Everything You Need to Know About Canine Tick-Born Disease

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Tick-born diseases are extremely common in dogs — they affect thousands of canines every year. Tick-born diseases are transmitted when a tick, a type of parasite, bites a dog (or sometimes when a dog eats a tick).

The AKC Canine Health Foundation provides a list of seven major tick-born diseases that are often transmitted to dogs in the U.S.:

  • Canine Ehrlichiosis. This is common worldwide, not just in the U.S., and can get very dangerous very fast. Symptoms include nosebleeds, weight loss, runny eyes and nose, loss of appetite, fever, and swollen limbs; they may not show up until months after the disease has been transmitted. The disease is caused by the brown dog tick.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The American dog tick, the lone star tick, and the wood tick can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. It’s not always dangerous, generally lasting for two weeks, but can sometimes become life-threatening. Symptoms to look for: skin lesions, stiffness, fever, and neurological problems.
  • Lyme disease. Caused by the deer tick, Lyme disease often doesn’t show up until many months after the initial bite. It typically causes lameness, loss of appetite, fever, fatigue, and swollen joints.
  • Canine Babesiosis. This disease is transmitted by the brown dog tick and the American dog tick. Anemia is the primary symptom; vomiting, weakness, and pale gums are also generally present.
  • Canine Hepatozoonosis. If your dog eats a Gulf Coast tick or a brown dog tick, he or she is at risk of being infected by this disease. Look for fever, muscle pain, diarrhea with blood, and runny eyes and nose.
  • Canine Anaplasmosis. This condition is also called dog fever or dog tick fever and comes from the deer tick. Symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite, fever, stiff joints, diarrhea, and potentially seizures in bad cases of the disease.
  • Canine Bartonellosis. Transmitted by the brown dog tick, symptoms are fever and intermittent lameness. This disease can get serious very quickly — if not treated, it might cause heart or liver disease.

Not all of these diseases are prevalent in every region of the country. 

How can you be proactive and protect your dog this spring? First of all, use preventatives such as tick collars and topical medications (only the medications made specifically for dogs — do not use human tick repellent, as it could be toxic to your dog). These measures won’t prevent disease transmission, but they do reduce the risk.

Every time your dog comes in from outside, check him or her for ticks; ticks are the size of a sesame seed or smaller, according to petMD. And unlike fleas, ticks don’t fly. Look carefully through your dog’s fur with a brush or flea comb, searching the skin for areas that seem to be inflamed. Search for lumps, too, and be especially vigilant while searching your dog’s ears, upper legs, and under their collar. If you find a tick, use tweezers to get it off. Don’t squeeze it — this will transfer its bodily fluids.

Think about where your dog has been; this could give you some clues as to whether he or she might have ticks and what type. According to the AKC Canine Health Foundation, brown dog ticks live inside and around kennels where dogs are present, especially in colder regions of North America. Lone Star ticks, deer ticks, and Western black-legged ticks are generally found among the leaves in the woods, such as the area that might surround your yard; American dog ticks, Rocky Mountain wood ticks, and Gulf Coast ticks are often found in open fields and grassy meadows.

Of course,  if you and your dog spend a lot of time outside, then other outdoor pests such as bees and spiders can also become relevant if your dog spends a lot of time outside. 

Finally, consult with your veterinarian about doing an annual test for tick-borne disease. The test is quick and can save you money in the future.

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Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances. 

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.