Interview with Jordan Dann, D.V.M.
What do you think is most important for pet owners to know about tick-borne diseases?
There are a lot more out there than people realize. Ticks carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and ehrlichiosis, along with Lyme. It’s important to understand how prevalent the diseases are because of the ticks.
What changes have you seen changes over time?
We use one blood sample to test our dogs for four things: exposure to heartworms (which is not tick-borne; it’s mosquito borne), exposure to Lyme disease, and exposure to two forms of ehrlichiosis. For every exposure to Lyme disease, we probably see five or six exposures to ehrlichiosis. Dogs primarily are exposed to a strain of ehrlichiosis called anaplasma. In the past six months we’ve seen two cases of another strain called Ehrlichia canis, so that may be moving into the area. Our concern is that people understand the prevalence of this type of disease. We see a greater number of positive tests for ehrlichiosis than Lyme. The tests tell us the body is producing antibodies; the only way the body produces antibodies is if the bug is there. If the dog is positive for ehrlichiosis, we encourage people to treat with doxycycline for 30-days. There is a lot of controversy about whether asymptomatic animals should be treated at all, so the doctor has to make a decision. Do we say okay, we’ll sit tight and if your dog gets sick with this we’ll treat him? Or treat the dog prophylactically to prevent it from getting sick. We think dogs ought to be treated. Lyme disease can lead to a problem with kidneys and Lyme-induced nephritis is fatal. If a dog is being treated for Lyme disease, we encourage people to bring in a urine sample after a couple of weeks of treatment, so we can make sure that nothing bad is happening.
What symptoms should a dog owner look for?
With Lyme disease the common complaint is the dog is lame. Usually there are one or more joints that are swollen. These dogs are usually running fevers, they’re depressed, and not eating well. If they test positive or we know they have been positive recently but haven’t been treated prophylactically, we immediately start treatment. These animals respond very quickly and are usually better in 24 to 48 hours.
When someone finds a tick that’s attached, what should you do?
Try to get the tick off but don’t use bare hands to do that. Everybody has little scratches on the fingers. If you try to take the tick off and inadvertently put too much pressure on it and squeeze it, some body juices come out, and theoretically you can transmit the disease to yourself directly from the tick in that manner. We encourage people to use tweezers to pull it off. Pull it out straight if you can. If you pull a tick off but some of the body is left, bring the dog in and we’ll get the parts out if we can. If we don’t get it all, the dog’s body will eventually destroy it. Of all the dogs that we’ve seen with tick bites, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a topical infection at the site of the bite.
Do you think most pet owners are aware of preventive measures?
The thing that most people really don’t understand is that if they’re using something like Frontline they should use it year round. Even in the winter when theoretically ticks submerge and are not active, all it takes is one or two days of 50-degree temperature and all of a sudden dogs come in with ticks on them. That’s something we didn’t realize until we started seeing ticks in the winter. It doesn’t take much to get the ticks scurrying about and causing problems.
Canine Monocytic Ehrliciosis (The following information is from an education handout from IDEXX Laboratories)
Sometimes referred to as tick fever, canine monocytic ehrlichiosis is caused by an infection with Ehrlichia canis bacteria transmitted by the brown dog tick. Ehrlichia are gram-negative bacteria that infect and multiply in the white blood cells. E. canis infection alters the dog’s blood clotting ability and puts a strain on the bone marrow where blood cells are produced. It can be fatal in both acute and chronic forms. Canine monocytic ehrlichiosis can be mild or severe, acute or chronic, with varying clinical signs that include:
Discharge from eyes and nose
Depression and loss of appetite
Enlarged lymph nodes, spleen and liver,
Muscle and joint pain, lameness,
Bruising, nose bleeds or severe blood loss
*Clinical signs can be limited to changes in blood only, so it is important to note that apparently healthy dogs with no outward signs could be infected with Ehrlichia canis.
Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Dogs from The Ridgefield Veterinary Hospital
The characteristic rash at the site of the tick bite does not develop in dogs or cats. Other symptoms of the disease may be delayed or not recognized, and because the symptoms are similar to those of many other diseases, Lyme disease in animals is often not considered until other diseases have been eliminated. Most dogs affected with Lyme disease are taken to a veterinarian because they seem to be experiencing generalized pain and have stopped eating. Affected dogs have been described as if they were “walking on eggshells”. Often these animals have high fevers. Dogs may also become lame. This painful symptom often appears suddenly and may shift from one leg to another. If untreated, it may eventually disappear, only to recur weeks or months later. Some pets are infected with the Lyme disease organism for over a year before they finally show symptoms. By this time, the disease may be quite widespread in the body.
Removing an Attached Tick
Check your pet for ticks on a daily basis and also when they come in from being outdoors. The Humane Society of the United States advises checking your pet’s entire body, torso, in between toes, armpits, inside ears, face, and chin. Feel for bumps or swollen areas and look to see if a tick has attached. After feeling for bumps on your pet, check your own hands for ticks because ticks can crawl on to you from your pet. When your dog comes in from being outdoors, look for surface ticks crawling on your pet. Look especially at your pet’s face, around its eyes, chin, ears, and legs. Ticks can come into your house on your pet and drop off your pet on to your floor, or drop off collars and leashes on to a counter top.
Learn 7 How-to Steps from the A.S.P.C.A.
Be prepared in advance and have gloves, tweezers, tape and a sealable container placed in an easy-to-find location, such as next to the leashes.
Visit their website for more information. When you find a tick on your pet stay calm and your pet is more likely to stay calm. The CDC recommends avoiding folklore remedies, such as using petroleum jelly or heat to encourage the ticks to detach.
The first step is to speak with your veterinarian about the Lyme disease vaccine. According to the CDC, a vaccine is not available that can protect your pet from all tick-borne diseases. Therefore it is important to use other prevention methods, regularly check your pet for ticks, and watch your pet for signs and symptoms of illness. There are different products available to help reduce ticks bites on your dog. Ask your veterinarian about recommended products. The University of Rhode Island’s Tick Encounter website provides good information on different products including topical applications and collars.
According to the Connecticut Agricultural Experimentation Station (CAES), ticks thrive in ground cover and leaves in shady wooded areas. The CAES provides information on how you can create a safe zone at your house. While the number of ticks varies from home to home, most of the ticks are located within 3 yards of the lawn perimeter (82%). Ticks have difficulty surviving in the middle of your yard (2%). Create a safe zone with techniques suggested by the CAES. A few examples include: Remove leaf litter, brush, and weeds at the edge of the lawn; restrict groundcover in areas frequently used by family and pets; discourage rodent activity be sealing stonewalls; and trim tree branches to let more sunlight in. Reducing tick habitats from your yard can help reduce the risk of exposure to your entire family, including of course, your dog.