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Tick Fever in Dogs

Tick fever is a condition seen in dogs caused by the Rickettsia rickettsii bacteria which (in the US) is spread primarily through the bite of an infected American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, or brown dog tick. Today, our Jesup vets explain some of the symptoms of tick fever in dogs and how this condition can be treated.

What is tick fever in dogs?

Rickettsia rickettsii is a type of intracellular parasite that can be transmitted through the bite of an infected American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, or brown dog tick. If your dog gets bitten by an infected tick, the transmission of the bacteria can take about 10 minutes if the tick has recently been fed. However, if the tick hasn't been fed recently, it can take up to 10 hours for the bacteria to be transmitted.

It's important to note that people can also be susceptible to tick fever. Although there have been no reported cases of direct dog-to-human transmission, pet parents need to be particularly careful when removing ticks from their pets. This is because people can contract the disease following contact with tick blood, lymph fluids, or excretions during the removal of engorged ticks from their pets.

What are the symptoms of tick fever in dogs?

Once your dog is infected by the bacteria it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to begin to show. The symptoms of tick fever in dogs are somewhat vague and extremely varied in nature making a diagnosis of tick fever challenging in some cases. Some of the most common symptoms of tick fever in dogs include:

  • Fever up to 105°F (40.5°C)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Inflammation of joints
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Facial or limb swelling
  • Coughing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Abdominal pain

In more severe cases dogs may exhibit round, purplish-red spots inside of the eyelids and mouth caused by bleeding below the surface. About 30% of dogs will experience central nervous system symptoms such as:

  • Altered mental states
  • Impaired balance
  • Painful spinal sensitivity

Pet parents should always take symptoms of tick fever seriously. Up to 10% of dogs suffering from tick fever die from the condition. If your dog is showing any of the signs of tick fever listed above book a veterinary examination for your dog right away!

Is tick fever curable in dogs?

If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, it is important to take them to the vet as soon as possible. There is no specific cure for tick fever. However, it can be treated with antibiotics. The sooner you catch the disease and start treatment, the better the chances are for a full recovery

How long does tick fever last in dogs?

The duration of tick fever in dogs can vary depending on various factors, including the severity of the infection, the dog's overall health, and how promptly treatment is administered. Typically, if treated promptly and effectively, the symptoms of tick fever can start to improve within a few days to weeks.

Is tick fever contagious from dog to dog?

Tick fever is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected tick rather than directly from dog to dog. However, it's important to note that if an infected tick bites one dog and feeds on another dog, it can transmit the disease to the second dog.

Additionally, in very rare cases, there may be transmission through blood transfusion from an infected dog to a healthy one. So, while tick fever is not directly contagious from dog to dog like some other diseases, it can indirectly spread through the activities of infected ticks. 

Diagnosing Tick Fever

When diagnosing tick fever in dogs, your vet will examine your pup for signs of the symptoms listed above and may recommend diagnostic testing such as blood tests, urinalysis, and x-rays.

Blood test results that point to tick fever include low platelet count, anemia, and abnormal white blood cell counts. Other diagnostic tests can be useful in detecting low protein levels, abnormal calcium levels, electrolyte abnormalities, and abnormal liver or kidney values which point towards a diagnosis of tick fever.

Tick Fever Treatment in Dogs

If your vet believes that your pup has tick fever, they may prescribe a round of antibiotics even before the test results have come back. Any delay in treatment could cause symptoms to become increasingly severe and possibly even fatal. Most dogs respond to antibiotic treatment within 24 to 48 hours, although dogs with severe cases of the disease may not respond at all to treatment.

The most common antibiotics used to treat tick fever in dogs include tetracycline, doxycycline, and minocycline.

In some cases, your vet may also recommend a blood transfusion to treat anemia or other supportive therapies.

Prognosis For Dogs with Tick Fever

Dogs diagnosed and treated early for tick fever generally recover well, with few complications. In some cases, lifelong immunity will occur after the infection has been cleared.

Unfortunately, dogs with more advanced cases of tick fever are at higher risk for complications of the disease, such as kidney disease, neurological disease, vasculitis, and coagulopathies. The prognosis is guarded in these cases since complications can be severe.

How to Protect Your Dog Against Tick Fever

Tick fever prevention mainly involves controlling ticks and limiting your dog's exposure to them. Your veterinarian can provide year-round preventive medications to kill ticks that start feeding on your dog. Additionally, it's essential to check your dog for ticks after each walk to prevent the transmission of bacteria to your pet.

If you find any ticks on your dog, it's crucial to remove them promptly and properly. You can use tweezers to grasp the tick gently where it enters your dog's skin and pull it straight off. Do not squeeze or grasp the tick tightly. You can also use handy tick removal devices available at most vets and pet stores to make the process quick and easy. Avoid touching the tick as the fluids and excretions from an infected tick can spread the disease to humans.

If you're unsure about how to remove ticks, you can always visit your vet. They will be happy to show you how or remove the tick for you.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your pup is showing severe signs of tick fever visit the emergency animal hospital at Wolfe Animal Hospital immediately.

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Wolfe Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Jesup companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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