The Top Ten Diseases Spread By Ticks

tick on furSummer is here, and most pet parents love taking their furry friends on exciting, outdoor adventures in the sizzling, warm weather. Unfortunately, a little fun and sun can come with a hidden danger: ticks.

These crafty parasites lurk in lawns, wood piles, and dirt beds waiting for an opportunity strike. Ticks latch onto pets, bite them, then gorge on their blood. While they feast, these insects can make your pet sick. Ticks also carry serious, life-threatening illnesses that can kill.

Here are the top ten tick-borne diseases and several methods to protect your pet from these pernicious pests.

Common Tick-Borne Diseases in Pets

Ticks carry several bacterial diseases that can harm, debilitate, or kill pets. Here are the most common illnesses.

1. Anaplasmosis

Both canines and felines can contract anaplasmosis; however, the tick-borne disease is primarily known as "dog fever." Anaplasmosis' symptoms are similar to Lyme Disease. A. phagocytophilum, a bacterial organism, causes the disease. Deer ticks and western black-legged ticks carry the canine form. The brown dog tick carries the second form of the disease.

Anaplasmosis symptoms include:

  • Joint pain
  • High fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Seizures.

Treatment: Infected animals will show symptoms several weeks after a tick bite. Your pet may receive antibiotics for a month depending on the severity of the infection.

2. American Canine Hepatozoonosis

American Canine Hepatozoonosis is a tick-borne disease caused by protozoal organisms - Hepatozoon canis and Hepatozoon americanum. This serious illness primarily affects dogs in the south-central and southeastern United States.

The disease isn't transmitted through bites. Instead, your pet must ingest an infected brown dog or Gulf Coast tick. They usually swallow the tick during a grooming session.

American Canine Hepatozoonosis symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Watery eyes
  • Eye discharge
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Muscle wasting
  • Has difficulty moving
  • Weight loss
  • Low appetite

Treatment: Your vet will prescribe several medications to eliminate the illness. Your pet will receive anti-inflammatory medications, antibiotics, and anti-parasitic drugs. Unfortunately, your pet will be a disease carrier for life, so you'll need to watch its health to prevent any relapse. 


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3. Babesiosis (Piroplasmosis)

Tiny single-celled organisms called Babesia protozoa cause Babesiosis. Canines develop this disease after tick bites.  Infected tick releases the piroplasms into its bloodstream. They can also contract the illness through direct transmission (a blood transfusion). The primary carriers are brown ticks and American dog ticks.

Babesiosis has a two-week incubation period. The organisms attack your pet's red blood cells, which carry essential nutrients and oxygen. Their destruction leads to anemia. The illness affects both dogs and cats; however, canines develop a more acute form. Babesiosis affects pets worldwide. In the U.S., the disease is most prevalent on the northeast coast.

Symptoms include:

  • Anemia
  • Pale gums
  • Dark urine
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Unusual urine and stool color
  • Orange skin.

A babesiosis infection can also cause dogs to collapse and go into shock.

Treatments:  Your dog will be treated with intravenous drugs to kill the infection. They'll be given two doses within a two week period. Most dogs recover from the disease; however, they remain carriers of the protozoa for life. This makes them ineligible to donate blood. There is no vaccine available for Babesiosis.

4. Cytauxzoonosis

The primary host for cytauxzoonosis are bobcats, however, this tick-borne disease can infect wild and domestic felines. A protozoal organism, Cytauxzoon felis, causes the illness.

Cytauxzoonosis is found in the south-central and southeastern United States. Unfortunately, this dangerous condition kills the majority of cats it infects, even with medical intervention.

Symptoms include:

  • Anemia
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Depression
  • High fever
  • Jaundice
  • Liver Issues.

Treatment: A veterinarian will give your cat medication, intravenous fluids, supportive care. Feline survivors will carry the disease for life. There is no vaccination for this cytauxzoonosis.

5. Ehrlichiosis

Ehrlichiosis is a rickettsial infection. Brown dog and Lone Star ticks transmit this serious illness. The tick bite injects two organisms into a pet's bloodstream: Ehrlichia canis and Ehrlichia lewinii. The pernicious bacteria destroy white blood cells.

Ehrlichiosis is prevalent in the United States' Gulf region, Atlantic Coast, California, and the Southwest. Doberman pinscher and German shepherd breeds develop acute forms of the disease. Dogs may carry the bacteria for months before developing an acute illness.

Here are several Ehrlichiosis symptoms:

  • Abnormal breathing
  • Anemia
  • Bruising
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Eye pain
  • Fever
  • Head tilt
  • Kidney failure
  • Lack of coordination
  • Lethargy
  • Limb edema
  • Painful joints
  • Paralysis
  • Reduced appetite
  • Seizures
  • Weight loss.

Treatment: Your veterinarian will prescribe an antibiotic medication, like doxycycline, to treat the infection.

6. Haemobartonellosis

Haemobartonellosis is a disease that infects both dogs and cats. The mycoplasma belongs to a class of bacterial parasites in the Mollicutes order. These organisms cause anemia by targeting a pet's red blood cells.

Scientists call haemobartonellosis, "feline infectious anemia" in cats. Mycoplasma haemofelis (formerly known a Haemobartonella felis) is the primary organism responsible for the disease. Another organism, M. haemominutum, can also cause illness.

