“I have a large garden and my dog never goes into the veld.”

“We stick to the coastal paths for our walks.”

“I check my dogs for ticks every day and pull them off when I see them.”

These are just some of the justifications pet owners use for not applying parasite control to their pets, yet every one of these actions is dangerously misguided and puts their pets at risk of a fatal disease.

Close-up of blood sucking flea tick found on pet dog body after shower

For their size, ticks carry a deadly punch. A single bite from the smallest tick can kill your dog. 

The diseases ticks carry

By far the most infectious in South Africa is biliary. Also known as tick bite fever or ‘bosluiskoors’, it is caused by a tiny parasite (Babesia canis) which is introduced into the body by a tick bite. This parasite then enters and destroys red blood cells. Biliary in dogs has a lot in common with malaria in humans.

Symptoms including listlessness and lethargy, a loss of appetite and a high temperature. Yellow faeces, brown or bloody urine and pale gums (white or yellow) are usually signs of advanced disease. The very sudden and severe form of biliary causes death within a few hours.

Ehrlichiosis is carried by the brown dog tick. Signs of ehrlichiosis can be divided into three stages: acute (early disease), sub-clinical (no outward signs of disease), and clinical or chronic (long-standing infection).

In the acute phase, infected dogs may have fever, swollen lymph nodes, respiratory distress, weight loss, bleeding disorders (spontaneous haemorrhage or bleeding), and occasionally, neurological disturbances (they may seem unsteady or develop meningitis). This stage may last two to four weeks and some dogs may eliminate the infection or head in to the sub-clinical phase.

In the sub-clinical phase there are no outward signs of disease and owners are unaware of the infection. Dogs that are infected sub-clinically may eliminate the organisms or may progress to the next stage, clinical ehrlichiosis when anaemia, bleeding episodes, lameness, eye problems (including haemorrhage into the eyes or blindness), neurological problems, and swollen limbs can occur. Dogs experiencing severe anaemia or bleeding may require a blood transfusion. However, this does nothing to treat the underlying disease. The prognosis for recovery at this stage is slight.

Babesiosis is carried by multiple tick species and there is evidence of direct animal-to-animal transmission. Babesia may also be transmitted to unborn puppies in the uterus of their mothers. 

Dogs infected with babesiosis may present with a wide variety of clinical signs ranging in severity from a sudden collapse with systemic shock, to a subtle and slowly progressing infection with no apparent clinical signs.

Dogs typically present with the acute, severe form of babesiosis. Symptoms include abnormally dark urine, fever, weakness, pale mucous membranes, depression, swollen lymph nodes, and an enlarged spleen. 

The prognosis for a dog diagnosed with babesiosis is guarded, depending on what body systems are affected at the time of diagnosis. However, dogs that survive often remain sub-clinically infected, meaning that the disease can reoccur at any time. 

Humans can contract ehrlichiosis and babesiosis from a tick but not from a dog.

Treatment and prevention

Veterinary treatment for these diseases is expensive and the prognosis for recovery is not always good. Dogs that contract these diseases suffer a great deal. However, prevention is possible and the ONLY way to properly protect your dog is by applying parasite control – regularly and all year round.

Many pet owners make the mistake of believing that ticks are a summer pest only; this is not true. It is also not enough to pull the ticks off when you see them; all it takes is a single bite for the parasite to be transmitted into your dog’s blood stream.

Parasite preventives come in a wide range of applications and strengths – from spot-ons to chews and collars that last anything from one month to eight months. However, it is important to choose the right preventive for your pet as some are toxic to cats, lactating bitches and puppies and kittens. Ask your EberVet Vetshop team to help you choose the right one and keep your dog (and cat) safe from these deadly (costly) diseases.

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