Tick-borne diseases crippling dogs

The tick season has arrived in the northland with warm weather, but tick-borne diseases may actually be remnants of 2009, especially in dogs. In the past week, Dr. Mia Long, owner of Ark Animal Hospital outside of Park Rapids, has seen two patien...

Team effort
It took two veterinary assistants and Trooper John's owner to hold the animal down for his antibiotic shot. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The tick season has arrived in the northland with warm weather, but tick-borne diseases may actually be remnants of 2009, especially in dogs.

In the past week, Dr. Mia Long, owner of Ark Animal Hospital outside of Park Rapids, has seen two patients on an emergency basis with tick borne diseases (TBD) caused by bites that likely occurred last fall.

Trooper John, an 8½-year old English Springer spaniel, started limping on his hind leg March 22, said owner David Allman of Menahga. By the next night he was critically ill.

"He couldn't even get up," Allman recalled. Trooper was brought to Long, who confirmed dual tick borne diseases of Lyme and Anaplasmosis, what she calls a "co-infection."

Such co-infections "make the clinical signs more severe," Long said. "This co-infection with Lyme and Anaplasmosis is very common in dogs in our area because they are both transmitted by the very small deer tick. The adult deer tick is the size of a sesame seed and the nymph is the size of a pinhead and both can transmit disease."


Allman said he plucked dozens of ticks off Trooper John last season. "He wore a tick collar all last fall," Allman said.

But Long said she is seeing long incubation periods with TBD and a two-pronged approach to prevention may be necessary.

"We see quite a few clinical cases of Lyme disease in the dead of winter," she said.

"He had probably been infected with Lyme disease last fall and the bacteria was incubating in his system for about five months," she said of Trooper John's case. "The incubation period for Lyme disease is typically two to eight months before clinical signs appear."

Trooper John got two shots that night and more medicine to take at home. He's on an antibiotic called Doxycycline.

By his Friday checkup, Trooper noisily announced his presence at the clinic, barking and pulling at his leash.

He wasn't too keen on the follow-up shot and it took two assistants and Allman to hold him down so it could be administered. But that was a good sign. It showed his strength was returning.

"He could only take tiny baby steps when he first came in," Long said of that emergency visit. Allman said his dog was asymptomatic before last Monday, and then declined rapidly. He noticed Trooper's joints had swollen markedly in 24 hours.


Long said it typically takes 48 to 72 hours before a dog shows a response to the medicine.

She said Anaplasmosis is a relatively new ailment veterinarians are seeing in dogs. And she is seeing dogs with TBD when owners swear up and down they've never pulled a tick off the animal.

"The deer ticks, especially the nymphs, are so small that they may never be noticed by the owner," Long said.

Anaplasmosis causes the same symptoms seen in Lyme disease: listlessness, muscle and joint swelling and pain walking.

"It also attacks the white blood cells and platelets which are important in blood clotting," Long said. "The deer tick only has to be attached for six hours in order to transmit the disease and there is currently no vaccine to prevent it. For Lyme disease there is a vaccine for dogs to try to prevent infection and the ticks must be attached for 48 hours before it can transmit the Lyme bacteria."

Lyme, for dogs, can be a chronic relapsing disease. It's unknown if Anaplasmosis is similarly reoccurring.

These recurrences of Lyme can be fatal in about 25 percent of the canine population, Long said, especially in golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers.

At that point it has become an immune system failure that can cause kidney failure as well, she said.


"In general tick borne disease should be taken seriously because they can be difficult to cure and even fatal," she said.

It will be six months before Trooper John's long-term prognosis is clear.

Long advises dog owners to start tick-prevention controls in early March to give the products a chance to build up in the dog's oil glands and coat. Several products are on the market and available through veterinarians.

Because Hubbard County, with its high population of deer, has higher percentages of ticks carrying TBD than other regions, a tick collar may not be sufficient to guard against a tiny but deadly insect.

You can't get infected directly from your dog, Long said, but because dogs and their owners share the same environment, a tick can hop from host to host, spreading disease to humans. Other TBDs, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Ehrlichiosis, have similar neurological symptoms, but Ehrlichiosis can cause nosebleeds in dogs.

For dogs like Trooper John, who love to flush birds out of the woods, a spot-on product, spray and collar may be needed.

"We'll do anything she suggests," a relieved Allman said.

But he admitted he's baffled at why Trooper John got infected, and his black Lab-cross buddy, Tank, didn't.


"We pull ticks off Trooper all the time," he said. "I don't think we even pulled a tick off Tank last year."

And that's a mystery Long isn't able to answer.

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