Complications of Tick BitesLast updated: August 02, 2016
Whether adventuring along woodland trails or prowling through tall grass, both dogs and cats adore the outdoors! Spending time outside benefits your pet in many ways; however, there are some risks you should consider. Pests pose a problem, and ticks, in particular, can make trouble for animals. These nasty insects latch on to passing animals and feed on their host's blood. Tick bites can transmit diseases, and reviewing the threats they pose will help you protect your pets and yourself from infection.
Lyme Disease is caused by Borrelia bacteria, which ticks get from feeding on infected deer and turkeys. Symptoms include joint inflammation and lameness as well as depression, swollen lymph nodes, and general achiness. Other organs, particularly the kidneys, may develop problems as the disease progresses. Once a tick attaches to a dog or cat, it takes between 36 and 48 hours to download Borrelia into your pet; therefore, be sure to check your animal for ticks every day to avoid transmission. If you suspect that your pet has Lyme disease, a veterinarian can diagnose through a blood test, and an appropriate antibiotic therapy usually clears the infection. A vaccine to protect against Lyme disease is available for those who live in areas where the disease is common.
Anaplasmosis shares many symptoms with Lyme Disease, with fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite accompanying lameness and joint inflammation. Usually infected animals display these clinical signs for one to seven days. Your veterinarian will run Anaplasmosis with Lyme Disease, as their clinical pictures are difficult to distinguish. Appropriate treatment will clear the organism from the body. The prognosis for Anaplasmosis is very good, with most animals showing improvement 36 to 48 hours after beginning antibiotic treatment. Antibiotic courses should be completed even if your pet appears better, as relapses are common.
Rocky Mountain Spotted FeverAs its name suggests, this tick-borne disease is marked by fever. Reaching temperatures between 102.6°F and 104.9°F, RMSF saps the dog's energy and drops their white blood cell count. This disease is transmittable in as little as five hours, so checking your dog for ticks after spending time outdoors is vital. Again, your vet can do blood tests and skin scrapings to identify the bacteria and may recommend antibiotics and fluid therapy. Cats may be able to carry this disease if bitten, but at this time there are no indications that they become ill from it.
The Risk of Ticks in Your HomeWhile topical tick treatments and collars provide protection, the only way you can be 100% sure your dog or cat is tick-free is to check her every day. Feel all over her body, making sure to get beneath thick hair to the surface of her skin, and paying particular attention to warm, sheltered places like her ears and armpits. If you find a tick, slowly extract it with a sterile tweezers, squish it in a tissue, and (preferably) flush it down the toilet. Make sure none of the tick is left behind in your dog's skin and disinfect the site with alcohol.
Ticks can detach from their initial host and move on to other pets or people, so if you have spent time in a wooded area, be vigilant in checking yourself and your family members! Humans can contract these tick-borne diseases as well, so wearing gloves when removing ticks is important. Do not smash the tick in your fingers – maintain as little contact with it as possible! Following these tips for tick prevention will protect you as well as your four-legged family members.
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Don Bramlage, DVM, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
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The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your personal veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.