Tick Borne Disease In Dogs – What Are They & Treatments For Each

If your pup spends any time outdoors, they can fall victim to tick-borne disease.

Not only are ticks a nuisance that can cling to your pet’s skin, they can harbor dangerous pathogens that lead to serious illness.

Ticks are everywhere in the world around us, making them a common threat that all dog owners should be aware of.

In this article we will discuss the many tick-borne diseases our dog’s can experience, and help you understand how to best protect your pup going forward!

What Is A Tick-Borne Disease In Dogs?

Tick Diseases In Dogs

A Tick-borne disease refers to any infectious agent that is transmitted to the dog through a tick bite.

Ticks can harbor different infectious pathogens based on where they are located in the world, as well as which pathogens are most known to thrive in their current environment.

Not only can ticks pass on one infectious agent, but they can even be infected with multiple transmissible pathogens.

This is why tick disease can be so challenging, as the symptoms of these illnesses can begin to overlap.

Protozoa Vs. Rickettsia – What’s The Difference?

When discussing tick disease in dogs, you will often be dealing with two different types of pathogens; rickettsia agents or protozoan parasites.

Though these pathogens are often lumped together, they impact our dog’s and their bodies in different ways.

To help you better understand certain tick diseases in dogs, let’s briefly discuss each type of pathogen and how they invade their body systems.


The term rickettsia refers to bacterial organisms that are transmitted by ticks and other arthropod vectors.

Rickettsia bacteria will invade the cells in your dog’s bloodstream, multiplying rapidly within the cytoplasm.

Once the rickettsia invades the cells, this gives them an opportunity to travel to organs throughout the body.


Protozoans are intracellular parasites that live in a dog’s red blood cells.

Protozoans can be introduced to your dog in many different ways, with one significant vector being ticks and fleas.

Though these are the main agents responsible for tick-borne illness in dogs, it’s important to note that while Lyme disease is a result of a bacteria, it is actually caused by a bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi.

This is a blood bacteria, but it is not considered a rickettsia.

Types Of Tick Disease In Dogs

There is a list of tick-borne pathogens that can cause significant illness in our canine friends.

Though many symptoms seem to overlap when discussing different tick diseases in dogs, each pathogen has their own unique characteristics that should be noted.

To help you better understand the different agents that ticks can spread, let’s discuss each type of tick disease in detail below.


Ehrlichia is a rickettsia disease that is often transmitted by the brown dog tick.

Ehrlichia tends to invade the white blood cells when it is introduced to the body, leading to a slew of medical complications to follow.

Ehrlichia is often seen in three different stages based on their time of exposure, with these stages including acute ehrlichiosis, subclinical ehrlichiosis, and clinical ehrlichiosis.

Subclinical Ehrlichiosis

Subclinical Ehrlichiosis in dogs is often found during a routine 4DX snap test in an otherwise healthy dog.

These dogs do not show any obvious symptoms of the disease, but there may still be evidence of the disease when drawing blood.

These pups often bleed more than other dogs, requiring additional pressure after their vein is punctured.

The excessive bleeding is even more apparent if these dogs are undergoing any type of surgical procedure.

Acute Ehrlichiosis

Acute Ehrlichiosis in dogs often presents as a sudden fever, weight loss, bruising, swollen lymph nodes, respiratory changes, and even neurological symptoms.

This stage can last anywhere from 2-4 weeks, but can still be eliminated by a dog’s immune system.

If it is not eliminated by the immune system, it will progress to the clinical stage.

Clinical Ehrlichiosis

Clinical Ehrlichiosis in dogs refers to the stage in which the immune system is suffering with the presence of the pathogen.

These dogs will often experience the symptoms we listed above, as well as significant anemia in many cases.

Treatment Of Ehrlichia In Dogs

Treating Ehrlichia in dogs will involve 4-6 weeks of treatment with doxycycline, as well as a blood transfusion if their anemia is life threatening.

Some dogs will require hospitalization if they present in a critical stage, while others will do just fine with at home care.


Anaplasmosis is a rickettsia disease that is often transmitted by the deer tick.

Anaplasmosis will invade both the white blood cells and the bone marrow when it enters the canine body, leading to life threatening symptoms if left unaddressed.

While most will refer to anaplasmosis as one illness, there are two types of anaplasmosis noted in dogs.

These agents include A. phagocytophilum and A. platys.

A. phagocytophilum is typically less severe, often causing clinical signs for 1-2 weeks.

These dogs can experience symptoms such as anorexia, lethargy, lameness, joint pain, fever, and even vomiting.

