By: Dr. Soderberg, DVM ZimmVet

What tick borne disease is in my area?

Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi ) is a bacteria transmitted primarily by the deer tick (tiny black legged tick) that can infect both dogs and people alike. Anaplasmosis (Anaplasma phagocytophilum) is a bacteria also transmitted through bites of the deer tick as well as the western black-legged tick and brown dog tick. Ehrlichiosis (Ehrlichia canis) is a tick-borne infectious disease of dogs, usually carried by the brown dog tick. The organism responsible for this disease is a rickettsial organism which is similar to bacteria.

How do I prevent tick borne disease?

Tick disease can be difficult to detect and can cause serious and recurring health problems if left undetected and untreated. Therefore, it is best to prevent infection by taking appropriate measures to prevent tick bites and, for dogs, vaccinating against lyme disease. Any time the temperature is above 35 degrees Fahrenheit ticks come out to feed. Every month of 2019 in Minnesota there was a day where the temperature was above 35 degrees which means our pets should be on tick preventative every month of the year! There are numerous topical and oral tick preventatives. Please discuss preventatives and the lyme vaccine with your veterinarian to determine the best products for your pet. Your veterinarian’s advice may depend on where you live, your pet’s lifestyle and overall health, and other factors.

What does tick disease look like in my pet?

Some pets will not have any or only minor symptoms when they are infected with a tick disease. Pets infected with Lyme disease may not show any signs for 2-5 months. After that time, typical symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, shifting leg lameness, joint swelling, and decreased activity. Infection with anaplasmosis causes very similar clinical signs as those listed above and usually last for 1 to 7 days. Infection with anaplasmosis can also cause reoccurring thrombocytopenia, a condition in which there is a periodic decrease in platelets (circulating cells that help in the blood clotting process). Clinical disease caused from thrombocytopenia is often mild, but some dogs may develop bruising or bleeding, especially during the early stages of infection when platelet counts may be at their lowest. Ehrlichiosis causes similar signs as anaplasmosis including thrombocytopenia which can last up to four weeks.

How do you diagnose tick borne disease?

Several types of tests to diagnose tick disease are available. Exposure to Anaplasma, Lyme, and Ehrlichia can be detected in your veterinary clinic using a special test kit. Other tests like quantitative titers, ELISA tests, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR)s are available to help your veterinarian determine if active infection is present. These tests are sent to an outside lab. It may also be difficult to diagnose infected dogs during the very early stages of infection as the immune system usually takes two to three weeks to respond to the presence of the organism and develop antibodies required for testing.

How do you treat tick borne disease?

The treatment for tick borne disease is fairly similar across the different infections and usually consists of a 2-4 week treatment with an antibiotic called doxycycline. In the majority of cases, symptoms improve rapidly and the prognosis for clinical recovery is excellent.

Because chronic tick borne disease has not been directly related to clinical disease and because a treatment effective in clearing the organism from an infected animal has not been established, treating clinically healthy, positive testing animals is of questionable benefit and not generally recommended at this time. However, a positive test result in a clinically healthy dog should not be disregarded. At a minimum, positive dogs should have an aggressive tick control program implemented to minimize exposure to ticks. It is clear that co-infection with two or more tick-borne agents is common and that dogs co-infected with multiple tick diseases are nearly two times more likely to develop clinical disease than dogs infected with either one alone.

Can I get tick disease from my pet?

Tick borne disease is not communicable from one animal to another, except through tick bites. However, if you have more than one pet and one is diagnosed with a tick disease, your veterinarian will recommend testing any other pets who may have been exposed to ticks at the same time.