Could Ticks Be Making My Pet Sick?

WHAT IS WITH ALL OF THESE TICKS? Ticks are gross. And this spring, they are EVERYWHERE. As a clinic, we are seeing numerous ticks, on both dogs AND cats, daily. Each time, we find ourselves having the tick prevention discussion (which is SO important, and will be discussed again).

But why do we care so much? It’s not just because ticks are gross. It’s because they have the potential to transmit some pretty nasty diseases. So let’s talk about those

Lyme Disease (Borreliosis)

Lyme disease is transmitted by the Deer Tick and is an organism that can live in many tissues. While there is an overall low incidence of clinical disease, the most common signs are fever and lameness. Inflammation begins at the joint closest to the tick attachment site and can then spread to other joints. Rarely, Lyme disease associated kidney failure can also occur.

Ehrlichiosis

In the Midwest, Ehrlichia is transmitted by the Brown Dog Tick. It is a bacterial organism that infects white blood cells and causes low platelets. This can result in bleeding tendencies, neurologic signs, and possible blindness. In southern and eastern states, a different species of Ehrlichia is transmitted by the Lone Star Tick and can cause fever and lameness.

Anaplasmosis 

Anaplasma is transmitted by the Deer Tick and Brown Dog Tick. It is also a bacterial organism that infects white blood cells and can cause fever, joint/muscle pain, and lameness or reluctance to move. This organism can also result in low platelets and bleeding tendencies.

My last blog post, on heartworm infection, discussed annual screening. Luckily, the test Badger Veterinary Hospital uses to screen for heartworm disease also checks for exposure to these top three tick-borne diseases and can be done at any time.

While Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichiosis are the most common tick-borne diseases infecting dogs in Wisconsin, much less common diseases include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Babesiosis.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

This organism is transmitted by the American Dog Tick, American Wood Tick, Brown Dog Tick, and Lone Star Tick. It attacks cells' lining blood vessels, resulting in inflammation and blood clots that can cause damage to multiple organs.

Babesiosis

Babesia is transmitted by the Brown Dog Tick and infects red blood cells, leading to anemia.

A Word About Cats

While we tend to focus on tick-borne diseases of dogs, cats are at risk too! We frequently find ticks on our feline friends that go outside. Unlike dogs, cats rarely show signs of Lyme disease. The most common tick-borne disease in cats is Mycoplasma. This organism invades red blood cells leading to (possibly life threatening) anemia.

So, as you can see, the tick preventative discussion is not simply because ticks are gross. It is much more important than that.

The most common tick-borne diseases generally require the tick to be attached for at least 24 hours in order to be transmitted. Because of this, the many options of tick (and flea) preventatives available are very successful in preventing these potentially severe diseases.

We recommend year-round prevention as these bugs seem to get heartier and heartier every year. In Wisconsin, however, it is MOST important to use it March/April through November. There are numerous products available, both topical and oral, that can be selected based on the lifestyle of your pet and after discussion with your veterinarian. I HIGHLY recommend having this discussion with your veterinarian or veterinary technician prior to purchasing over the counter products. Not all products are safe!

Last but not least, what to do when you find that dreaded tick:

  1. Grasp the tick by its head, as close as possible to the attachment site, and pull it out with steady force. This can be done with tweezers, forceps, or commercial tick removing gadgets.
  2. Do NOT use petroleum jelly, a flame, or irritant such as alcohol to attempt to get the tick to back out.
  3. Monitor the site and keep it clean. If redness worsens, does not improve within a few days, or is bothering your pet, see your veterinarian.
  4. Make sure you are current on tick prevention!

As always, don’t hesitate to call Badger Veterinary Hospital with any questions!