Our hospital has been including testing for three tick borne diseases along with our heartworm testing. These are Ehrlichia canis, Anaplasma phagocytophillum and Lyme (Borrelia burgadorpheri). All three are rickettsial organisms transferred after a tick bite.
These tests are antibody tests. This means that, if positive, your dog has antibodies directed against the organism. It does NOT mean that the infection is present for certain. Exposure at some time in the past will generate antibodies that can persist for years. Some infections also can persist whereas others are only short term, acute illnesses.
Many dogs that come in for routine heartworm testing are also positive for one of the tick antibody titers. These dogs are usually not acting sick in any way. In these cases, the dogs are most likely not infected currently, but have a positive test because of prior exposure. They dealt with the infection on their own at the time it occurred. These dogs do not usually need any treatment now.
This infection is becoming more common in our area. Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, painful joints and anemia. This is always an acute, short term, infection. A positive test in an otherwise healthy animal does NOT indicate current infection. If your dog has symptoms of illness, further testing is needed to determine if actual infection exists.
Infection with the Lyme organism can result in long term disease. Symptoms include lethargy, weight loss, joint pain and kidney disease. Difficulty arises in determining if your dog has naturally occurring arthritis symptoms or joint pain due to Lyme infection. If symptoms exist, these dogs are usually treated with antibiotics and monitored for improvement.
This infection is very uncommon in this area. Symptoms are similar to those of the other infections but are more chronic or long term. If positive on the antibody test, your dog should have further tests to determine if infection exists.
The increasing occurrence of positive antibody tests against these tick infections strongly indicates the need for good tick control on our animals. Even a rare tick can transmit infection. The goal should be no embedded ticks at all. This is achievable through the use of topical products such as Frontline, Advantix and Preventic collars. If one product does not seem to be effective for your animal another should be used. An additional concern is that all of the above are also human infections. By allowing ticks into our homes on our pets, we risk exposure.
You may download a handout with this information by clicking here.