Ticks are prevalent in our environment and can potentially cause disease in our pets. In this article I am hoping to overview the various diseases they can transmit in this part of the world. What is common of all the tick borne diseases is that they are often insidious diseases with vague clinical symptoms that are often difficult to recognise. A dog might be slightly off colour and the owner often attributes it to just a bit of malaise that does not need addressing. In many cases when the pet is presented for treatment the disease is so advanced that it is untreatable.
Ehrlichiosis and Anaplamosis (Tick Fever)
These are diseases spread by the Brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus. What is unique to this species of tick is that it can complete its whole life cycle indoors, so if left unchecked it can become a pest in homes and kennels.
Symptoms of these diseases are multiple and varied, enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy, anaemia, tremors, neurological signs, limb oedema, collapse etc.
Treatment of these illnesses is protracted and rarely is the dog totally cured of this parasite, an obligate intracellular bacterium, the patient will go into remission with treatment but regular testing must be undertaken throughout the dog’s life to measure the load level of this parasite in the blood. Regular treatments throughout the life of the dog will usually be necessary, so if your pet has been treated for this illness do not assume it is parasite free, regular testing will be required!
Borreliosis (Lyme disease)
This is a disease caused by a bacteria that is spread by the tick Ixodes. There are various species of Ixodes that live in rodent and wildlife (e.g. deer) reservoirs in which they cause no apparent problems.
The main presenting sign for Lyme disease is joint pain and swelling, often the dog is running a fever. Dogs often present as if walking on eggshells, with general pain and malaise. However there are cases where the dog presents with intermittent lameness that resolves spontaneously but then recurs. So if your pet has episodic bouts of lameness and there is a history of tick problems then ask your vet to carry out a test for this disease.
Treatment is also with a prolonged course of antibiotics but often the disease goes into remission and retesting throughout the dog’s life is necessary.
This is a protozoal disease spread by various types of ticks that infects red blood cells, can cause an acute anaemia in immune-compromised animals, but more generally the animal presents with jaundice, weakness and general malaise. Infection with babesia is often in tandem with ehrlichia and in these cases the clinical signs can be severe. Thankfully this disease is not seen frequently in our part of the world.
There are a couple of treatment options for this illness and in endemic areas a vaccination is available. However early diagnosis is critical, if your pet has had ticks and is looking pale and is lethargic get it to a vet ‘pronto’.
Bartonellosis in cats
This is a bacteria that is found in rodent wildlife reservoirs, it causes no illness in these animals. It can be passed to cats by fleas and ticks and usually does not cause clinical disease in them unless they are immune-suppressed. Symptoms can be varied: fever, anaemia and internal organ failure.
This bacteria can also cause infections in humans, colloquially known as cat scratch disease, and again can cause serious illness in immune- suppressed individuals.
In summary, ticks can cause quite serious, potentially life-threatening illness in your pet. If you walk your dog in the country or he goes to kennels regularly always make sure he has protection against the tick. Prevention is much better than cure and there are a couple of excellent products on the market.
If your pet has had ticks in the past and is ‘off colour’, without any apparently serious disease make sure you get it blood tested, you could end up saving your best friend’s life!
For more information please phone Gibraltar Vetinary Clinic on 200 77334