Tick-Borne Diseases: Signs & Symptoms of a Tick Bite on a Dog

Tick-Borne Diseases: Signs & Symptoms of a Tick Bite on a Dog

You may have heard that ticks are only a seasonal issue. But ticks are a significant threat to dogs and people year-round.

And while not all ticks carry disease, tick bites can cause big problems for you and your pet. As a good pet parent, it’s important to know what to expect if you find a tick on your dog.

Understand the signs and symptoms of a tick bite on a dog to keep your pets safe from tick-borne diseases.

3 ways to tell if your dog has a tick

1. Know what a tick bite looks like on a dog.

Ticks can be difficult to see, which makes it hard to tell the difference between a skin tag and a tick. An embedded or engorged tick takes on the color of the dog’s skin and may appear dark red, brown or grey. If the tick has fallen off, your dog may have red, inflamed skin or scabs from the tick bite.

Fully embedded ticks on dogs

2. Observe your dog’s behaviors.

There are unique tick bite symptoms in dogs depending on the disease. Here are a few signs your dog has a tick and what to look for:

3. Recognize the symptoms of tick bites on dogs.

Symptoms of Tick Bites on Dogs

There are unique symptoms of each tick-borne disease. But in most cases you can expect to see similar signs. So what are the symptoms of tick-borne disease in dogs?

The most common symptom is tick fever. And the symptoms of tick fever in dogs are much like general tick-borne disease symptoms. They include:

What are tick borne diseases in dogs

Tick-borne Diseases in Dogs

Every tick bite is different. The danger of disease transmission for dogs and humans occurs during the tick’s feeding process. The longer they stay, the more likely they are to transmit disease.

Learn the most common tick-borne illnesses in dogs including:

6 common tick borne diseases in dogs

1. Canine Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States. Most cases come from the blacklegged tick and occur in the northeastern and upper midwestern states.

Unique symptoms

Lyme disease symptoms may not appear until 2-5 months after the initial tick bite and include fever, lameness or stiff joints, difficulty breathing, and frequent urination.

How to treat

Most tick-borne diseases need antibiotics or antiprotozoals to help your pet. While there is a vaccine for Lyme disease, it’s important to consult with your vet to choose the right treatment.

How to prevent

Give your dog a thorough check for ticks after spending time outdoors. Safely remove ones you can find and consider a preventative tick treatment to keep your pet safe in the future.

2. Canine Ehrlichiosis.

Ehrlichiosis is an infectious disease in dogs, native to the southern states. Brown dog ticks are primary carriers, but lone star and American dog ticks can also carry the disease.

Unique symptoms

An infected dog may experience fever, lethargy, weight loss, abnormal bleeding, and neurological confusion.

How to treat

Your veterinarian will likely treat Ehrlichiosis with an antibiotic. Depending on your pet's needs they may also use a steroid to improve your dog’s conditions.

How to prevent

Keep your pet’s environment clear of ticks, examine your dog regularly, and use a tick preventative to avoid infection.

3. Canine Babesiosis.

Babesiosis is a tick-borne disease that occurs in the southern states. Blacklegged (deer) ticks are the most common carriers of Babesiosis. But, there are cases where dogs contracted the disease through an infected dog bite and compromised blood transfusions.

Unique symptoms

There is a wide range of symptoms for Babesiosis. The most common include dark urine, pale gums, and changes in their mental state.

How to treat

To fight Babesiosis most vets will prescribe an antiprotozoal drug. Your vet may make additional recommendations to continue treatment for blood or fluid loss overtime.

How to prevent

If your dog spends time in a kennel with poor tick control, they are at a higher risk for Babesiosis. Protect your pet with an effective flea and tick treatment and practice regular examinations to look for ticks.

4. Canine Anaplasmosis.

A bacteria called Anaplasma platys causes canine anaplasmosis in dogs, which attacks a dog’s platelets. Black legged ticks are primary carriers which makes this disease most common on the far west coast and northeastern states.

Unique symptoms

Most dogs don’t show any clinical symptoms of infection, but some noticeable signs include joint pain, limping, and blindness.

How to treat

The best way to combat this infection is with an antibiotic. As soon as you notice symptoms in your pet, call your veterinarian to determine the right treatment.

How to prevent

Proactive tick treatment is the best way to ensure your pet stays healthy and avoids infection. If you haven’t started a treatment yet, regular tick checks are key to catch tick activity early on.

5. Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a tick-borne illness found throughout the United States—mostly east of the Rocky Mountains. An infectious bacteria called Rickettsia rickettsii, which causes RMSF, transmits through both nymph and adult American dog and brown dog ticks.

Unique symptoms

It can take a few hours to a few days for the parasite to fully make its way into your pet. This means symptoms may take a while to appear. Typical symptoms of RMSF are diarrhea, swelling of the face or legs, and nosebleeds in severe cases.

How to treat

Like other tick-borne diseases, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is effectively treated with a series of antibiotics. Especially when diagnosed and treated in the early stages.

How to prevent

Avoiding wooded areas is a great, but not always practical, way to lessen the chance of ticks. Pairing regular inspections with an effective flea and tick treatment will improve your chances of preventing ticks and infectious disease.

6. Tularemia (Rabbit Fever).

Tularemia, also called “Rabbit Fever” is a tick-borne disease that is common in rabbits and small rodents. The bacteria (Francisella tularensis) which causes Tularemia is carried by American dog ticks.

Unique symptoms

Unhealthy or older dogs may experience severe symptoms from Tularemia. This can include dehydration, abdominal pain, white patches on the tongue, and throat infection.

How to treat

To treat Tularemia your vet may prescribe an antibiotic. The sooner treatment begins, the better chance you have to help your pet.

How to prevent

Tularemia is unique because humans can contract the disease from an infected animal. So, make sure you wash your hands and use protective gloves when caring for your pet. And as always use a flea and tick treatment to prevent disease.

How to test for tick borne diseases in dogs

To diagnose your pet for any type of tick-borne disease you’ll need to visit your veterinarian. If your dog begins to show symptoms, especially after a tick encounter, your vet may order a urine or blood test.

Blood tests will help confirm the presence of antibodies in your dog’s body. Your vet may also examine your pet for evidence of ticks. This will help them better understand the tick exposure and determine the right treatment plan.

How to treat a tick bite on a dog

For the health of your pet, it's important to know what to put on a tick bite on a dog. First safely remove the tick, then follow these steps for treating a tick bite:

1. Clean the infected area.

Use an antiseptic like isopropyl alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to make sure the bite is clear of any bacteria. Make sure you dilute the antiseptic with water and carefully dab the infected area with a cotton ball or towel.

2. Use a flea and tick preventative.

Ticks aren’t just a summer hazard—many ticks can last through harsh winter conditions and survive indoors. Keep your pet protected all year with a vet-quality flea and tick preventative.

3. Check for signs of infection.

Even after safely removing the tick, your dog can still get infected. Keep a gauge on how your dog looks and feels after a tick encounter, and if symptoms start or worsen be sure to visit a vet.

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