At Belmont Animal Hospital, we know that monitoring your dog’s exposure to serious vector-borne disease agents is extremely important. Mosquitoes and ticks, which flourish in Middle Tennessee, spread four diseases—heartworm disease, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis—that can have lifelong and life-threatening consequences for dogs. However, we can screen your dog for these diseases using a small blood sample obtained at their wellness exam and recommend the best prevention products. Read on to learn how to treat and prevent these mosquito and tick-borne diseases in your dog.

  • Heartworm disease — Mosquitoes transmit heartworm disease when they bite your dog and pass on heartworms in their microscopic (i.e., larval) stage. The larvae migrate through your dog’s bloodstream for several months, maturing and growing up to a foot in length, until they reach your dog’s heart and lungs, where they cause inflammation and block blood flow. Heartworm disease signs include coughing, exercise intolerance, weight loss, and heart failure.  

Staging heartworm disease severity requires X-rays and blood work. Treatment, which our veterinary team customizes for each dog, is painful, requires strict exercise restriction, takes several months, and is not without risk. We prescribe antibiotics to weaken the adult worms and medication to kill the immature worms, plus hospitalization, painful arsenic injections, and monitoring to kill the adult heartworms. Severely affected dogs rarely survive treatment. For all these reasons,heartworm disease prevention is critical.

  • Lyme disease The deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, transmits the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi, the organism that causes Lyme disease, to dogs as well as people. Ninety percent of dogs who harbor the organism and test positive do not develop disease, but 10% of infected dogs develop a fever, arthritis, and chronic kidney problems weeks to months after the tick bite. With antibiotics, most dogs recover, although the organism remains in their body. Our Belmont Animal Hospital team can prescribe the best tick prevention products to protect your pet from Lyme disease.
  • Ehrlichiosis — The bacteria Ehrlichia canis and Ehrlichia ewingii, transmitted by the brown dog and lone star tick, cause most ehrlichiosis cases in dogs. Some dogs show no signs, whereas some show lethargy, weight loss, and low blood platelets. Dogs may become sick one to three days after the tick bite, while others do not develop the disease for months to years. Dogs treated with antibiotics early have a good prognosis. Unfortunately, the longer a pet is infected, the poorer the prognosis. Chronically infected dogs can develop low white blood cells, kidney disease, and neurologic disease. To prevent ehrlichiosis in your dog, avoid high-tick areas, perform nightly tick checks, and use prescribed tick preventives. Screening at your dog’s regular wellness exam can detect infection early and prevent chronic problems.
  • Anaplasmosis in dogs — The deer tick and the Western black-legged tick cause anaplasmosis in dogs by transmitting the bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Anaplasma platys. One to two weeks following the tick bite, infected dogs will develop arthritis, lethargy, fever, and bruising. Treatment with anti-inflammatory, anti-pain, and antibiotic medication yields a good prognosis. Regular screening for several tick-borne diseases is important, because dogs often test positive for more than one organism. Prevent anaplasmosis in your dog by mowing frequently and clearing tall brush around your home, checking your dog regularly for ticks, and using tick prevention products. We can prescribe the most effective preventives for your pet.

Ticks in the Belmont Hospital area

In Nashville, 15 tick breeds have been reported, with the deer, the lone star, and the dog tick the three most prevalent. Heavily wooded areas with tall grass are the most common tick habitats, and ticks usually crawl up the grass to reach your dog—they do not drop from trees as many people believe. “Seed ticks” are originally the size of a poppy seed and adult ticks the size of an apple seed, and become larger after attaching to your pet and becoming engorged with blood.

Avoid exposure to ticks while outdoors by staying on well-cleared trails. If a tick does attach to your pet, grasp it close to the skin with tweezers, pull straight up to remove it, clean your dog’s skin, and monitor for redness. Home remedies, such as coating the tick in nail polish, are not recommended. For disposal, wrap the tick in tape, and place it in the trash or flush it down the toilet. To identify the tick, place it in rubbing alcohol in a clean, close-lidded jar. Always wash your hands well after handling a tick. 

As warm weather begins in the Tennessee Valley, Belmont Animal Hospital is here to help you prevent these serious tick- and mosquito-borne diseases in your dog. Call our caring team with any concerns that arise about mosquitoes and ticks, and the serious diseases—heartworm, Lyme, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis—they can cause in your dog.