Several diseases can be transmitted to dogs and cats from ticks. Therefore, keeping pets that have access to the outdoors protected from ticks is essential to their overall health. There are many good tick prevention medications available.
The four most common tick borne diseases that affect dogs in the United States are Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Tick Paralysis. In most cases, the tick must be attached for several hours before they can transmit these diseases. So, if ticks are promptly removed from your pet, it will greatly reduce their risk of developing a tick borne disease.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria. The symptoms include: lameness, fever, swollen lymph nodes and joints, and a reduced appetite. In severe cases, animals may develop kidney disease, heart conditions, or nervous system disorders. Animals do not develop the "Lyme disease rash" that is commonly seen in humans.
Lyme disease is treated with oral antibiotics. Since this is a bacterial infection, the animal doesn’t develop an immunity and can contract an infection again.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)
The symptoms of RMSF are similar to Lyme disease and include: fever, reduced appetite, depression, pain in the joints, lameness, vomiting, and diarrhea. Some animals may develop heart abnormalities, pneumonia, kidney failure, liver damage, or even neurological signs (e.g., seizures, stumbling).
Similar to Lyme disease, RMSF is treated with antibiotics. However, unlike Lyme disease, dogs usually do develop an immunity to future infections.
Erhlichiosis is caused by a rickettsial organism. Common symptoms include depression, reduced appetite (anorexia), fever, stiff and painful joints, and bruising. Signs typically appear less than a month after a tick bite and last for about four weeks.
Treatment of Ehrlichiosis usually involves an extended course of antibiotics. Animals will develop antibodies against the organism, but can become re-infected.
Tick paralysis is a strange condition caused by a toxin released by the tick when it attaches to the pet. Dogs that are sensitive to the toxin can develop weakness in the hind limbs that can progress to complete paralysis. Owners usually notice a sudden unexplained paralysis in an otherwise healthy dog. Removal of the tick will lead to a complete recovery.
Cats can be infected by all of the above organisms, but do not tend to be as severely affected. However, additional tick borne organisms can cause severe infections in cats. These are discussed below.
This infection is also known as Feline Infectious Anemia. The organism attacks the cat’s red blood cells and can lead to severe anemia and weakness. Cats will often need to be hospitalized and may need blood transfusions if the anemia has become severe.
This is also known as Rabbit Fever. Cats will show symptoms of a high fever, swollen lymph nodes, nasal discharge, and possibly abscesses at the site of the tick bite. Younger animals are usually at a higher risk of contracting tularemia.
This disease is common in wild cats, such as the bobcat. Ticks that feed off the wild cats can then transmit the disease to domestic cats. Symptoms include: anemia, depression, high fever, difficulty breathing, and jaundice (i.e., yellowing of the skin). Treatment is often unsuccessful and death can occur in as short as one week following infection.