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Tick Fever in Dogs - Symptoms & Treatment

Tick Fever in Dogs - Symptoms & Treatment

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 Charlotte vets explain some of the symptoms of tick fever in dogs, and how this condition can be treated.

Tick Fever (Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever)

Rickettsia rickettsii is an intracellular parasite which can be spread through the bite of an infected American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, or brown dog tick. If your pup is bitten by an infected tick transmission of the bacterial will take about 10 minutes if the tick has recently fed, however, if the tick has not recently fed it can take up to 10 hours for the bacterial to be transmitted to your pup.

People are also susceptible to tick fever. While there are no reported cases of direct dog to human transmissions, pet parents need to be especially careful when removing ticks from their pet, since people can become infected following contact with tick blood, lymph fluids or excretions during the removal of engorged ticks from their pets.

Tick fever is not contagious between dogs however an infected tick may move from one pet to another spreading the disease between pets.

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!

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 test results have come back. This is because 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. In these cases, the prognosis is guarded since complications can be severe.

How to Protect Your Dog Against Tick Fever

Preventing tick fever primarily comes down to controlling ticks, and your dog's contact with ticks. Year-round preventive medications from your vet can help to kill ticks that begin feeding on your pooch, and taking the time to examine your dog for ticks each time you return home from a walk can help to prevent the transmission of the bacteria to your pet.

Any ticks found on your pet should be swiftly and properly removed using tweezers to grasp the tick gently right where it enters your dog's skin, then pulling the tick straight off. Do not tightly grasp, or squeeze the tick. Handy tick removal devices are available from most vets and pet stores. These little tools can make tick removal fast and simple. Do not touch the tick as fluids and excretions from an infected tick can spread the disease to humans. 

If you are unsure about how to remove ticks, visit your vet where they will be happy to show you how, or remove the tick for you.

If your pup is showing severe signs of tick fever visit the emergency animal hospital at Carolina Veterinary Specialists, our emergency veterinary team offers compassionate critical care for pets in Charlotte and surrounding area. Contact us for more information.

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Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Charlotte accepts all clients for our 24/7 emergency service. Our specialty services accepts new clients by referral only.

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