Does your dog or cat enjoy exploring the fields and forests near your home? These areas are prime habitats for ticks, small parasites that survive by drinking a host’s blood. Ticks spread a variety of diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. During the fall, ticks become more active, which increases your pet’s risk of illness.
How Ticks Make Pets Sick
Ticks may look like bugs, but they’re actually arachnids, an animal class that includes spiders, daddy longlegs, and mites. You’ll find ticks in shady, moist places, like tall grass, brush, shrubs, logs, wood piles, and stone fences. Your pet could pick up a tick simply by walking through a pile of wet leaves or taking an autumn walk with you through the woods.
Ticks attach themselves to a host’s body with their mouths and begin to feed on that animal’s blood. As the tick feeds, it may inject a virus, bacteria, or protozoa into its host’s blood. A series of small hook-like structures in the tick’s mouth can dig into your dog or cat’s skin, making it possible for the tick to remain attached to your furry friend for hours.
Your pet doesn’t automatically become sick the instant that a tick begins to feed. Disease transmission can take two to 90 hours, depending on the type of tick. Ticks aren’t easy to see when they’re not full of blood. In fact, they’re no bigger than the head of a nail, according to the ASPCA. Once they’re engorged with blood, they can grow to 1/4″ or more in diameter.
Diseases Caused by Ticks in the U.S.
Your pet could develop one of these diseases if bitten by a tick:
- Lyme Disease. Black-legged (deer) ticks transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Symptoms of Lyme disease include joint pain, swollen joints, fever, limping, lameness, enlarged lymph nodes, and loss of appetite. Pets that have Lyme disease may get tired easily or have less stamina than usual. If the disease isn’t treated promptly, kidney failure, heart problems, or joint damage can occur.
- Anaplasmosis. Black-legged and brown dog ticks can also spread anaplasmosis, a disease that has many of the same symptoms as Lyme disease. According to the American Kennel Club, some unlucky pets can have both anaplasmosis and Lyme disease at the same time.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Rocky Mountain spotted fever has been reported in nearly every state, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that the disease is most often found in Central, Eastern and Western states. If your pet has Rocky Mountain spotted fever, it may experience joint pain, fever, swollen lymph nodes, poor appetite, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, balance problems, and purple spots on the mouth or eyelids due to damaged blood vessels. In severe cases, organ failure can occur due to blood clots. The American Dog Tick, Brown Deer Tick and Rocky Mountain Wood Tick can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
- Cytauxzoonosis. This tick-borne disease spread by the American dog tick and lone star tick affects cats, many of whom die from the illness. Symptoms include high fever, weakness, fatigue, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, enlarged lymph nodes, abdominal pain, seizures, and coma.
- Ehrlichiosis. Spread by the lone star, American dog, and brown dog ticks, ehrlichiosis can cause fever, trouble breathing, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, swollen limbs, and bleeding disorders.
- Babesiosis. Babesiosis attacks your pet’s red blood cells, causing fever, anemia, swollen lymph nodes, weakness, jaundice, pale gums, fatigue, and dark brown, orange, or red urine. Your pet can develop babesiosis after being bitten by a black-legged tick.
- Hepatozoonosis. A bite from either the lone star or gulf coast tick could cause hepatazoonosis. Loss of appetite, weight loss, fever, eye and nose discharge, muscle pain and weakness, and difficulty moving are common symptoms. Like other tick-borne illnesses, pets can die from hepatozoonosis without quick treatment.
How to Protect Your Pet from Ticks
Reduce your pet’s risk of tick-borne diseases by:
- Performing Tick Checks After a Trip Outdoors. If you find a tick, remove it by grasping the head and slowly pulling it out of your pet’s skin with tweezers. Kill the tick by putting it in a container filled with rubbing alcohol. If you can’t remove the tick or only removed part of it, call your veterinarian.
- Watching Your Pet. Look for symptoms of tick-borne illness, which include redness around the tick bite, fever, and painful joints, for several weeks after the bite. (In some cases, symptoms may not appear for several months).
- Calling Your Veterinarian. Your veterinarian can provide products that kill ticks before they can harm your pet.
WebMD: FAQ: Tick-Borne Diseases, 6/13/2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
American Kennel Club: Anaplasmosis: Another Tick-Borne Disease