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Tick Fever in Dogs: How to Identify and Prevent This Disease

Ticks are notorious for harboring and spreading severe diseases like Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, and also Rocky Mountain spotted fever to dogs and people. 

What causes tick fever in dogs?

Your furry friend could become infected when a tick latches onto it to feed and injects the tick fever organism into the bloodstream. The infection from a dog to a human does not happen directly. A human can get infected if a tick latches onto them. Remove it immediately!

Humans can also become infected if they come into contact with the tick's blood and lymph fluid or with excretions present as the tick is removed from the dog. The fluids can also be transmitted if the human touches any open sores or cuts on their skin.

Symptoms of tick fever in dogs

Signs of tick fever in dogs can appear very mild in the beginning but can become progressively worse. The disease goes through three main stages. The following illustrates each stage and what to look for:

#1. The acute phase

At the onset of tick fever, 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 may carry on for about 2 to 4 weeks. The dog may even appear to recover during this stage.

#2. The subclinical phase

There may not be any infection signs at this stage, but the organism is still very present. The organism may reside in the dog's spleen, where it will live and lay dormant. 

This phase could continue for many months or even years and not appear to affect the dog's health much. The dog will act and appear normal and also healthy. A dog may have the ability to fight off the organism and recover fully.

#3. The chronic phase

During this phase, the dog may develop severe symptoms if it cannot fight off the tick-borne disease. This is a critical stage that could create serious health risks for the dog, including:

  • Lameness
  • Anemia (fewer red blood cells to help with the carrying of oxygen)
  • Bleeding (a decrease in platelets - or blood-clotting cells that creates episodes of bleeding)
  • Inflammation of the eye (this could include: uveitis, damaged corneas, retinal disease, or even hemorrhaging inside the eye)
  • Legs swelling
  • Depressive state
  • Sensitive abdomen (may be the result of an enlarged liver)
  • Problems with the kidneys
  • Neurological disorders
  • Bone marrow failure (the most severe symptom caused by the marrow's inability to manufacture life-sustaining blood cells. The result will most likely be death)

A confusing diagnosis: what is tick fever in dogs?

It may be challenging to diagnose tick fever in dogs at the onset of the disease. Because of this, the dog may already be in the chronic stage before you take it to the vet. Sometimes, we’re still thinking of what the illness could be, and it’s already too late.

If your vet performs a blood test during the early stages of the disease, the result may be negative, even if your dog's infected. This is because the dog's immune system can take up to 3 weeks to produce the natural antibodies to fight against tick fever.

This initial negative test result is why the vet will require a second test a few weeks later to ensure that the initial test was accurate and still negative. Many vets suggest that the dog gets tested at least 8 weeks after the tick was found and removed.

Tick fever in dogs - treatment options

Treating tick bite fever in dogs is dependent on the severity of the symptoms at the time of the diagnosis. If you’re not 100% sure of how to treat tick fever in dogs at home, it’s best to take your pup to the vet.

There are many possible complications that may require prescriptions. For dogs suffering from eye disorders directly caused by Ehrlichia, corticosteroids may be prescribed to the infected area of the eye to decrease any inflammation that may be present.

At the chronic stage of tick fever, your dog may require a blood transfusion. However, the only true way to overcome the Ehrlichia organism's effects is to take antibiotics. Doxycycline and Tetracycline are the drugs used today to treat tick fever.

If your dog is treated during the early stages (acute), it will most likely show improvement in the first day to two days after administering the treatment. If the dog is in the chronic stage, it may take many months for them to recover fully.

A blood test assessing antibody levels is used to diagnose if the dog is suffering from Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A vet will immediately start treatment if they suspect it might be the disease. A delay in treatment may be fatal to the dog.

On the road to recovery

Catching tick-borne diseases early on creates a better chance for the dog to recover. If the dog's immune system is at optimal health, they also have a better chance at a full recovery. But even healthy dogs may still be susceptible to reinfection.

While your furry friend is recovering, make them as comfortable as possible and give them tons of love. You could consider installing a dog ramp for bed access. 

Dogs that suffer from a weak immune system (especially in older dogs) may have a more doubtful prognosis. Certain breeds like German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers tend to react more violently to tick fever.

Once a dog recovers from tick fever, it can lead a relatively normal and healthy life. Watch out that the dog does not become reinfected. By taking extra precautions, you can prevent their exposure to ticks in the future.

Prevention is better than cure

Currently, there is no vaccine preventing Ehrlichiosis. However, you can take steps to prevent your dog from being infected. Here are a few ways you can help stop the spread of tick-borne diseases:

Veterinary spot treatments: Applied directly onto the dog's skin, these treatments repel the ticks and kill any ticks already present on the dog's skin.

Tick repellents: There are different types of shampoos, tick spray repellents, and also dips available to help prevent tick-borne diseases.

Lawn treatments: Spray your lawn with tick treatment sprays and granules. You can find many effective, non-chemical options that are safer than a chemical version. Diatomaceous Earth is a safe and effective way to kill fleas and ticks.

Keep your yard tidy: Mowing lawn to shorter grass, trimmed shrubs, removing piles of leaves or yard waste will create an environment that ticks do not desire.

Check your dog regularly for ticks: Closely inspect your dog after they have been outside, especially if you have ticks in your area. Remove any ticks before they burrow into the skin.

Conclusion

Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other tick-borne diseases in dogs are serious and can cause severe symptoms and even death. 

As with any disease, it's better to prevent it. To avoid your dog from suffering the effects of tick fever, check your dog for ticks, avoid tick-infested areas, and start treatment with a vet once detected. Follow these steps to help your furry friend to stay tick-free and healthy.

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