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Tick-borne Diseases: What You Should Know to Protect Your Pet

By March 13, 2020 Uncategorized

Ticks pose a risk to pets and people in Fredericksburg and throughout Virginia. The mild winter we’ve had means the 2020 tick season in our area will likely be just as bad as last year’s.


Besides feeding on blood, ticks can transmit diseases (like Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis) to pets and can cause serious illnesses and conditions, such as:

  • Anemia (decreased number of red blood cells or hemoglobin, which in serious cases can require a blood transfusion)
  • Cardiac complications
  • Low platelets (blood cells that help blood clotting), which can lead to bleeding disorders
  • Joint damage
  • Kidney disease/failure
  • Neurological disorders


This is why we want to make sure our clients are aware of the big problems these small parasites can cause—and how to help keep your pets protected.


Ticks in Virginia

There are around 900 tick species in the world, with 17 in Virginia and just a handful that pose a danger to pets and people in our area. The main ticks we have in Virginia are blacklegged (deer) ticks, American dog ticks, and lone star ticks. We also have brown dog ticks as well as a new tick species that has recently arrived in the United States, the Asian longhorned tick.


If you find a tick on your pet, you can submit a photo and information about the tick to TickSpotters, a crowdsourced survey tool that tracks ticks across the country.


Tick Diseases in Dogs

The ticks we have in our area can transmit several diseases to dogs, including:

  • Lyme disease—Last year, more than 800 dogs tested positive for Lyme disease in Spotsylvania and Stafford counties, with more than 27,000 infected across Virginia. This year, we’ve already had more than 4,500 dogs test positive for the disease in our state.
  • Ehrlichiosis—The risk for this disease in Virginia may be even higher than it is for Lyme disease, with more than 34,500 dogs testing positive in 2019.


The number of Lyme disease cases across the US has been steadily increasing in both pets and people for the past decade.


Ticks can also transmit other diseases to dogs, including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, as well as tick paralysis, a serious, potentially deadly condition in which the nervous system is attacked by a toxin in the tick’s saliva.


Tick Diseases in Cats

Cats aren’t immune from ticks either. The parasites can cause tick paralysis and several diseases in cats, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis. Other tick-borne diseases, such as cytauxzoonosis and tularemia, although rare, can be deadly in cats.


Even indoor-only cats can get ticks if the parasites hitch a ride inside on you or another pet.


Symptoms of Tick-borne Diseases in Pets

If you find a tick attached to your pet (or even if you don’t), let us know right away if you notice any of these signs of tick-transmitted diseases in your pet:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Fever
  • Lameness (which may shift from one leg to another)
  • Pale gums
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Stiff, swollen, or painful joints
  • Tiring easily
  • Weight or appetite loss
  • Vomiting or diarrhea


Lyme disease can also cause pets to walk stiffly with an arched back, but pets rarely get the characteristic bullseye rash seen in some people with Lyme disease.


Ticks can be tricky to spot, especially in your pet’s fur. Adult deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed, and nymphs (immature ticks) are only about the size of a poppy seed or pinhead!


Prevention of Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases

You can take several important steps to help protect your pet and yourself from ticks and the diseases they can spread, starting with keeping your pet on tick preventive. Ticks remain active year-round in Fredericksburg. In fact, adult blacklegged ticks are typically active in the fall, winter, and spring as long as the temperature remains above freezing.


Learn more about how to prevent tick bites and create a tick-safe yard at these helpful sites:


The best way to prevent ticks on your pet is to keep your pet on a tick control medication.


The Bottom Line

Ticks are a risk in our area. At St. Francis, we want to help keep our patients safe from these parasites. Call us today to make sure your pet is protected!


Author mdavison

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