Retinal bleeding
  • Bloody stools
  • Nosebleeds
  • Renal insufficiency
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
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Treatment

The most used antibiotics are tetracycline, doxycycline, and enrofloxacin. The treatment lasts for 10-14 days. If treated in the first days of infection, most dogs recover completely.

Hepatozoonosis

Hepatozoonosis disease is common throughout the year due to the long period between infestation and the development of the disease. It is transmitted by the Rhipicephalus sanguineus tick.

Hepatozoon canis is the protozoan responsible for hepatozoonosis in dogs.

Many H. canis infections do not cause the disease but can cause serious illness in animals with overlapping infections such as ehrlichiosis and babesiosis, or in animals with suppressed immune systems.

Symptoms

Symptoms may occur over several years and include:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nasal discharge
  • Weakness in the hind limbs
  • Mild anemia
  • Bloody diarrhea,

As the disease progresses, the following may occur:

  • Lameness
  • Severe muscle pain
Hepatozoonosis

Treatment

There is no effective treatment or vaccine for hepatozoonosis in dogs.

Bartonellosis

Not all dogs get sick if they have contracted Bartonella spp. Dogs are more likely to develop symptoms, compared to other mammals. Bartonellosis is not considered extremely common in dogs.

Symptoms

Not all dogs will have the same symptoms, but there is a large array of symptoms that can occur:

  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Respiratory problems
  • Weakness
  • Dermatitis
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Anemia

Treatment

Treatment consists of using one or a combination of antibiotics for weeks to several months.

Tick-Borne Diseases Prevention

Tick prevention has to be done regularly to stop the spread of tick-borne diseases and ensure you have a healthy dog.

Here are the best ways to prevent ticks and tick-borne diseases:

  • Use anti-flea and tick substances on your dog, in the garden, and in its cage
  • Check your dog thoroughly after each walk
  • Vaccinate your pet against Lyme disease if your veterinarian recommends it
  • If you find a tick, remove it immediately

Related: How to Prevent Ticks

About Iulia Mihai (DVM)

Dr. Iulia is a certified veterinarian with more than 10 years of experience in the field. With extensive knowledge of diet, care, and medication, she helps Misfit Animals provide readers with accurate knowledge on technical topics.