Tick fever is caused by a blood parasite that is injected into your dog from bite of a tick. There are three blood parasites that are carried by ticks and can cause this disease in Hong Kong. The signs of disease are very similar in all three parasitic infections, so the general term of tick fever has been used for all. The three parasites are:
- Babesia canis (causing true tick fever)
- Babesia gibsoni (causing true tick fever)
- Ehrlichia canis (causing ehrlichiosis, but also called tick fever)
What are the signs?
Tick fever can affect your dog very suddenly or quite slowly, but the signs are usually:
- Lack of appetite and/or vomiting and/or fever
- Lack of energy
- Dark coloured, strong smelling urine
- Pale gums or yellowish colour to gums and skin
Your vet may then confirm on examination and by blood test:
- Enlarged liver and spleen
- Low red blood cell count (anaemia), or low platelets (the clotting cells in blood)
- Possible other complications depending on the individual dog
- The parasite may be seen on a blood smear under a microscope, or in the case of ehrlichiosis, a blood test may reveal current infection.
What is the treatment?
There is a choice of drugs given by injection to kill the tick fever parasite. It depends on the individual case as to which is used. Sometimes a follow up injection is required two weeks later. A course of tablets is given as well. Often we give the dog an iron supplement to help it replace red blood cells quickly.
Each dog responds differently to tick fever – some dogs may be so sick they require hospitalisation, IV fluid or blood transfusions. Most dogs can be looked after at home though. We will recheck the dog regularly to make sure they are constantly improving. Follow up blood tests are done to check that the dog is making more red blood cells. Some dogs do not improve as quickly as others and may need further medication or long term check-ups.
How do I prevent tick fever?
It is essential that your dog be protected against ticks. The most effective way to do this is by using Advantix spot on or Frontline flea and tick spray regularly – your vet will advise you on a schedule for your dog. Your dog will not become immune to tick fever even if it has had it before, so you must start using Frontline/Advantix immediately to prevent re-infection. If you find ticks on your dog despite using this spray, you need to spray them with Frontline to kill them and then pull them off. Also, check with your vet that you are using Frontline correctly; spray the whole body.