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Tick diseases: More than just Lyme

8/3/2004

The same ticks that suck your dog's blood are also vectors for many different diseases. Ticks can carry disease organisms and transmit them to others, usually without being harmed.

Ticks are not as picky as other parasites, like the mosquito, and will attach and feed to just about any warm body that passes by. So just because it is a deer tick doesn't mean that it will pass up a free meal on your dog. Each geographic local will have a specific population of ticks, with the highest concentration areas overlapping in species types.

In dogs, tick-borne disease diagnosis is on the rise, which is bad news for the sports hound.

Tick borne diseases can cause symptoms ranging from lethargy and lameness, to paralysis and death. It all depends on what disease has been transmitted. An illness from simple tick bite can quickly end your dog's season — or even his life.

  • Ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne disease diagnosed relatively common in the Southern U.S. It is caused by several species of organisms from the genus Ehrlichia. After transmission by the tick, any combination of fever, depression, decreased appetite, vomiting, stiffness, and enlarged lymph nodes can occur within the next few days. Antibiotics will usually kill Ehrlichia and can cure many cases, but persistent cases can sometimes occur in spite of treatment necessitating long-term therapy.

  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a severe tick transmitted disease caused by the organism, Rickettsia rickettsia with symptoms similar to those of Ehrlichia. In addition, some dogs have nervous signs and swelling. While with early diagnosis and treatment dogs can recover from RMSF, fatalities are all too frequent.

  • Lyme disease is probably the most well know of the tick-borne diseases, and New England states are the most common areas for cases of Lyme. But even so, every year there are several cases of Lyme disease in Southern states as well. A Lyme disease vaccine is available for dogs, but because of sporadic levels of protection and a relatively high potential for side effects, use of the vaccine has been limited.

  • Another "rocky mountain" problem can result from the bite of the Rocky Mountain wood tick. Along with the American dog tick, these ticks produce a toxin in their saliva that causes paralysis. Commonly known as "Tick Paralysis," this condition occurs several days after tick attachment depending on the number of ticks involved.

    Beginning as weakness in the rear limbs, symptoms of tick paralysis will quickly progresses to quadriplegia (complete paralysis) over only a few days. Fortunately, simply removing the tick(s) removes the toxin. When detected early, this can result in a reversal of symptoms and resolution of the paralysis.

    Removal of attached ticks is relatively easy to do and, as indicated, is the first step in treating a tick-borne disease. Stay away from using procedures such as heating with a lighter or dousing with alcohol, or both.

    To remove, simply grasp the tick (fingers work just as well as tweezers) just behind the head where it is attached and slowly pull it out. Avoid jerking as it can sometimes cause the head to break off and remain in the skin.

    Knowing what kind of tick has attached to your dog can sometimes, help with a diagnosis should he become ill. When removing ticks from your dog, consider saving them for a short time in a small jar of rubbing alcohol. The alcohol will kill the tick and preserve it somewhat in the event that later identification is needed.

    Diagnoses of tick borne diseases are best left to your veterinarian. Most can be diagnosed through a combination of blood tests, many of which may be run while you wait in the office or later that same day. A test for Ehrlichiosis has even been incorporated into a frequently used heartworm examination kit. By using this kit, the same sample that tests for heartworms can determine if your dog has been exposed to the tick-borne illness.

    Of course, as always, prevention of tick attachments in the first place is ideal.

    For areas with high infestation rates and large populations of ticks, a multifaceted tick control program may be needed. Kennels and runs should be sprayed by a commercial pest control company, or at least treated with an approved insecticide.

    A combination of tick collar and topical medication will work best for using on your dog. The white "flea and tick" collars available at most discount stores rarely provide adequate tick control. For best results, try a combination of using a Preventicâ brand tick collar, along with monthly application of a flea and tick medication such as Frontline TopSpotâ.