Ticking Time Bombs: The Diseases Carried By Ticks

Odds are good that you will encounter a tick in the near future. And your dog has even better odds.

Since humans aren’t as hairy as other mammals, we stand a better chance of noticing when a tick attaches. Dogs, on the other hand are furry, and a tick can take up residence without the dog or you noticing. 

Unfortunately, people sometimes find that their dog had an attached tick only when symptoms of a tick-borne disease appear. By then, treatment is potentially expensive, if even treatable. So it makes sense to consistently use a flea and tick product recommended by your veterinarian

How serious can the problem be? Here are a few of the diseases ticks may transmit.

  • Lyme Disease is one of the most commonly diagnosed tick-borne diseases in dogs. It can also affect humans bitten by an infected tick. Symptoms in dogs include fever, shifting leg lameness, polyarthritis, and generally poor health. In a small number of dogs, Lyme Disease is associated with the development of a syndrome that causes progressive kidney failure which is often fatal. Carriers include the black-legged deer tick.1
  • Canine Anaplasmosis. This bacterial disease can be transmitted to humans as well as dogs. Signs in dogs can include fever, anorexia, thrombocytopenia (decrease in blood platelets), swollen joints, depression, and enlarged lymph nodes. Carriers include the black-legged deer tick.2
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Despite its name, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever has been reported in almost all of the contiguous United States, Western Canada, and Mexico. Clinical signs in dogs include loss of appetite, fever, depression, joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes. They may also experience vomiting, seizures, nosebleeds, kidney failure, or sudden death from heart arrhythmia. Carriers include the American dog tick and brown dog tick.3
  • Ehrlichiosis. Similar to anaplasmosis, these organisms infect the blood of the dog. There are a number of Ehrlichia species that can infect dogs in the United States. Symptoms in dogs may include anemia, fever, depression, lethargy, appetite loss, shortness of breath, joint pain, stiffness, and bruising. Later in the disease, there may be weight loss, bleeding, eye inflammation, diarrhea, and hind leg swelling. Carriers include the brown dog tick.4
  • Babesiosis. Symptoms in dogs may include anemia (the most common sign), fever, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, skin lesions, and potentially kidney failure. Carriers include the brown dog tick and the black-legged (deer) tick.5
  • Canine Hepatozoonosis. Rather than from a bite, dogs are infected with this protozoal organism by ingesting an infected tick. Two different organisms are associated with canine hepatozoonosis. When infected by H. canis many dogs will show less severe signs; some dogs may remain clinically normal. However, H. americanum infections cause a severe, often fatal disease in dogs. Clinical signs that can be seen in infected dogs include fever, depression, muscle atrophy, discharge around the eyes, and anemia. The carrier for H. canis is the brown dog tick, and the carrier for H. americanum is the Gulf Coast tick. 6,7 Who knew something so small could do so much damage? The good news is you can help protect your dog with flea and tick control products.. Keep in mind that not all flea products are effective against ticks/ It’s important that you talk to your veterinarian to see which one’s right for your dog.


1. Littman MP, et al. ACVIM small animal consensus statement on Lyme disease in dogs: diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. J Vet Intern Med. 2006; 20:423.

2. Diniz P and Breitschwerdt E. Anaplasma phagocytophilum infection (Canine Granulocytic Anaplasmosis). In: Greene CE, ed. Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat. 4th ed. Elsevier Saunders; 2012: 244-254

3. Greene, CE; Breitschwerdt, EB. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Q Fever, and typhus. In Greene, CE (ed.):Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 1998;155-162.

4. Harris S, Waner T and Neer TM. Ehrlichia canis infection. In: Greene CE, ed. Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat. 4th ed. Elsevier Saunders; 2012: 227-238.

5. Birkenheuer A. Babesiosis. In: Greene CE, ed. Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat. 4th ed. Elsevier Saunders; 2012: 771-784.

6. Baneth G. Hepatozoon canis infection. In: Greene CE, ed. Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat. 4th ed. Elsevier Saunders; 2012: 750-757.

7. Macintire D, Vincent-Johnson N and Potter M. Hepatozoon americanum infection. In: Greene CE, ed. Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat. 4th ed. Elsevier Saunders; 2012: 757-763.


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