Ticks are tiny but powerful pests that significantly threaten the health of pets and their families. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC), New York is a hotbed of tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme disease. As many as 1 in 12 dogs were diagnosed with Lyme disease and 1 in 8 dogs were diagnosed with anaplasmosis in 2023. 

Since tick-borne diseases commonly affect New York pets, owners must always be on the lookout for possible illness in their pets and themselves. Many tick-borne diseases affect pets and people alike, so effective infection prevention is crucial. Learn the most common tick-borne diseases in New York, their signs, and how to keep your furry pal safe from harm.

Common tick-borne diseases in pets

In the Smithtown area, Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis are the three most common tick-borne diseases in pets. 

  • Lyme disease — Lyme disease, which originated in Pennsylvania, is the region’s most well-known tick-borne illness. The disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi which is transmitted through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, commonly known as deer ticks. Signs in pets can include shifting-leg lameness, swollen joints, fever, lethargy, and appetite loss. In rare cases, Lyme disease can affect the kidneys and lead to acute or chronic renal failure. Despite antimicrobial therapy, Lyme disease signs can continue to flare, since the kidneys harbor the bacterium, which can linger throughout your pet’s life. 
  • Anaplasmosis — Anaplasmosis is caused by the Anaplasma phagocytophilum bacterium and is transmitted through the bite of two different black-legged tick species that are commonly found in dense vegetation, wooded areas, and tall grasses. Anaplasmosis signs include fever, lethargy, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and in severe cases, difficulty breathing.
  • Ehrlichiosis — Ehrlichiosis is caused by several species of bacteria in the Ehrlichia genus, with Ehrlichia canis the most common, and is transmitted primarily by the brown dog tick. Ehrlichiosis signs in dogs can vary, and the disease progresses in three stages—acute, subclinical, and chronic.
    • Acute stage — This stage occurs in one to three weeks of infection and may cause fever, lethargy, anorexia, swollen lymph nodes, and respiratory distress.
    • Subclinical stage — Some dogs may enter a subclinical phase where they show no apparent signs, making disease detection a challenge.
    • Chronic stage — If left untreated, ehrlichiosis can progress to a chronic stage with more severe signs, including weight loss, bleeding disorders, joint pain, and eye inflammation.

While single infections occur more frequently, some pets can be infected with multiple pathogens. For example, a dog bitten by an infected black-legged tick can contract Lyme disease and anaplasmosis, so prevention is essential.

Tick-borne disease signs in pets

Early intervention is crucial for pets with tick-borne illnesses, which can manifest with various signs. Therefore, pet owners must be able to recognize the signs. The specific clinical presentation can vary, depending on the tick-borne disease type, infection severity, the pet’s overall health, and the speed of diagnosis and treatment. Some general signs that may indicate your pet has a tick-borne disease include:

  • Lameness or difficulty walking
  • Swollen joints
  • Lethargy or decreased energy
  • Appetite loss
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding

Tick-borne illness signs in pets can overlap with other health conditions and not all pets with a tick-borne disease will exhibit noticeable signs, especially in the infection’s early stages. Therefore, making a definitive diagnosis can be challenging, and a veterinary evaluation is required.

Tick-borne disease prevention in pets

Tick-borne diseases can cause serious, lasting illness in pets, so preventing infection is crucial. Protect your four-legged friend from ticks and their diseases by:

  • Using tick prevention — Use only veterinarian-recommended tick prevention products, which are available as topical treatments, oral medications, or tick collars.
  • Performing tick checks — Ticks generally must be attached for hours to transmit disease, so promptly removing ticks can prevent infection. After returning indoors, thoroughly check your pet for ticks, paying close attention to their ears, in between their toes, and around their neck and collar.
  • Avoiding tick habitat — When possible, avoid known tick-infested areas, such as tall grasses, wooded areas, and leaf litter. Remove vegetative debris and other litter from your yard to discourage wildlife (e.g., small rodents and deer) that can host ticks.
  • Considering vaccination — Consider vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease, which can help prevent infection should a black-legged tick slip past your defenses.

Tick prevention is critical for Smithtown pets since the East Coast is a recognized hotbed for tick-borne diseases. Protect your furry pal from ticks and the diseases they cause by discussing the best tick preventives for your pet with our Smithtown Animal Hospital team.