That one word can make any pet owner itch with dread and dismay. These small but irrepressible arachnids are responsible for the spread of numerous infectious diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis, in southeast Texas.

The Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Jordan Ranch team understands that tick-centric blog posts aren’t the most appealing, but understanding common tick-disease transmission, prevention, and signs can lower your pet’s risk for these debilitating conditions.

Here are five things every pet owner needs to know about tick-borne diseases.

#1: Only one tick can infect your pet

Ticks are vector organisms (i.e., middle-men) for disease-causing bacteria, and although not all ticks carry diseases, only one bite from an infected tick can harm your pet. The Companion Animal Parasite Council’s (CAPC) 2023 Pet Parasite Forecast predicts that Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis will be more prevalent in the southern United States—including Texas. The country-wide rise is attributed to climate change, altered wildlife migration patterns, and large-scale pet relocation through rescue and adoption organizations. 

#2: At least six tick-borne diseases affect pets

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, an alarming 900 tick species are known worldwide to “transmit a greater variety of infectious microorganisms than any other group of arthropods … second only to mosquitoes in terms of their public health and veterinary importance.” 

Fortunately, for the time being, we need be concerned about only six tick-borne illnesses that can infect our pets:

  • Lyme disease
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever (i.e., spotted fever rickettsiosis)
  • Babesiosis
  • Hepatozoonosis

#3: Tick disease clinical signs can be subtle in pets

Most tick-borne diseases present with general or vague signs, such as lethargy, weight loss, weakness, or inappetence. If these signs appear in a senior pet, owners often attribute them to age-related changes, which can delay diagnosis and treatment. 

More appreciable signs depend on the infectious pathogen and its location in the pet’s body. For example, Lyme disease spirochetes migrate to the pet’s joints and cause swelling, stiffness, and unexplained lameness. Ehrlichiosis and babesiosis affect white and red blood cells, respectively, and cause unexplained bleeding and bruising or paleness and anemia, and pronounced weakness. Tick-borne diseases can also cause neurologic signs, such as neck pain and seizures.

If your pet has an unexplained illness or signs that come and go, contact Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Jordan Ranch to schedule a comprehensive examination and a tick-borne illness screening test. 

#4: Year-round tick preventives are essential for disease prevention

There’s no outrunning tick-borne illnesses, but veterinarian-prescribed parasite preventives can significantly reduce your pet’s disease risks. 

And, ticks don’t have an off-season, especially here in southeast Texas, so oral and topical tick preventives must be administered year-round to ensure comprehensive protection. Most preventives work by killing ticks after they bite, but before they have a chance to transmit disease, usually less than eight hours after attachment.

Additional preventive measures include Lyme disease vaccination for high-risk dogs (e.g., field dogs, dogs who frequent wooded areas), performing a tick check after visiting tick-prevalent areas, and environmental control, such as moving grass, removing leafy debris, and discouraging wildlife from areas your pet visits.

#5: Positive tick-borne test results indicate your dog’s exposure, not illness

Tick-borne disease screening tests are recommended annually for dogs. This simple blood test identifies circulating Lyme, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis antibodies (i.e., proteins created by the immune system) in your pet’s blood and indicates that your pet was exposed to the disease-causing pathogen. If your pet tests positive, but is otherwise healthy, your veterinarian may advise that you carefully monitor your pet for clinical signs.=

If your pet is clinically ill and tests positive for tick-borne antibodies, your veterinarian will initiate antibiotic treatment to eliminate circulating pathogens. This generally involves a 30-day course of doxycycline or minocycline and a second test to ensure the disease has cleared. Pets with secondary complications (e.g., kidney failure, neurologic dysfunction, bleeding problems) may require advanced treatment and hospitalization.

Ticks are a rising, often underestimated pet health threat, but you do not need to hide. With proper precautions and parasite preventives from Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Jordan Ranch, your pet can enjoy the great outdoors without great risk. For more information about tick preventives or testing, contact our team.