(Bihar Times) It has been raining since February this year. While this has made the air breathable, it has also brought in a billion ticks. I have 16 dogs and two people deployed just to take out their ticks. Yet five of them have contracted tick fever. Our vet says he has never had so many cases in this season.
Clinically tick fever is called Erlichiosis or Babesiosis. It is a life threatening disease that can lead to complications like kidney failure. I have recently lost three dogs to kidney failure and now realize the culprit.
Ticks are insects who attach themselves to a mammal (deer, sheep, dog etc), puncture its vein and feed on blood. They are most active when it’s warm and wet. As our climate warms, dogs are at risk for a longer duration. Infected ticks cause tick fever. It can occur quite suddenly. Early signs are trembling and shivering. Depending on the severity of infection the dog will refuse food and is reluctant to get up. The urine colour changes from pale yellow to brown reflecting the pigment from the red blood cells that are being destroyed. The gums start to pale due to the breakdown of red blood cells. Temperatures soar to as high as 104°F or 40°C.
The symptoms of tick fever, as I have observed, are lack of appetite,weight loss , fever, lethargy, discharge from the nose or eyes (sneezing or clear nasal discharge in puppies) , diarrhea (may contain blood or raspberry gel-like globules ) cough, obsessive compulsive behaviour such as chewing fur and/or licking legs, unsteadiness, depression, vomiting yellow and possibly frothy fluid, hemorrhaging even when blood counts seem normal, lightening of the nose color, nosebleeds, swelling of the extremities, chronic ear and skin infections that do not respond to treatment, low platelet count (thrombocytopenia), low (leukopenia) or high (leukocytosis) WBC count, anemia, arthritis, inexplicable lameness in one or more legs, weakness, pallor (pale gums or tongue), incontinence, enlarged liver and spleen, liver or kidney failure, increased thirst and urination, neck or back pain, bleeding under the skin or a rash, enlarged lymph nodes, prostatic infections and/ or enlarged prostates in young dogs and ocular signs including bloodshot and glassy eyes, retinal hemorrhages, dilated pupils and photophobia.
A blood test will show decreased red blood and increased white blood cells and/or platelets. Alkaline phosphatase (liver enzyme) may be elevated.
Untreated, the disease may move into the sub-clinical phase where the dog's weight normalizes and tests may not reveal abnormalities. This phase of disease can last for years as long as the dog is not subjected to any undue stress. The parasite is essentially living with the host without overpowering the dog’s immune system. However, if this balance is disturbed by other infections , immuno-deficiency, surgery or stress, the organism gains the upper hand and the dog enters the chronic stage of tick fever for which there is no treatment and which can prove fatal.
What routine lab tests will indicate possible tick disease? Laboratory findings vary depending upon the stage of illness. A CBC (Complete Blood Count ) may be within normal limits, or can show:
- low or very high (17-19), hemoglobin
- Low or extremely high (50 or greater) PCV
- Platelet counts from 140,000 and below to 385,000 or higher
- Low (8,000 or below) or very high (18 to 40,000) WBC.
- Liver, kidney or pancreatic enzymes may be elevated. Globulin and total protein values may be low if the dog is immuno-suppressed and unable to make antibodies.
Unfortunately dogs are often not tested during the acute stage of the disease. Once in the sub-acute or chronic stage, titer results are frequently negative. The titer tests negative because it’s not been tested with the correct antigen. Example: E. canis and Neorickettsia (Ehrlichia risticii) were tested, but the dog actually has Anaplasma (Ehrlichia platys).
A positive result indicates that the dog has, at some point in its life, been exposed to a strain of tick disease . Treat until titer and symptoms disappear. Tests should be repeated later or if symptoms recur.
How should vets treat tick disease?
Earlier vets would give two injections of Baronil on alternative days but this causes liver failure.
This is what we do now:
Ehrlichiosis: The tetracycline family is the first choice against the organism that causes Ehrlichiosis. Tetracycline Hydrochloride and Doxycycline are usually quite effective. Doxycycline at 10 mg/kg (2.2 pounds = 1 kg), twice per day given 12 hours apart for 6 weeks or longer. Do not give Doxycycline on an empty stomach so administer the medicine with food or 30-60 minutes after the dog has eaten. Wrapping the pills in a piece of bread often helps alleviate an upset stomach. Doxycycline should never be given along with dairy or supplements containing calcium, iron or magnesium (like antacids) because these will interfere with the absorption of the antibiotic. (Allow at least two hours pre or post Doxycycline administration.) You can give Livogen twice a day
Imizol® (generic name- Imidocarb Dipropionate) is the least toxic of all the remedial drugs but potential side effects that can occur within one hour of injection include pain or irritation at injection site, nausea with vomiting, excessive drooling , diarrhea and twitching. Side effects can be reduced by injecting the Imizol subcutaneously, rather than into the muscle.
Traditionally infected dogs were treated for 10-30 days but newer research suggests that certain dogs may need to be treated for two-four months.
Dogs with healthy immune systems usually recover although they remain susceptible to re-infection. Dogs with weak immune systems and those that have progressed to the terminal stages of infection (bone marrow failure) may not survive. If your dog starts bleeding from the nose, this is the last stage of tick fever. Rush him to the vet.
Grass and shrubs are an ideal habitat for ticks so check your dog specially between the toes after an outing. Prompt removal is a must. The best way to physically remove a tick is to use tweezers and pull the tick straight out. DO NOT TWIST . Do not puncture the body of the tick. Disinfect the site with soap and water and then dettol or alcohol as maggots can set in to a wound ( as happened to two of my dogs).
Most vets recommend tick collars. I don’t use them because I am scared that the attendants may forget to wash their hands and get poisoned, or that when the dogs scrap, the collar may kill one of them . There is a foreign spray called Frontline (manufacturer Rhone-Merieux) which contains a neurotoxin called Fipronil which sprayed on the skin, rids fleas and ticks within 48 hours. It is supposed to be effective for 90 days, after which it should be removed with benzoyl peroxide.
My dogs are rinsed with water in which neem has been soaked for several days. We use eucalyptus oil and dissolved Asuntol soap in the floor swabbing water. I wish I could say all this works but it doesn’t. Hence all we do is pull out the ticks manually.
If anyone has a good preventive suggestion please mail me before I go completely insane
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