Though not as common, some dogs may even experience seizures.

A. platys is much more severe in the sense that it can lead to a sudden drop in circulating platelets.

These dogs often present with strange bruising and petechiae, with severe cases having unending nosebleeds. 

Treating anaplasmosis in dogs will typically involve 3-4 weeks of doxycycline.

These dogs may need to stay in the hospital if their nose bleed will not resolve, or if they have become anemic due to their blood loss.

Once treatment begins, most dogs have significant improvement within 24 hours.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Rocky mountain spotted fever is a rickettsia pathogen that can be transmitted through the brown dog tick, wood tick, and the American dog tick.

This bacteria will attack the cells lining the blood vessels in dogs, leading it to cause complications in virtually every body system.

Rocky mountain spotted fever can be challenging to diagnose in dogs, as the clinical signs are often vague.

Dogs with this disease can experience anorexia, lethargy, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, and coughing.

Due to the impact on the lining of the vessels, these pups can experience more severe symptoms such as ataxia, edema of the limbs, hemorrhage in the eyes, and even collapse.

Treatment Of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

If tick exposure is a possibility for your pup, your vet can begin doxycycline to cover their bases.

Your dog may also require time in the hospital if their symptoms are severe, as some of these clinical signs can be life threatening.

Your vet will need to submit your dog’s blood to a lab to get an accurate diagnosis, but they can perform basic blood diagnostics in the clinic to assess their blood values and organ function.

Not only can your vet begin treatment for tick disease if they suspect it, but they will also need to address any metabolic abnormalities that are present through their diagnostics.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a tick-borne pathogen that develops as a result of the Borrelia burgdorferi spirochete bacteria.

Lyme disease is most commonly transmitted to dogs from the deer tick, and this condition is most prevalent in the Midwest.

Though many of the clinical signs of Lyme disease in dogs include the vague signs we have listed above, there is a common symptom that helps to point veterinarians in the right direction.

Dogs with lyme disease often experience severe limb pain and limping, occasionally switching between legs.

This limb pain occurs suddenly without a known injury, with many owners describing it as if they are trying to walk on eggshells.

Not only should Lyme disease be taken seriously due to the uncomfortable symptoms it causes, but it has the potential to be a widespread illness.

Some dogs can even develop kidney failure, which is often irreversible and fatal.

Treatment Of Lyme Disease

The treatment for Lyme disease in dogs often includes a 4 week treatment of doxycycline or amoxicillin.

Lyme disease infections can reoccur in some dogs, so you will need to maintain a close relationship with your veterinarian going forward.


Babesia is a protozoal parasite that virtually any type of tick can harbor.

Babesia invades the blood cells of the dog affected, leading to life threatening anemia if it is left untreated.

Though it can be seen in any breed of dog, it is most common in Greyhounds.

Once Babesia begins to invade the red blood cells, dogs will typically present with severe symptoms.

Babesia in dogs can cause weakness, fever, dark urine, pale gums, swollen lymph nodes, and even collapse.

Because Babesia destroys the red blood cells in circulation, you can expect to see standard symptoms of anemia in most cases.

Treatment Of Babesia

The most common treatment for Babesia in dogs is a course of clindamycin, or a combination of clindamycin and azithromycin.

These dogs may also require a blood transfusion if they are experiencing severe anemia, as well as other supportive care to pull them out of a critical state.

Diagnosing Tick Disease In Dogs

The process of diagnosing tick disease in dogs will vary based on the tick disease in question.

Some of the available tools for diagnosing these tick-borne pathogens include:

  • ELISA tests
  • Pathogen specific PCR
  • Direct blood smear
  • Outside lab testing

Your veterinarian will determine the best diagnostic route based on your dog’s symptoms and their current exposure risk.

Every region varies when discussing the prevalence of certain tick disease, so your vet will choose the best path for your pup.

Preventing Tick Disease In Dogs

Thankfully, many of the conditions discussed today can be prevented with the use of monthly flea and tick prevention.

Though tick prevention cannot guarantee full protection in a pup that spends a large amount of time outdoors, it can significantly decrease the risk of infected ticks making a host out of your pup.

Your vet will suggest the best prevention options based on your dog’s age, size, and exposure risk.

Just be sure to always have your vet approve any tick prevention of interest, as some products are not as effective as others.

Final Thoughts

Ticks can pose a serious threat to the beloved companions in our home.

Proper flea and tick prevention is essential for keeping your pup safe, especially if you live an active lifestyle with an outdoorsy canine friend.

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