Oz: Tick-borne diseases more prevalent in spring

Ticks are one of the infectious agents that are more active in warm weather and put our pets in risk of contracting different diseases.

Spring has sprung, it seems like the world around us is waking up.

The sun is shining, flowers are starting to bloom, the trees will soon get covered with leaves again, everything is thriving.

Unfortunately, along with all the pleasures that come hand in hand with the warm weather, the nasty creatures out there also favour the warm temperature.

Ticks are one of the infectious agents that are more active in warm weather and put our pets in risk of contracting different diseases.

Ticks attach to warm blooded beings, including humans, and suck their blood for their survival.

In the action of penetrating to the blood circulation, ticks may transmit few diseases to the host.

There are a few different tick-borne diseases, this column will focus on the two most common phenomenons attributed to ticks in our area—Lyme disease and tick paralysis.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by a bacteria called borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted by the common deer tick.

Cats can get infected but are much less susceptible to the disease than dogs.

Not all the dogs that are exposed to the bacteria will actually get sick.

If the body and the dog’s immune system is strong, the dog might fight the bacteria without developing the disease symptoms.

Clinical illness in dogs usually occurs two to five months after a bite from an infected tick.

Dogs may show several different forms of the disease, the most common symptoms are fever, swelling in the joints, lameness, enlarged lymph nodes, lethargy and loss of appetite.

Less commonly Lyme disease can lead to kidney failure.

Some dogs may also develop heart problems or nervous system disease after being infected with B. burgdorferi.


Dogs do not develop the typical skin rash redness and rashes around the bite which is a common symptom in people.


The diagnosis of Lyme disease is based on the clinical symptoms, a positive blood test, and good response to treatment.

Dogs that got vaccinated or were exposed to the bacteria, but did not develop the disease may show a positive result on the blood test.


Lyme disease is treated by a long course of antibiotics (usually between 14 to 30 days). Pain control medications are often required when the joints are affected by the disease.


The response to treatment should be fairly rapid. If an animal that is suspected of having Lyme disease does not clinically improve within 48 hours of starting antibiotic therapy, it is best to assume that the problem is not Lyme disease and other diagnostic tests would need to be done to find the source of the problem.

Tick paralysis is the only tick-borne disease that is not caused by an infectious organism.

The illness is caused by a toxin produced in the tick and transmitted to the animal through the tick’s saliva. This toxin affects the animal’s nervous system.

Early signs may include change or loss of voice, vomiting, dilatation of the eye’s pupils.

The paralysis starts gradually by first back leg weakness and loss of coordination, which turns into complete paralysis.

Eventually, the animal becomes unable to move its back legs and front legs, stand, sit, or lift it’s head.

The paralysis affects also the respiratory system, which leads to laboured breathing and eventually respiratory failure.

The diagnosis of the condition may be difficult.

Specific laboratory diagnostic techniques are not available for the confirmation of tick paralysis.

The diagnosis is based on finding a tick on the pet along with the characteristic clinical signs.

Many times the tick is not present any more on the animal at the time of diagnosis.

Removal of all ticks usually results in obvious improvement within 24 hours.


Failure to recover indicates that at least one tick may still be attached, or that the diagnosis should be reviewed.


With both Lyme disease and tick paralysis prevention is the key.

Tick control is probably the most important thing an owner can do to prevent tick-borne diseases.

There are few recommended topical products available for tick control.

Those products are very easy to apply. There is also a vaccine available against Lyme disease.

Avoiding contracting the disease is so much easier than treating and recovering from the diseases.

Please consult your veterinarian about more information on tick-borne diseases and tick control protocols.

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