Vet Blog

Tick-Borne Illnesses

March 19, 2019

When you choose to bring a furry friend into your family, one of your immediate priorities should be arranging to get your pet protected from the many contagious diseases and parasitic infections that she is vulnerable to.

Ticks are one of the most common parasites that can affect domestic mammals in the United States, although there are many different types living across the country.

Ticks are external parasites, which means that they live on the outside of your pet's body, clinging on with their mouth-parts and consuming her blood to get the nutrients they need to live. Different types of ticks can be more prevalent in certain areas, but most prefer long grasses, trees, and bushes in which they can easily hide and then attach to your pet as she brushes by.

One of the most important reasons to protect your pet from ticks, aside from the fact that they are highly unpleasant, and their bite can induce an intensely itchy rash, is that they can carry diseases from animal to animal in their blood. Some of these illnesses can make your pet very unwell, and in some cases may even prove fatal. A few are also zoonotic, which means that they could be passed to the humans in your home.

Here are some of the most common tick-borne illnesses that could affect your precious furbaby, and potentially your human family too.

Lyme Disease

Probably the most commonly known tick-borne disease, Lyme Disease is carried and spread by hard-shelled deer ticks. Although seen across the U.S. these ticks are more often seen in Midwestern States, Pacific Coastal States, and along the Atlantic Seaboard. Hard-shelled deer ticks, fortunately, feed very slowly, so if you remove it from your pet's body promptly, you may be able to prevent her from being infected.

Lyme disease causes symptoms in pets that include:

  • Stiffness when walking
  • Breathing problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Sensitivity to touch

If the humans in your home become infected they may show symptoms that include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Stiffness in the neck and shoulders
  • Joint pain
  • Swelling of the joints
  • Facial palsy
  • Skin rashes

However, it is important to be aware that it can take weeks or even up to three months for symptoms to present themselves.

Treatment for Lyme Disease involves a course of antibiotics and these should be prescribed as early as possible into the infection for the suffering pet or human to make the best possible recovery.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Also known as RMSF, this tick-borne illness is carried by a number of different ticks including the Wood Tick, Brown Tick, and American Dog Tick. The ticks carrying RMSF might also bite humans in your home, transferring the disease to them too.

If your pet contracts RMSF it may not be obvious right away as the symptoms are very vague and can refer to many illnesses. However, indicators you should look out for include:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Swelling of the face and/or legs
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Fever

People with RMSF infections may experience:

  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • High fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Neurological changes including confusion, memory problems, and brain 'fog'
  • A red, itchy rash may also develop

Again, the treatment for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever involves a course of antibiotic medications prescribed by our veterinarian.


Transmitted by the Brown Dog Tick, Western Black-legged Tick, and Deer Tick, there are two forms of anaplasmosis, both of which attack either the white blood cells or platelets of your pet's blood. The platelet-attacking form of the illness can also affect humans.

Symptoms of anaplasmosis usually don't appear until several weeks after your furbaby has been bitten and include:

  • Coughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lameness and joint pain
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Bruising/red splotches on her body

The majority of pets affected by anaplasmosis make a total recovery after completing at least one 30-day course of antibiotic medications.

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