5 Truly Tragic Ways Ticks Can Kill Your Dog

Check your pups daily.

Ticks can leave you with Lyme disease, Powassan virus, and a cruel and unfortunate burger allergy. But dog lovers know that there’s something worse than tweezing a tick out of your scalp—watching the bugs go after your pup.

Tick-borne illness can be deadly for dogs, even when you take proper precautions. Which is why checking your dog for ticks and consulting with a veterinarian immediately if he or she shows symptoms is key. Knowing how to identify the early signs of these five diseases could be the difference between your best friend rolling in the grass—or under it.


man checking dog for ticks

Canine Anaplasmosis

Typically transmitted by Deer and Brown Dog Ticks, Canine Anaplasmosis is a bacteria infection that causes joint pain, fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite about one week after Fido is bitten. Veterinarians can identify it with a battery of tests, and the prognosis is pretty good if you catch the disease early and begin treating your dog with the antibiotic doxycycline. In rare instances it can cause seizures and kidney disease, both of which can be fatal.

Canine Ehrlichiosis

Canine Ehrlichiosis, otherwise known as “canine hemorrhagic fever” and “canine typhus” affected many military dogs in the Vietnam War. Transmitted by the Lone Star Tick, it comes on in three separate waves. During the acute phase (one to three weeks after a bite) Ehrlichia bacteria infect the dog’s white blood cells and reproduce inside of them. This causes fever, depression, lethargy, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, joint pain and stiffness, and bruises.

Most dogs recover from the acute phase but, if they don’t, they enter the subclinical phase which can last for months or years as the bacteria remain latent. Until the chronic phase, which can result in weight loss, anemia, behavioral problems, bleeding, eye inflammation, fluid accumulation in the hind legs. A dog’s long-term health depends on detecting the Ehrlichia bacteria in the acute phase, when it is still treatable with antibiotics.

Otherwise, dogs may need intravenous fluids or blood transfusions to survive.

tick in dog hair

Canine Babesiosis

Sadly, this does not mean your dog is such a babe that it’s diagnosable. Unlike other tick-borne diseases, Canine Babesiosis is caused by not a bacteria but a malaria-like parasite transferred by Deer Ticks that destroys red blood cells. Symptoms, which include fever, lack and energy and appetite, pale gums, dark urine, discolored stools, weight loss, and an enlarged abdomen occur within two weeks of a bite. Babesiosis is difficult to diagnose and challenging to treat, because even though drug therapy and blood transfusions can help, dogs can die from low blood pressure and shock.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Transmitted by American Dog, Lone Star, and Wood Ticks, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is something of a triple threat for pups (and humans!). Rickettsia rickettsii, the bacterium behind the disease, acts very similarly to Ehrlichia, and infects dogs in acute and subclinical phases. But with RMSF, the acute stage is the most serious. Within two weeks of a bite, dogs may experience loss of appetite, cough, pinkeye, swelling of the legs and joints, seizures, skin lesions, and renal failure. The good news is that it can be treated with antibiotics. The bad news is that, untreated, it can be fatal. 

Lyme Disease

Although it’s the most well-known tick disease in humans, Lyme Disease is less of a concern for dogs. Deer Ticks have to attach to a dog for 48 hours in order to pass on the Borrelia bacteria that cause the disease, and only about 10 percent of dogs exposed will actually contract Lyme. Early antibiotic treatment mean it’s seldom fatal.

Hopefully, this information will ensure that fewer “good boys” and “good girls” become statistics.

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