Tick fever in dogs - identify and prevent the disease
Ticks are parasites that can cause immense discomfort and complications to your dog if they latch onto its skin. An infected tick can pass on the parasite rickettsia rickettsii through a bite and lead to severe diseases, such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and also tick fever.
Let’s read on to know more about this disease.
What causes tick fever in dogs?
Your pet could get tick fever when an infected tick latches onto it to feed and in the process injects the tick fever virus into your dog’s bloodstream. While we can’t catch the illness from our dogs, we are also susceptible to tick fever if an infected tick bites us. If you spot a tick on you or your dog, remove it immediately.
Humans could get infected if there is any contact with the tick's blood and lymph fluid or even excretions when the tick is removed from the dog. These fluids can transmit the virus if the contamination comes in contact with any open sores or cuts on the skin.
Recognising tick fever in dogs
Dogs with tick fever initially demonstrate mild symptoms but these get progressively worse if the disease is not caught in time. There are three main stages of the disease:
#1. The acute phase
It might take some time for your dog to start showing symptoms of tick fever. Right in the beginning, your dog may develop:
- A fever (low-grade at first)
- Lymph nodes that appear swollen
- Sudden bruising on their skin
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Pain in their joints
- Runny nose or discharge
- Breathing problems
This stage usually lasts anywhere between 2 to 4 weeks. You might even think that your dog is actually recovering during this stage.
#2. The subclinical phase
At this stage, your dog will not show any external signs of the disease, but the organism is still present inside. This phase can continue for several months or even years and your dog will exhibit no signs or symptoms, continuing to live a normal healthy life. A younger, healthier dog may be able to fight off the organism and recover fully.
#3. The chronic phase
This is a more critical stage and it can lead to serious health risks for your dog. Your dog could develop symptoms that he will not be able to fight off easily:
- Bleeding or bruising
- Inflammation of the eye including damaged corneas, retinal disease, uveitis, or even haemorrhaging inside the eye.
- Swollen legs
- Depressive and lethargic state
- Sensitive abdomen because of an enlarged liver
- Kidney problems
- Neurological disorders
- Bone marrow failure which could lead to death
Diagnosing tick fever in dogs
At the onset of the disease, it is difficult to make the right diagnosis. The dog’s immune system can take up to 3 weeks to produce natural antibodies to fight off the tick fever. Even if your vet suspects tick fever and performs a blood test, the initial test could be negative. The vet might ask you to repeat the test after a few weeks to confirm that the first test was indeed negative.
Due to the initial nature of the disease, it is sometimes challenging to make the right diagnosis. Sometimes the dog might even reach the chronic stage if there is any delay in treatment because of the uncertainty involved.
Treating tick fever in dogs
The verdict isn’t all morose. Treatment, however, is dependent on the severity of the symptoms at the time of the diagnosis. Even if you feel your pet could have tick fever, take it to the vet.
Based on the symptoms visible, the vet will put your dog on various treatments. If your dog is already at the chronic stage of tick fever, it may even require a blood transfusion. Many vets might start your dog on a course of strong antibiotics to deal with the disease.
If the disease is caught early (in the acute stage), your dog could show improvement within a day or two after starting treatment. In the chronic stage, however, it could take several months before it recovers fully.
Most vets will start treatment immediately if they even suspect your dog has contracted tick fever. Any delay in treatment can be fatal to the dog.
Helping your dog recover from tick fever
The earlier you catch any tick-borne disease, the better your dog’s chances of making a full recovery. Dogs with a strong immune system have a better chance of fighting off the disease. But even healthy dogs can be susceptible to reinfection.
Dogs with a weak immune system, especially older dogs, may find recovery more challenging. Genetically, some breeds, such as German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers, have been known to react more violently to tick fever.
If your dog has recovered from tick fever, it can go back to leading a relatively normal and healthy life. You must ensure that your dog does not get exposed to ticks again and become reinfected.
Prevention is better than cure
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine preventing tick fever. You can still take steps to reduce the chances of your dog getting infected. Here are a few ways you can stop the spread of tick-borne diseases:
- Regular veterinary spot treatments: These can be applied directly onto the dog's skin and they can kill any existing ticks present on the dog's skin and repel others.
- Tick repellents: You can use shampoos, tick spray repellents, and also dips that can keep ticks away from your dog.
- Lawn treatments: Maintain your lawn and spray it with safe, non-chemical tick treatment sprays and granules to kill fleas and ticks.
- Check your dog regularly for ticks: Groom and inspect your dog regularly, especially after they have been outside. Check your dog’s fur and skin and remove any ticks before they burrow into the skin.
Tick fever is a serious disease, and it can lead to severe complications and even death. But as with any disease, it’s easier to prevent it than to treat it. Check your dog regularly for ticks, avoid going into tick-infested areas, use tick-repelling sprays and follow the guidance of your vet if tick fever does get detected.