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The Dangers of Ticks in Dogs

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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If you have a dog, chances are you are familiar with ticks. You're also familiar with the many commercials and advertisements that encourage you to purchase products to get rid of ticks or prevent them from feeding on your pet. We place a lot of importance in preventing ticks in our pets because ticks are more than just blood-sucking arachnid parasites; along with mosquitoes, ticks are responsible for transmitting many diseases in dogs. Some of these include:

Ehrlichia. This is the most common disease transmitted by ticks in dogs. Ehrlichia is caused by a rickettsial organism and is characterized by anemia, low platelet counts, bleeding, fever, lethargy, neurologic disease and multiple leg arthritis.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This is another rickettsial disease transmitted by ticks. Most commonly diagnosed between April and September, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is characterized by fever, neurologic disease, breathing difficulty, bleeding disorders, heart rhythm irregularities, anemia and organ failure.

Lyme Disease. Lyme disease is a well-known and not fully understood disease transmitted by ticks. The organism responsible for disease is Borrelia burgdorferi and is usually transmitted by the deer tick. Signs associated with Lyme disease include multiple leg arthritis, weight loss, lack of appetite, lethargy and fever.

Relapsing Fever. This is an uncommon disease caused by a bacterial infection of Borrelia. Signs of this disease lead to the common name, intermittent and relapsing fevers, lack of appetite and lethargy.

Canine Hemobartonella. This disease is not fully understood and may be transmitted by fleas and ticks. Hemobartonella is a parasite that attaches to the red blood cells. In dogs, most affected animals show no signs of illness. Rarely, anemia may result from excessive breakdown of affected red blood cells.

Babesia. This disease is usually associated with racing greyhounds in Florida. It is primarily a tropical disease caused by a protozoal parasite that affects red blood cells. Once infected, the red blood cells are destroyed, resulting in anemia, jaundice, fever, bleeding and low platelet counts.

Hepatozoonosis. This disease is caused by a protozoan parasite and is uncommon in the United States. Affected dogs show signs of fever, weight loss, muscle inflammation and pain, bloody diarrhea and discharge from the eyes and nose.

Tularemia. This bacterial disease is also transmitted by ticks and is most often associated with rabbits. Dogs affected with the bacteria Francisella tularensis will show signs of fever, draining abscesses and may succumb to a bacterial blood infection.

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