Tick Borne Diseases
By Megan Bauer
How are diseases transmitted from ticks to dogs?
Ticks are a very common parasite in our area. They are most active in the spring and summer months, but juvenile ticks can emerge on warm winter days and be found in large numbers as early as late winter. Ticks feed by attaching and sucking blood from their mammalian hosts, and stay attached feeding for several days. Their long attachment for feeding allows them to transmit a variety of diseases that they carry. Although humans can also be infected by these diseases, humans and dogs/cats cannot pass diseases to each other directly – transmission requires the bite of an infected tick.
What are some of the diseases my dog can get from ticks?
Lyme disease: This illness can result in symptoms ranging from joint pain or swelling, limping and enlarged lymph nodes to lethargy, lameness and fever. These symptoms can progress to kidney failure, which may be fatal, as well as serious cardiac and neurological effects. Unlike in humans, dogs typically do not get the classic bullseye lesions.
Anaplasma and Erlichia: These rickettsial diseases cause similar symptoms, which can include fever, poor appetite, painful joints, and low blood platelets (cells that help the clotting of blood). Low platelets can result in bruising, abnormal bleeding, and anemia.
Tick Paralysis: Tick paralysis is caused by a neurotoxin secreted in the saliva of certain ticks, which affects the nervous system. Signs begin about a week after the tick bites, if it remains attached. It typically begins with a weakness in the rear legs, eventually involving all four limbs, followed by difficulty breathing and swallowing. Death may result if the condition progresses further. If caught in time, the condition is treatable.
Babesia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Hepatozoonosis: we do not have the tick species that carry these diseases in our area; therefore, we do not recommend yearly testing for these diseases. Tick prevention is recommended year round when traveling to certain areas to help prevent transmission of these diseases– please ask your veterinarian for more details before traveling with your dog.
How are these diseases prevented and treated?
Treatment varies depending on which disease your pet is diagnosed with. It can include hospitalization, antibiotics, or long-term treatments. The most important aspect of prevention in our area is keeping your pet on tick preventative, as this will cause the tick to fall off before most diseases can be transmitted.
How is Heartworm transmitted?
Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes. Historically, it has not been endemic in Spokane due to our climate. However, it is becoming more prevalent in Spokane as the climate warms and as more dogs (unknowingly infected) are brought into the state from the South where mosquito borne diseases are widespread. Pets are also being exposed when their owners travel with them to the coast or out of state.
How is heartworm disease prevented and treated?
Heartworm disease is prevented by giving your pet a chewable tablet or topical liquid that kills the larval stage that may have been transmitted to your pet in the past 30 days. Because it kills a specific life stage, it has to be given monthly to be effective. Your veterinarian will need to perform a simple blood test before starting your dog on prevention and on a yearly basis thereafter.
All monthly heartworm preventive products work by affecting the larval stages that have been picked up from a mosquito bite in the last 30 days. The juvenile and adult life stages of the heartworm are not affected by preventive products. Therefore, it’s important to dose your dog every 30 days with his heartworm preventive. Giving your dog his heartworm prevention on the same date each month will affect the tissue stages he may have accumulated since his last heartworm preventive dose. If you miss a monthly dose, the heartworm larvae are given the opportunity to reach a mature state that cannot be affected by the preventive. Giving your dog his heartworm preventive on the same date each month will affect the larval stages he acquired since his last heartworm preventive dose.
Prevention is better and safer than treatment. Irreversible damage occurs as soon as immature heartworms enter a dog’s heart and lungs. Treatment requires expert care from your veterinarian and can be expensive. Complications can occur during treatment, some of which can be severe.
4DX testing for dogs
The 4DX test screens your dog for Lyme Disease, Erlichia, Anaplasma, and Heartworm.
Due to the fact that tick borne diseases are on the rise, as well as the fact that the symptoms of most of these diseases are vague or non-existent, it is recommended that dogs get a 4dx yearly whether they travel or not. Furthermore, heartworm infection specifically may not be detectable until up to 6 months from the initial infection. The symptoms of these diseases can be vague, so testing is important. Routine annual screening with a 4DX is recommended, as early detection will aid in monitoring and treatment.
This test requires only a few drops of blood, and is run in-house. This makes it very easy to perform at your annual visit.