A Tick-ing Time Bomb
All about Tick Fever
Tick fever is transmitted through ticks that have latched onto the dog for more than 36 hours. Different types of ticks spread different strains of tick fever. While a regular blood test might indicate tick fever, the exact diagnosis is made after an RT-PCR test.
Tick fever is not contagious between dogs but an infected tick can bite several pets in the same vicinity, spreading the disease to all of them. It is a treatable condition but can prove fatal if left untreated. This is why recognising the symptoms, getting a proper diagnosis, and choosing early intervention is necessary.
The symptoms of tick fever can differ from dog to dog and vary based on the progression of the infection. Early symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting and/or diarrhoea, and, as the name suggests, fever. However, these symptoms may show up in isolation. In fact, several dogs do not present with fever when infected.
In cases with progressed infection, it may present as dullness, increased pain and sensitivity, and loss of balance. One may also notice symptoms of haemorrhage — dark red spots inside the eyelids or mouth or bleeding from the orifices.
Again, these extreme symptoms may also show up in isolation. Many dogs develop fever and become dull when the infection has progressed considerably. Sometimes the dog has sub-clinical tick fever — the symptoms do not show up even when the infection is present. Therefore, it is crucial to monitor your dog’s activity and appetite daily. Contact the vet immediately if something seems off, especially if you found a tick on your dog a few days/weeks ago.
Diagnosis & strains:
Tick fever causes a drop in platelet count, anaemia, and abnormal white blood cell (WBC) count. In some dogs, it even shows up as elevated renal values (BUN and Creatinine).
When you visit the vet to investigate tick fever, the first step will be a CBC (Complete Blood Count) — a basic blood test. This will give you all the values mentioned above, except renal parameters, which are determined via a Kidney Function Test. If the platelet count is low or hovering near the lower limit of the healthy range when your dog is showing symptoms, the vet will ask for an RT-PCR test to confirm the presence of a tick-borne infection.
A Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test is useful not only for confirming the presence of tick fever but also for finding out the exact strain. We’ve already covered that different ticks transmit different strains of the infection. Targeted treatment for tick fever depends on the strain. This test requires the collection of the dog’s blood and gives a result against common strains of tick fever. Your dog may test positive for more than one strain of tick fever, in which case, the treatment plan will be altered.
The RT-PCR results take about 2 days to come back. If your dog has evident symptoms, the vet may start her on medication before the results are in. Otherwise, the vet will make a targeted treatment plan based on your dog’s health status and the strain found in the RT-PCR.
Note: The treatments described below are simply to inform the reader of the possibilities. Please do not administer this without consulting your vet, as exact doses and treatment will depend upon your dog’s specific condition. You may cause more harm than good.
Based on your dog’s CBC and RT-PCR, the vet will draw up a treatment plan. Some treatments last for 10 days, some for a month, and some even longer, depending upon how your dog responds.
Doxycycline is the most common medication for dogs with tick fever. It is often prescribed even before the RT-PCR results come back because it is enough to combat particular strains. Supplements for elevating the dog’s platelet count and/or haemoglobin may be added if required. Because the dog will be exposed to antibiotics for a prolonged period, an antacid will be given to prevent acid reflux — a common side effect of prolonged antibiotic usage.
If the strain cannot be treated with just Doxycycline, additional antibiotics will be added. In some strains, Doxycycline does not work at all and is replaced by other targeted antibiotics. Some of these are imported medicines and may not be available in certain areas. In this case, the vet might prefer going with a triple antibiotic treatment.
The most common treatment for tick fever is to be the triple antibiotic treatment. In some places, it is being phased out in favour of targeted treatment due to increasing resistance (that is, the treatment is not as effective as it used to be). However, in cases with more than one strain, or after weighing in other factors, the vet may prefer this over a targeted treatment. This treatment uses a combination of Doxycycline, Clindamycin and Metronidazole to combat tick fever (again, please do not administer this treatment without clearing it with your vet first).
If the dog is not eating, the treatment can be provided through injections and IVs. In cases where the dog’s body cannot regenerate platelets, a blood transfusion will be required. Dogs have over 13 canine blood groups, and the vet will ensure a match before transfusion. Several dog owners generously donate their dog’s blood to help other dogs in need. If your dog is healthy, you can discuss donating blood with her vet; it may save another dog’s life!
Supplemental Home remedies:
Note: Home remedies take time to work. Given how critical time is for treating tick fever, home remedies are not enough to cure it. Do not rely solely on these; follow your vet’s treatment and use these to supplement that.
Home remedies can help ensure that the food you feed your dog is best suited to the tick fever treatment. More than remedies, these are actually tweaks to your dog’s diet.
Eliminate dairy from your dog’s meals as this hinders the absorption of the antibiotic. If you’re concerned about probiotics, you can give your dog other natural sources or allopathic options too.
You can safely feed your dog turmeric and garlic while she recovers if her platelets are only marginally low. If your dog has alarmingly low platelets, do not feed her turmeric or garlic. These are blood thinners and can cause issues since aggravated tick fever (evident by the low platelet count) is known to cause haemorrhaging.
Give your dog a high-quality meat-based diet with some fish (it reduces inflammation). You can offer mutton liver (or any other red meat organ) and spinach soup to boost platelet count while the body recovers. Bone broth will help the dog recuperate too. However, please be mindful of your dog’s kidney and liver health. Since tick fever affects these organs, if your dog already has kidney or liver issues, make sure you do not add something that causes further stress on them. You can add supplements to support these organs too. As always, introduce new foods slowly and ensure your dog always has access to fresh, clean water.
If your dog is exhibiting a loss of appetite, you can add a drop of ghee to her bowl instead of her usual oil intake. Some dogs find a tiny pinch of salt appetizing too. Do not force her to eat — vomiting will lead to fluid loss. If your dog refuses to eat at all, turn to your vet for advice.
Allow your dog to rest and recuperate. It’s okay if she’s fed more and doesn’t walk her usual distance for a few days. Tick fever, even when not present with severe symptoms, can take quite a toll internally. She needs the nutrition and the rest.
Always follow your vet’s advice. Some doctors suggest alternative therapy such as homoeopathy. Use your discretion and discuss the options with the vet. Keep your vet updated with what you’re feeding your dog.
Tick fever is difficult to deal with, and some strains are stubborn — your dog can relapse even after successful treatment. It is, unfortunately, becoming increasingly common among pet dogs.
However, this potentially life-threatening issue can be dealt with by early detection and proper treatment. It is, therefore, necessary to consistently monitor your dog’s health so that you catch it as soon as possible. Being your dog’s parent, you are in the best position to do so. If your vet is going for a strain-specific treatment, ensure that it is the correct one for the infection. Back up veterinary treatment with a good, meat-based diet, which can help sustain the body while it recovers.
This last bit is more emotional than logical, but ensure you top off all the home care by spending time with your dog while she recovers. You need not play with her or make her exert herself; just sitting with her or having her close to you while you’re working will do. Extra TLC will help her feel emotionally better during an uncertain period of sickness.
Resources for more info (please also discuss treatments and prevention specific to your dog with your vet):
Let’s talk about Tick Fever | Sanjana Madappa | https://www.instagram.com/p/CQvMfxDFCLa/
Tick Fever | Georgina’s Kitchen Blr | https://www.instagram.com/p/CJybJzvMFU8/
Tick Fever in Dogs | Carolina Veterinary Specialists Charlotte| https://www.charlotte.carolinavet.com/site/charlotte-emergency-vet-blog/2020/12/30/tick-fever-in-dogs-symptoms--treatment