Dog Ticks: Prevention & Treatment of Diseases

Dog ticks can be prevented but it is a personal choice whether to use a product with pesticides or natural ingredients.

©Copyright Troy Bartlett
American Dog Tick, Elachee Nature Center, Gainesville, Georgia

Snapshot: Ticks
Here's a quick overview if you're in a hurry. Come back later when you have time to read the complete guide.

  • Symptoms: Tick-borne diseases share similar symptoms: Fever, loss of appetite, lameness, sore joints. In more serious cases, there can also be seizures and neurological problems. In the case of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a dog's eyes and nose may bleed.
  • Prevention: Pesticide-based preventatives in both pill, spray and spot-on form are popular because they are easy to use and effective. Before choosing one of these products, however, you must first weigh the possible long-term effect these chemicals will have on your dog's immune system. Alternative, natural treatments for fleas and dog ticks are available. It's worth giving them a try before choosing a pesticide.
  • Diagnosis: A diagnostic tool called SNAP 4Dx Test enables your vet to test for heartworm disease (carried by mosquitoes, and covered elsewhere on this web site) and three tick-borne diseases: Lyme disease, canine anaplasmosis and canine ehrlichiosis. Your vet runs the test using a blood sample drawn from your dog. Results are available in about 10 minutes. A fourth disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, is diagnosed by identifying abnormalities in a dog's blood chemistry and urine samples.

Prevention

Pesticide-based preventatives in both pill, spray and spot-on form are popular because they are easy to use and effective. There is much controversy brewing, however, regarding the long-term effect these pesticides have on your dog and you as well, for that matter. Before choosing one of these products, however, you must first weigh the possible long-term effect these chemicals will have on your dog's immune system. Alternative, natural flea and tick treatments are available. It's worth giving them a try before choosing a pesticide.

Removal of Dog Ticks

While prevention is essential to protecting your best friend from dog ticks, no product, chemical or natural, is completely 100% full-proof. So keep in mind that even if you find a tick attached to your dog, it takes a minimum of 24-48 hours for the disease-carrying organism to be transmitted. That's why it's important to check your dog daily for ticks and remove any that have attached. Using tweezers, grasp the tick firmly and pull steadily until it lets go. This is the best technique to ensure you get the pincers on the head that actually burrow into the skin. If possible, wear medical-type gloves to protect your skin.

Tick-borne Diseases

Diseases that are carried by ticks include Lyme disease, canine anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Natural Prevention & Treatment

While Lyme disease is a serious long-term illness in humans, it is usually a minor infection in dogs.

  • Symptoms: A dog with Lyme disease may not display symptoms for a few weeks up to a few months after becoming infected. At that time he may show one or more signs, including lameness, fever, lethargy and lack of appetite. On rare occasions, a dog will develop heart or neurological problems.
  • Treatment: The vast majority who become infected by the dog tick will never show signs of illness. Dogs that do get sick recover by taking inexpensive antibiotics. A sick dog will usually show noticeable improvement within 24-48 hours. Since it is virtually impossible to eliminate the offending organism from the dog's body, the goal is to help the dog reach a healthy state, where the symptoms are dormant.In some, but not all cases, a dog may eventually develop kidney issues because it is literally living for years with an infectious agent in its body. Because of this possibility, it is wise to periodically ask your vet to run a blood test that determines the health of the kidneys and whether or not additional veterinary care is needed.

Canine Anaplasmosis Symptoms & Conventional Treatment

  • Symptoms: The symptoms of anaplasmosis are nearly the same as for Lyme disease, which makes it difficult to diagnose without a blood test. An infected dog may be lethargic, have a fever and sore joints and be anemic. Less common symptoms include seizures, vomiting, diarrhea and trouble breathing. It is fairly common for a dog who tests positive for one dog tick disease to test positive for a second. For instance, a dog with Lyme disease will often also have anaplasmosis.
  • Treatment: Treatment with antibiotics such as doxycycline or tetracycline typically results in noticeable improvement within 48 hours or less.

Ehrlichiosis Symptoms & Conventional Treatment

  • Symptoms: An infected dog may have swollen lymph nodes, trouble breathing, loss of appetite, joint pain, depression, and lack of energy. Many healthy dogs will be able to fight off the infection. If not, symptoms will increase as the infection gets worse, including fever, weight loss, anemia, neurological problems such as seizures, bleeding, inflammation of the eye and swollen back legs. Because a tick can carry more than one disease at a time, it is not unusual for a dog to be infected with multiple diseases.
  • Treatment: Antibiotics, tetracycline or doxycycline, are commonly used. The patient will often show marked improvement within 48 hours or less. Treatment usually recommended for for 3-4 weeks. In severe cases, a dog may need a blood transfusion.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

  • Symptoms: Vomiting, lack of appetite, diarrhea, depression, cough, bleeding in the eyes or from the nose, weight loss, swollen lymph nodes and swollen face and legs are all symptoms of this potentially life-threatening disease. Symptoms show 2 to 14 days after a dog tick bite. Contrary to its name, the disease does occur beyond the the Rocky Mountains, reaching into the western and southwestern United States.
  • Diagnosis: Unlike the other tick-borne diseases noted above, there is no test for definitively identifying Rocky Mountain Spotted fever.Because of this, it's important to take your dog to the vet immediately if any of these symptoms occur. Tell your vet if you recently removed a tick from your dog or if he was exposed to ticks (in timber or an unmowed field, for instance), even if you did not find a tick on him. Always remove ticks with tweezers and do not touch the bug. Fluids from the tick can be transferred to you through a cut in your skin or by rubbing your eyes. Be cautious!Your vet will examine a blood sample for changes in your dog's blood chemistry, such as low sodium levels, and abnormal blood clotting. Urine samples will also be analyzed for abnormalities.
  • Treatment: The sooner an infected dog receives treatment, the less likely he will face serious complications or even death. If treatment is started soon after symptoms show, a dog will normally improve quickly, usually within 24-48 hours of starting an antibiotic such as doxycycline or tetracycline.

Natural Prevention & Treatment

  • Prevention: Good nutrition is essential for your dog in the fight against preventing parasites and in recovering from a tick-borne disease in the event your fur kid becomes ill. There are many natural products on the market that utilize effect non-toxic ingredients such as citronella, lemongrass and brewer's yeast, to name a few. Why not try the natural route first, before reaching for the pesticide. Your dog will thank you for it!
  • Treatment: Although there are not necessarily homeopathic (natural) treatments for specific diseases carried by dog ticks, there are homeopathic treatments for symptoms such as fever and inflamed joints. Consult a holistic veterinarian if you would like to explore a natural approach. You can find a list of U.S. holistic veterinarians at the web site of American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.
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