Most pet owners expect their animal to be affected by a tick at some point during their lifetime. However, these little parasites are not quite as innocent as they look. This is because many types of tick found in the United States actually carry diseases, some of which can make your pet and even the humans living in your household rather unwell. This is because, when an infected tick bites an animal or person, the tick’s saliva transmits infectious organisms into the new host.
Some tick-borne illnesses are fairly well known and have been around for a long time. One of these is Lyme Disease, an infectious disease spread by the hard-shelled deer tick. Animals who contract Lyme Disease experience a range of symptoms including stiffness, sensitivity to touch, loss of appetite and even difficulty breathing. Another commonly recognized tick-borne is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, or RMSF. Carried by the wood tick and dog tick, it also causes a variety of unpleasant symptoms including loss of coordination, irregular heartbeat and difficulty with blood clotting.
While Lyme Disease still accounts for approximately 60-70% of cases, recent years have seen growth in the number of tick-borne diseases coming to light. According to a report released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in May 2018, the number of tick-borne disease cases rose from 22,527 in 2004 to over 48,000 in 2016.
Why are there new tick-borne diseases emerging?
The rise in the number of tick-borne disease cases and emerging diseases has been attributed to several factors including:
- The geographic range of ticks expanding. Ticks are now present in more parts of the U.S. than ever before.
- Increased tolerance of some ticks to hear, cold and aridity, making some species hardier and able to withstand climates less commonly known to support them.
Emerging tick-borne illnesses
The number of annually reported cases of two other types of tick-borne disease have increased significantly since 2000 and are widely considered to be emerging illnesses that warrant close monitoring.
There are two types of anaplasmosis. The strain Anaplasma platys, which affects the platelets of your pet’s blood, is spread by the brown dog tick. The strain Anaplasma phagocytophilium, which affects the white blood cells, is transmitted by the deer tick and western black-legged tick.
Symptoms of anaplasmosis include:
- Lameness and joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Coughing, seizures, vomiting and diarrhea
In the case of Anaplasma platys, your pet may also experience areas of bruising on her body.
Fortunately, both strains of anaplasmosis can be successfully treated using the antibiotic doxycycline, which is usually prescribed for a 30-day period. The sooner treatment is started, the better the overall outcome for your pet. Although improvement in your pet’s health is usually visible within the first few days of treatment, it is essential to complete the course of medication.
The best way to protect your pet from anaplasmosis is to use tick preventative medications.
Carried by the brown dog tick, ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne illness that is divided into three stages – acute (early stage), sub-clinical (no outward signs of disease) and chronic (long-standing infection). It can be particularly difficult to diagnose an animal in the early stages of the condition, but when symptoms do present themselves, they tend to include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abnormal bruising/bleeding
- Enlarged lymph nodes
These symptoms will last up to four weeks if left untreated. After this point, many animals appear to improve on their own and enter the subclinical phase of the condition where your pet will test positive for ehrlichiosis but will seem perfectly healthy. Essentially the condition lays dormant.
Again, ehrlichiosis can be treated using the antibiotic doxycycline, which is normally prescribed for 3-4 weeks. However, ehrlichiosis is a very serious disease and some animals who are more severely affected may require IV fluids, blood transfusions and even immunosuppressant medications.
Currently there is no vaccine available to protect animals from ehrlichiosis. The best way to keep your pet safe is to use tick preventatives.
If you would like further information about emerging tick-borne illnesses, or the best ways to protect your pet from ticks, please do not hesitate to contact our friendly and professional veterinarians in Atlanta, GA team at Inman Park Animal Hospital.