It’s that time of year again, folks. Flea and tick season is upon us, and nothing annoys a dog more than those pesky pests. Responsible dog owners know that their canine companions warm and soft fur is like a personal paradise for these insects. But once they move in — and begin feeding on your pet’s blood — they can cause a wide range of health problems, from skin infections to Lyme disease. In honor of Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs Month.
When it comes to tick-borne threats to your dog, Lyme disease usually gets all the attention. But anaplasmosis is another tick-borne disease that can cause bruising, lameness, and even uncontrolled bleeding in your pet. That’s why you should learn the signs of anaplasmosis and what to do if your pet contracts the disease.
What is Anaplasmosis?
Anaplasmosis, aka dog fever or dog tick fever, is a tick-borne disease that infects a dog’s bloodstream. Anaplasma phagocytophilum, the most common form of the disease, is transmitted by deer tick bites and infects white blood cells. Anaplasma platys, carried by the brown dog tick, affects the blood-clotting cells known as platelets.
Anaplasmosis, which also infects humans, is common throughout the World wherever transmitting ticks thrive.
What are the Symptoms of Anaplasmosis?
A dog suffering the A. phagocytophilum form of anaplasmosis may display a range of symptoms anytime from one to seven days after infection. Some dogs may only have minor symptoms, while others may also present with ones that are more serious. Symptoms could include:
- Lack of appetite
- Joint pain and lameness
- Labored breathing
- Ataxia (lack of muscle and movement control)
How is Anaplasmosis Diagnosed?
Doctors often have a hard time distinguishing between anaplasmosis and Lyme disease, which have some of the same symptoms, especially widespread joint inflammation. Sometimes a dog may have both diseases at once, because the same tick species transmit both illnesses.
If your veterinarian suspects your pet suffers from anaplasmosis, she’ll run blood tests to pinpoint the antibody culprit and determine if active infection is present. Some available tests include enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA), and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. In some cases, the bacterial organism can be seen under a microscope.
How is Anaplasmosis Treated?
Your veterinarian likely will prescribe a 30-day course of the antibiotic doxycycline, which is the same medicine that treats other tick-borne infections. Signs of improvement in a dog’s symptoms may be seen within 24 to 48 hours.
Even after your dog is back to his old self, he may still test positive for anaplasmosis. If the disease is not active, however, your vet will probably not prescribe more antibiotics.
Can You Get Anaplasmosis From Your Dog?
Technically, anaplasmosis is a “zoonotic pathogen,” which means it can spread from animal to animal and animal to human. It’s highly unlikely that you will contract anaplasmosis from your dog directly, but if you don’t control your dog’s tick exposure, he can bring anaplasmosis-bearing ticks into the house, where they can bite and infect you.
Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by a spirochete bacteria (Borrelia) carried by the Black-Legged Tick (more commonly known as the Deer Tick). The tick has to be attached to its host for about 36-48 hours for transmission of bacteria into the host, and signs of illness occur about 2-5 months after a tick bite.
It’s important to do a thorough check for ticks and remove them promptly after a walk in the woods or other grassy or shaded areas where ticks may reside. In urban areas, that may include your local dog park.
Signs of Lyme disease may include fever, lameness, limping, joint pain/swelling, enlargement of lymph nodes, and lethargy. Lyme disease can progress to kidney disease, which can become fatal. (Unlike Lyme in humans, dogs do NOT develop a “bull’s eye” rash).
Lyme disease is usually diagnosed via blood tests. The initial test detects exposure to the tick-agent and helps the veterinarian determine additional testing as needed.
The treatment of a dog that is positive on the initial test but is otherwise healthy remains controversial amongst some veterinarians. When the decision to treat a dog with Lyme is made, dogs are usually placed on antibiotics for 28-30 days.
There is a vaccination for Lyme disease. Though some question its duration and efficacy, the vaccine may reduce the rate and severity of the illness should it appear. Dog owners should speak to their veterinarian to determine if the vaccine is appropriate for their pet.
Anaplasma is a disease caused by a bacterium carried by the Black-Legged Tick (Ixodes). Though Anaplasma can be seen worldwide.The signs are similar to Lyme disease, though dogs with Anaplasma often have low blood platelets cause bleeding disorders.
Canine Ehrlichiosis is found worldwide. It is caused by several types of ticks: The Brown Dog Tick, Lone Star Tick, and American Dog Tick. Signs include fever, poor appetite, and low blood platelets (cells that help the clotting of blood), often noted by nose bleeding or other signs of bruising or anemia. Signs start about 1-3 weeks after the bite of an infected tick. Dogs diagnosed and treated promptly can have a good prognosis, but those who go on to the chronic phase have more difficulty recovering.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is one of the more commonly known tick-borne diseases to affect dogs and humans. It is carried by the American Dog Tick and the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick, as well as the Brown Deer Tick. This disease has been found in much of North, South, and Central America. Signs include fever, poor appetite, swollen lymph nodes, and joint pain. Low platelets, which help in blood clotting, are often found. On occasion, neurological signs such as wobbliness can also occur.
Babesiosis is another disease caused primarily by the bite of a tick, but can also transfer from dog bites, transplacental transmission and possible through contaminated IV blood. The main issue associated with Babesiosis is “hemolysis”, or the breaking down of red blood cells. Symptoms include lethargy, pale gums, dark-colored urine and jaundice (yellow/orange colored skin or sclera — the “whites” of the eyes).
Bartonella is an emerging infectious disease in dogs, as well as cats and humans. It has also been known as cat scratch disease (CSD). Most infections usually occur after scratches from domestic or feral cats who have been infected from fleas. CSD can occur wherever cats and fleas are found.
Hepatozoonosis is slightly different, in that the infection is acquired after a dog ingests an infected tick. This disease is not zoonotic; in other words, people cannot catch this from infected dogs. Signs of the disease are pain and reluctance to stand or move, fever, muscle wasting, and mild to moderate anemia. This disease is severely debilitating and often fatal.
How To Prevent Tick-Borne Disease
These diseases can present a serious risk to the health of dogs and to people. It’s important that dog owners talk with their veterinarian to determine the best approach to flea and tick control.
A map showing the prevalence of Lyme disease can be found at the travel-precautions-to-prevent-lyme-disease.
What are the Best Ways to Control Ticks?
The best way to prevent your dog from contracting anaplasmosis is to control the tick population in your yard and prevent the parasites from hopping on your pet.
Here are some preventative measures.
Keep ticks off your pet:
Your veterinarian can recommend which topical, oral, or wearable products will help repel ticks before they infect your dog. If you choose a tick collar, which keeps ticks off your dog’s head and neck, make sure it touches the skin but is still loose enough to accommodate two fingers under the collar.
Wash ticks away:
Medicated shampoos can kill ticks on contact. Make sure to bathe your pet in tick shampoo every two weeks because shampoos don’t last as long as spot-on or oral medications.
Dips, which you sponge onto dogs, are concentrated chemicals that kill ticks. These chemicals are strong and you shouldn’t use them on puppies or pregnant or nursing dogs.
Carefully inspect your dog when returning from outdoor play. Check for ticks between toes, inside ears, between legs, and deep inside coats. Remove ticks you find, carefully plucking off their entire body.
Treat your yard:
Trim bushes and trees, and keep lawns mowed to reduce places where ticks can live and breed. If ticks still abound, coat your yard with anti-tick sprays and granular treatments. Make sure you read labels and apply these chemicals carefully because they can be harmful to humans, animals, and fish.
Here's a short video from the New York State Department of Health on How to Remove a Tick: