When people think of diseases that ticks commonly transmit, Lyme disease most often springs to mind. Here in Louisiana, we don’t see much Lyme disease—it’s more common in the northeast and midwest portions of the country—but at University Veterinary Hospital, we diagnose several other tick-borne illnesses in pets that cause as much trouble. To keep your furry pal safe outdoors, keep an eye out for the ticks known to transmit these serious illnesses. For tips on protecting your pet from ticks, check out our previous blog post.

If a tick does manage to sneak past your defenses, and latch onto your four-legged friend, watch for signs of the following most common tick-borne diseases in our area.

#1: Ehrlichiosis

More common in dogs than in cats, ehrlichiosis can be caused by several tick-borne pathogens, leading to different clinical diseases. The brown dog tick and lone star tick are the two species responsible for this expanding illness. Infection transmission requires tick attachment for several hours, but the signs do not appear for at least one to three weeks. Once signs appear, your pet is likely in the acute stage, when you may notice the following signs:

  • Fever
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Bleeding and clotting issues
  • Chronic eye inflammation
  • Neurologic abnormalities
  • Lameness

Most dogs who are treated during the acute phase recover well, but some may progress to the subacute or chronic stages. The subacute phase rarely demonstrates illness signs, but can cause anemia, and a low platelet count. During the ehrlichiosis chronic phase, affected pets display lethargy, weight loss, decreased red and white blood cell counts, and bleeding issues. If your pet is diagnosed with ehrlichiosis, recovery is rapid with timely treatment, often improving in only a day or two.

#2: Rocky Mountain spotted fever

The American dog tick most commonly transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but the brown dog tick also accounts for infections. This tick-borne illness can infect people and dogs, and, while cats can test positive for this disease, they do not appear to develop clinical signs. The incubation period can take only a few days, or a couple of weeks, before your pet develops issues. If your dog has been affected by Rocky Mountain spotted fever, you may notice the following signs:

  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Abnormal bruising or bleeding
  • Coordination loss
  • Fluid accumulation in the limbs
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Hemorrhage in the mucous membranes

The pathogen responsible for Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be transmitted from tick to pet in 5 to 20 minutes, so prompt removal is crucial to prevent illness. A high quality tick preventive, paired with a thorough tick-check when coming indoors, can help keep your pet safe. 

#3: Bobcat fever

Cytauxzoonosis, better known as bobcat fever, is a tick-borne illness that commonly affects bobcats and other wild felines, but can also harm your cat. The disease is caused by a protozoan parasite, Cytauxzoon felis, which is transmitted by the lone star tick. Cytauxzoonosis is typically diagnosed April through September, when lone star ticks are most active. If you live near a wooded area with few neighbors, your cat is at a higher risk for contracting bobcat fever, because of the increased potential tick and bobcat exposure. Cats who never venture more than a whisker outdoors are still at risk for tick-borne illnesses, since you can carry these pests indoors. 

If your cat has been bitten by a lone star tick that may have transmitted bobcat fever, look for the following cytauxzoonosis signs:

  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia
  • Gradually increasing fever, which can reach 106 degrees
  • Dehydration

Most cats show signs in 5 to 14 days after being bitten by an infected tick, and, without treatment, typically die two to three days after their temperature peaks. With rapid, aggressive treatment that includes an antimalarial medication, an antimicrobial medication, intravenous (IV) fluids, heparin, nutritional support, oxygen therapy, and blood transfusions as needed, an infected cat can survive, but recovery is slow, and may take five to seven days. Some cats who manage to pull through remain persistently infected, and can serve as an infection reservoir, which makes proper tick prevention critical, to avoid spreading this life-threatening illness.

Do you need help choosing the best tick prevention method for your pet? Give us a call to discuss our available options, to ensure your furry pal is safe from disease-transmitting pests.