Tick bite fever causes disease and death in thousands of dogs in South Africa. It poses a serious danger to dogs all year round and should never be ignored.
Ticks are carriers of multiple diseases like ehrlichia (tick bite fever) and biliary (tick fever / babesia) . Ehrlichia is caused by a blood parasite called Ehrlichia canis that is transmitted when an infected brown dog tick bites your pet. It has two distinct disease forms: acute (early) and chronic (long-standing) form.
Tick bite fever: what to watch out for
In the acute form of ehrlichia the most common signs are fever, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea. These symptoms usually last about 2-3 days after which some dogs recover. If it progresses to the more chronic form – which is the most commonly seen form – symptoms include spontaneous bleeding (such as nose bleeds or bleeding from the gums), coughing, weight loss, loss of appetite, weakness, enlargement of the lymph nodes, and pale gums. Dogs not treated in the acute form will often progress to the chronic form, which can eventually lead to death.
How is tick bite fever diagnosed ?
Diagnosis in the acute form is often difficult without laboratory testing. The parasite can sometimes be seen on a blood smear. If not, specific testing may be required to be absolutely sure.
The occurrence of certain changes to the dog’s full blood count would aften indicate the possibility of the chronic form, particularly if the classical symptoms are also present. Confirmation is again only by specific laboratory tests.
The cornerstone of treatment, a 28-day course of the drug Doxycycline, needs to start as soon as possible. However, severe symptoms such as bleeding and anaemia may require intensive treatments such as hospitalisation with a drip or even a blood transfusion.
How is it prevented?
As with everything, prevention is always better than cure. And it can be simply and safely done all year round. Continuous long-term tick and flea protection must be applied, whether you choose chews like Bravecto and Nexguard, spot ons, powders or collars. It is not enough to rely simply on shampoos and dips nor on the physical removal of ticks, however often you do it. And don’t think that because you live in a suburb your pets are safe from ticks. Ticks don’t live exclusively on farms; they love a suburban garden or park just as much as farmland.