5 Common Tick-Borne Infections

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. Ticks are in virtually all parts of the United States, including some urban areas, and in many parts of the world.

The most important tick-borne diseases that affect dogs are Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Babesosis. There are others such as Bartonellosis and Hepatozoonosis but for the sake of this article, we will focus on the first 5 listed above. All can have serious health consequences for dogs and many can have serious health consequences for people as well.

Clinical Signs

While all of these diseases we are going to talk about result from ticks, their clinical signs can vary. Tick-borne diseases should always been on the list of possibilities if the following clinical signs are present. Clinical signs can include:

  • fever

  • lethargy

  • lymph node enlargement

  • joint pain and swelling

  • weight loss

  • lameness

  • decreased appetite

  • neurologic signs

  • ocular and nasal discharge

  • difficulty breathing

  • pale gums

  • dark colored urine

Different Diseases

Anaplasmosis-This tick-borne infection is caused by the bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum or Anaplasma platys. The infection is transmitted by the deer tick or the brown dog tick which are both found throughout the United States. When a dog is infected with Anaplasmosis they may experience high fever, decreased appetite, neck pain, vomiting/diarrhea, pale gums, and even neurologic signs such as seizures. There are tests to confirm a diagnosis of Anaplasmosis.

Ehrlichiosis-This disease is caused by two bacteria: Ehrlichia canis is transmitted by the brown dog tick and is commonly found in the southwest and states along the Gulf Coast. Ehrlichia ewingii is transmitted by the lone star tick and is found from the Midwest to the Northeast United States. Like other tick-borne diseases, ehrlichia can make your dog very sick if it's not identified and treated. Symptoms include loss of appetite, low-grade fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes and occasionally, unexplained bruising, lameness and nosebleeds.

Babesiosis-Most cases of babesiosis in dogs occur in the southern part of the United States. There are also reported cases in the Northeastern United States. Babesiosis is caused by the parasite Babesia, and the incubation period between exposure and symptoms is about two weeks. That means it could take approximately 2 weeks after infection before your dog begins to show symptoms. Symptoms, when present, can range from mild to very severe and can include lack of energy, lack of appetite, weakness, fever, pale gums, dark colored urine, discolored feces, weight loss, enlarged lymph nodes, enlarged spleen and jaundice. A severe infection can affect multiple organ systems including the lungs, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, kidneys and nervous system.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever-This tick-borne infection is caused by the Rickettsia rickettsii. It is most commonly found in the eastern United States, the Midwest and the plains region. The disease is transmitted by the American dog tick and the lone star tick. An infected tick must be attached to your dog for at least five hours for transmission to occur. Symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever can include fever, reduced appetite, depression, joint pain, lameness, vomiting, and diarrhea. More serious symptoms include heart abnormalities, pneumonia, kidney and liver damage and neurological signs. Thankfully, this disease is completely treatable.

Lyme disease-This disease is, perhaps, the most well known and is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi. It is carried by two different types of ticks: the deer tick found in the Midwest/Northeastern United States and the western black-legged tick which is found in the Western United States. Many dogs infected show no signs of disease and the bacteria is commonly detected through routine tests at the veterinary hospital. If your dog develops symptoms, they will usually appear from two to five months after the tick bite and can include fever, swollen lymph nodes, joint swelling, lameness, lethargy and loss of appetite.


It goes without saying that ticks are just nasty. It’s no fun having to remove ticks from your dog during the spring and summer months. Not only are these blood-suckers nasty to look at, all filled up with your pet’s hard won blood as they are, they are also notoriously difficult to dislodge, making it so you have to get up close and personal in order to assure success. There are many different methods for getting rid of and preventing ticks on a dog, and they work in different ways. Always consult with your Veterinarian before selecting a product. Here are a few to consider.

  • Topical medications-Using an over the counter spot-on medication that you purchase from your veterinarian, pet store, or online can be a very effective method for controlling both ticks and fleas. These medications are effective at keeping parasites at bay for up to a month. While these medications are great, you still need to be very careful about which one you use.

  • Oral Medications-These are chewable or pills that are given once a month. These medications can work to kill both ticks and immature fleas and will disrupt the life cycle of fleas. They are easy to give and you won’t have to be concerned about small children and cats coming into contact with dogs immediately after application, as you might with spot-on treatments. There are also oral products that offer coverage for fleas and ticks lasting 3 months.

  • Tick Collars-Collars that repel ticks are an additional preventive you can use and are becoming increasingly popular because some can offer prevention for up to 7-8 months. The tick collar needs to make contact with your dog’s skin in order to transfer the chemicals onto the dog’s fur and skin. When putting this type of collar on your dog, you will need to make sure there is just enough room to fit two fingers under the collar when it’s around the dog’s neck. Cut off any excess length of collar to prevent your dog from chewing on it. Watch for signs of discomfort (excessive scratching, skin irritation) in case an allergic reaction to the collar occurs. Make sure you read the labels carefully when choosing a collar.

  • Check your dog-After a being outside in areas where ticks could be lurking, be sure to carefully check your dog for ticks. Look between the toes, inside the ears, between the legs (in the "armpits"), and around the neck, deep in the fur. If you find any ticks before they have had a chance to attach and become engorged, you may have prevented serious illness for your pet. If you do find a tick attached to your dog, removal should be done immediately and carefully, making sure to get all parts of the tick’s body removed from the skin. We recommend consulting with your Veterinarian to ensure complete removal is achieved.

Published by Dr. Mason Romero, DVM


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