The illness doesn't develop in dogs unless they have underlying immune system issues.

Haemobartonellosis symptoms include:

  • Anemia
  • Weakness

Treatment: Veterinarians diagnose blood samples to diagnose. Pets that test positive receive antibiotics for several weeks. Some pets may need blood transfusions.

7. Lyme Disease

Deer ticks cause Lyme Disease (borreliosis). The parasite must remain attached for 48 hours to transmit the borreliosis bacteria into the bloodstream. Disease transmission will not occur if the tick is removed before the two-day period.

Lyme disease symptoms include:

  • Lameness
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Painful joints
  • Reduced appetite
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart conditions
  • Nervous system disorders

Treatment: There is a vaccine for Lyme Disease available for dogs (but not cats). People who live in areas dominated by the deer tick should vaccinate their dogs every year.

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8. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Rickettsia rickettsii is the organism responsible for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF). The rod-shaped microorganisms resemble bacteria yet behave like viruses. The disease affects dogs and people. Felines may test seropositive for the illness, but may not present with any symptoms. The American Levi Tick (Dermacentor) is the primary carrier for the bacteria.

Pure-breed dogs and German Shepherds are more likely to develop RMSF. Symptoms develop a few days after a tick bite. Most infections occur during the spring, summer, and fall months (between March and October).

Each RMSF variant produces different symptoms including:

  • Depression
  • Anorexia (Loss of Appetite)
  • Blood in urine
  • Lethargy
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Difficulty walking
  • Edema (fluid retention) in limbs
  • Bleeding from the nose and in stool
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Eye pain
  • Inflammation
  • Blood does not clot
  • Pneumonia
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver damage
  • Seizures

Treatment: Your veterinarian will prescribe oral antibiotics for two weeks to treat RMSF. There is no vaccine available for the disease.

9. Tularemia

This bacteria causes this tick-transmitted illness. Tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, affects both dogs and cats. The condition is more severe in cats. Four varieties of North American ticks carry the bacteria that causes tularemia.

These are common tularemia symptoms in dogs:

  • Reduced appetite
  • Depression
  • Mild fever

Tularemia symptoms in cats include:

  • High fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Nasal discharge
  • Abscesses (at the tick bite site)

Treatment: There are no preventative vaccines for tularemia. Veterinarians will prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat the illness. 

10. Tick Paralysis

These parasites secrete a toxin that causes tick paralysis. Tick paralysis or tick-bite paralysis disease impacts mammals' nervous systems. It causes lower motor paralysis. This causes a loss of voluntary movement of the nerves that connect the spinal cord and muscles. The dog's muscles remain in a relaxed state.

Disease progression starts 6-9 days after a tick bite. Canines experience severe symptoms from tick paralysis. The illness doesn't cause many issues in cats.

Tick paralysis symptoms:

  • Weakness (beginning in the rear legs, then spreading)
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Swallowing problems due to an enlarged esophagus
  • Regurgitation
  • Vomiting
  • Fast heart rate
  • Death (in later stages)
  • Low muscle tone (hypotonia)
  • Decreased eating
  • Excessive drooling
  • Poor reflexes

Treatment: Your pet will need supportive care. Your veterinarian can also supply an anti-toxin to treat the illness.  

How to Protect Your Pet from Tick Bites

Pet owners can protect their furry friends from bites by controlling nearby tick populations. The Centers for Disease Control offers these prevention tips:

Eradicate tick breeding places in your yard.

  1. Remove leaf litter.
  2. Mow tall grass and brush around your home and lawn.
  3. Place a three-foot barrier of wood chips and gravel between wooded areas and your yard. This step will restrict tick migration.
  4. Stack woodpiles in a dry area. This will discourage tick-infested rodents from frequenting the area.
  5. Prevent animals like deer, raccoons, and strays from entering the yard.
  6. Remove old furniture and yard trash. Ticks use these areas as hiding places.
  7. Use pesticides to reduce the tick population.
  8. Place tick tubes filled with tick killing cotton around the perimeter of your yard for mice to use during nesting season.

Bring your pet in for its routine checkup. Many tick-borne illness symptoms can mimic other diseases. Schedule an appointment at South Boston Animal Hospital. We'll screen your pet for any tick-borne illness. The test only takes a few minutes, and you'll receive results the same day.

Use tick prevention products. Owners should apply tick treatments if your pet spends a lot of time outdoors. There are many over-the-counter products and prescription medications that will prevent ticks bites. You can also ask a South Boston Animal Hospital veterinarian to prescribe a tick-preventative medicine.

Establish a treatment schedule.  Schedule notifications on your phone to remind you when it's time to apply preventative treatment.

Call an exterminator to eliminate ticks. The professional will spray pesticides to reduce tick numbers.

Check your pet for ticks every day. Ticks are prevalent during spring, summer, and fall months. The bugs live year round in warmer climates. Comb your fingers through your pet's fur, feeling for any bumps. When you detect one, spread its fur apart to look at it. A tick may range in size from a small to quarter-size. They're usually gray, black, or dark brown.

Bring Your Pet to South Boston Animal Hospital

Do you suspect your pet has a tick-borne disease? Stop by South Boston Animal Hospital for a checkup. We'll screen your pet for the most common illnesses. Contact us to schedule an appointment.