Tick-Borne Diseases on the Rise
Michael W. Stephan, D.V.M.
Juno Beach Animal Hospital
With the return of the wet weather you may have noticed an increase in the number of ticks in or around your house or on your pet. You may not be aware of the fact that these ticks may carry serious diseases which can affect both you and your pets. Most ticks only spend about four days on their host before dropping off to molt or lay their eggs. If you have a long haired pet, or if your pet spends a majority of its time outdoors, the ticks may complete their time on your pet without being noticed.
Most people are familiar with Lyme disease in humans, but may not be aware of the fact that the disease occurs in dogs, also. As in people, there may be a small bulls-eye rash surrounding the tick bite, but many times this is covered by hair and may not be visible. The most common sign of infection is lameness which may not appear until six months to a year following infection. The onset of the lameness may be sudden, or may develop slowly over a few weeks. Often the pet will be feverish and show hot, swollen, painful joints. One or more joints may be involved and some dogs will become depressed and lethargic.
The other common, but less well known disease carried by ticks in our area is Ehrlichiosis (Er-lick-ee-o-sis). The organism which causes this disease is in the same family as the organism that causes Lyme disease. Some dogs may show no signs of disease in the early stages, while other dogs will show signs of severe illness including fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, weakness, swollen glands, difficulty breathing, or even meningitis. According to Dr. Julia Blackmore, a veterinary neurologist in Stuart, Florida, dogs may have a positive blood test for up to five years before they start to show clinical signs of disease. AThe dogs who develop meningitis can quickly progress to seizures, coma, and death, says Dr. Blackmore. AIt is a shame when we see this happen because in the early stages of infection it is very easily treated and cured.
A blood test can be done to determine if your dog has been exposed to, or is carrying one of these diseases, even if they are not showing any clinical signs. Fortunately, there is medication available to treat these infections, and, as Dr. Blackmore said, if caught early, the prognosis for complete recovery is very good.
Of course, once again, prevention is the best treatment. Preventic (TM) collars, FrontLine Top Spot (TM), Kiltix (TM), and Revolution (TM) are very effective in reducing ticks on dogs. Discuss these products with your veterinarian and follow their recommendations. You should also check your pet on a regular basis, two to three times a week during tick season, to check for the presence of ticks. Clipping long haired dogs during the summer months will help you spot ticks should they get on your pet, and may help them to be more comfortable in the higher temperatures we experience. Finally, if you do find ticks on your pet, see your veterinarian. If blood tests reveal exposure to the tick diseases, starting on medication early may help prevent serious illness.