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Fatal Tick Diseases of Dogs and Cats in NW Arkansas


April 26, 2012 by Linda Ford

I’m sure it’s obvious by now to everyone who ventures outdoors that the ticks are already bad this year. And every year about this time I write about the fatal tick diseases we have to deal with in our neck of the woods-literally. People think the ticks are so bad because the winter was short. The real reason they seem to get worse every year is the fact that the practice of burning the under brush every spring has fallen by the wayside.
Sure, they do a few controlled burns here and there every year but nothing like was done in the past-the way past. I’m afraid if we get into real drought conditions like hit Texas, this whole countyside is going to go up in flames. That might be good for lowering the tick populations but I doubt if losing houses to forest fire is worth the trade off.
By far, the worst tick disease we have here is the cat one that has a parasitic relationship with bobcats but is fatal to domestic cats. It is caused by the protozoon called  Cytauxzoon felis. The organism is related to another Cytauxzoon organism found in ungulates in Africa. It was first discovered in Missouri in 1976. No one knows how it got here. Perhaps it mutated from some zoo animals. So far it has been geographically located in the south central and southeastern US. No form of therapy has been proven effective and most cats die of the disease within 5 days of first appearing ill.
There are a number of experimental drugs and drug combinations that have been tried over the years. I consult with the OSU school of veterinary medicine for the latest trial therapies. Very few cats are able to be saved and only if the treatments are begun on day 1 or 2 of symptoms. By day 3 it’s too late as the body has already begun to shut down. Not even blood transfusions can reverse the damage. The organism invades the red blood cells and quickly colonizes the spleen, liver, lungs and lymph nodes.
Death is usually by suffocation as the lungs fill with blood. It’s a heartbreakingly painful death. Some of the first signs of disease are a very high fever 105 to 107 , anorexia and lethargy. If you love your cat you should get him to a vet ASAP if these signs appear during tick season. I usually see Cytaux from March thru about October. I’ve seen several cases already this spring. There is another tick borne disease in cats called Mycoplasma hemofelis or Hemobartonella or Feline Infectious Anemia (depending on when you went to vet school).
This disease comes on more slowly and signs of illness are more gradual. It is curable if treated before the cat becomes too anemic and does not have complications like feline aids or leukemia. I recommend applying Frontline to cats every 3 weeks during tick season and keep a bottle of Ovitrol spray if ticks are found in between Frontline applications. Be sure to put one drop of Frontline on the anus since that’s the one place a cat can’t remove a tick. I check my cats rear ends daily!  That’s all we can do until somebody comes up with a cure or a vaccine. Some people say they cured their cat with garlic, vinegar, black walnut and various and sundry other home remedies. Well, it can’t hurt.
The main tick disease of dogs around here is Ehrlichia. I never see a Lymes, rarely a Rocky Mountain but 80% of dogs over the age of six tested at my clinic are positive. Thank you Vietnam War. They brought the service dogs back to Fort Chaffee and that’s why it is so prevalent in our area. I refuse to do elective surgeries on dogs over 2 years old unless they test negative for this disease. I treat all my positive dogs whether they are symptomatic or not. Once they are symptomatic or bleed out from surgery it’s often difficult to deal with. The “Tick test” is in combination with the Heartworm test and should be done annually for any dog that has the slightest chance of getting a tick bite. And I’m seeing it in younger and younger dogs each year. The acute phase may include death or more often flu like symptoms or just plane old “ain’t doin right”. When that goes away the dog develops the chronic phase which can go on for years until they bleed out internally or are diagnosed and treated. There’s a new tick collar called  “Scalibor” that works for six months.
In my experience it doesn’t work for the first 2 weeks but after that it works great for 6 months. It’s expensive, around $50.00 and needs to be put on the dogs 2 weeks before the ticks come out. So put it on in early March and it’s good through August. Ovitrol spray is the only repellent that works and you would have to spray it about twice a week. Frontline and Advantix work but not for the whole month and don’t detach ticks like the collar. Please call our office if you have questions about ticks and tick borne diseases and we’ll try help you with a plan to prevent tick bites and tick related diseases.

1 comment »

  1. Tyisha Urquidi says:

    Most ticks do not carry diseases, and most tick bites do not cause serious health problems. But it is important to remove a tick as soon as you find it. Removing the tick’s body helps you avoid diseases the tick may pass on during feeding. Removing the tick’s head helps prevent an infection in the skin where it bit you. See the Home Treatment section of this topic for the best way to remove a tick.;;’`

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