There are a whole host of scary tick diseases your dog can catch from blood-sucking arthropods.
So … what’s an arthropod?
Arthropods include ocean creatures like lobsters, crabs and krill. But lobsters aren’t going to give your dog a disease.
The ones I’m talking about here are insects like ticks, mosquitoes, sand flies and others. Especially ticks.
So let’s focus on those!
Ticks carry and transmit a whole range of different diseases … like Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever …
Several different groups of pathogens cause these diseases.
But there’s one thing these pathogens have in common. They all live as intracellular parasites in your dog’s body. That’s right! These infectious organisms actually live inside your dog’s cells.
Do you know how to spot these diseases or treat them naturally? That’s what I want to cover!
Tick-Borne Diseases Caused By Ticks In Dogs
As I said, there are several different tick diseases caused by pathogens taking over cells. I’ll cover the most important ones.
Lyme is a fast-growing problem all around the world. It’s caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. B. burgdorferi is a spirochete … a cell that has a spiral shape.
Bites from black-legged ticks or deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease.
Rickettsia bacteria cause other well-known tick diseases like ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Ehrlichiosis can come from a bite from the brown dog tick, lone star tick, or American dog tick
Black-legged ticks transmit anaplasmosis.
American dog ticks, Rocky Mountain wood ticks and brown deer ticks transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Babesiosis and canine hepatazoonosis are both protozoal diseases. They come from a protozoal intracellular parasite … that lives inside your dog’s red blood cells.
Your dog can get babesiosis from a tick bite (usually from a black-legged tick) … but it can also spread through a bite from another infected dog.
Hepatazoonosis is different from the other tick-borne diseases … because dogs get it by eating the protozoa. This can happen when your dog eats infected prey animals like birds or rodents.
Bartonellosis is a less-common blood-borne disease in dogs … caused by Bartonella bacteria. Transmitted to dogs by ticks, as well as fleas, sandflies or lice, can transmit it. In humans, bartonellosis is sometimes called cat-scratch disease. (Though cat scratches or bites aren’t always how people get it.)
Finally, there are a whole host of Mycoplasma bacteria. Mycoplasmosis in dogs isn’t caused by tick bites … but is another blood-borne disease. So it’s good to be aware of it.
Mycoplasma are tiny bacteria without cell walls so they can take on different shapes. They can infect many parts of the body, including the respiratory and urinary systems. And they’re everywhere, infecting animals, humans and even plants.
Your dog can pick up mycoplasmosis from other infected dogs … or mycoplasma bacteria in the environment. The bacteria are highly adaptable and extremely tough. However, dogs with healthy immune systems are less likely to be infected.
I know this all sounds bad, but I want you to stick with me …
How Tick Diseases Impact Dogs
As you can see, there are many tick-borne diseases that can affect your dog in the United States and now parts of Canada.
It’s complicated even more … because your dog can get multiple organisms in one bite (especially by tick bites). This is called “coinfection.”
Different organisms can even work together. They release toxins and trigger the immune system … and help each other survive and thrive in your dog’s body.
Any of these infections can become chronic. And subsequent bites from blood-sucking arthropods can infect your dog with different infections. These too can all become chronic.
Different diseases may infect different tissues or organs. They can get embedded and cause a broad range of symptoms.
Once they’re introduced to your dog’s body (by a tick or another blood-sucking insect … these tiny organisms actually get inside the cells.
They’re masterful at evading your dog’s immune response. In fact, these diseases hijack your dog’s immune system. Then they trigger cytokine cascades that cause inflammation.
The inflamed tissues provide a refuge for the disease to hide from your dog’s immune system.
Harmful Organisms That Hide
Many of the symptoms come from chronic dysregulated inflammation caused by these diseases.
They also form complex communities in “biofilms” that the immune system can’t penetrate. Biofilms are groups of microorganisms that grow on different surfaces. Dental plaque is an example of biofilm; another one is the green slime in your dog’s water bowl.
Once the organisms are hidden away inside the cell … it’s very difficult for the immune system to even see them … let alone mount a response to kill them. And meanwhile … these tiny organisms feast on the nutrients inside your dog’s cells … effectively starving them of energy and vital nutrients.
The Lyme (B.burgdorferi) bacteria are especially mobile and speedy. It can outrun and escape from your dog’s white blood cells … and then dive into other cells in your dog’s body so that it’s completely safe.
Symptoms To Watch Out For
There is a wide range of symptoms to keep an eye out for.
First, I want to talk about babesiosis symptoms … because they’re serious and need prompt attention. Babesiosis can cause direct and immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. This is a serious disease that destroys red blood cells. You may see very pale or yellow gums and eyes. Fatigue, vomiting or even collapse can also occur – and that‘s an emergency.
With all of the other blood-borne diseases, you’ll most commonly see:
- Edema (swelling, usually around the joints).
And these signs may not develop until weeks or even months after your dog was bitten.
Other Symptoms You May See
- Lyme disease: include fever, stiffness, lameness, joint pain and swelling, loss of appetite, and fatigue. Lyme can infect any tissue in the body … so it can damage nerve tissue, or organs like the heart, kidneys or liver. It can imitate many diseases.
- Ehrlichiosis: depression, weight loss, discharge from eyes and nose, nose bleeds or swelling of the limbs.
- Anaplasmosis: vomiting, diarrhea, and in severe cases even seizures.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: neurological problems and skin lesions.
- Bartonellosis: intermittent lameness and fever. Left untreated, this disease may cause heart or liver disease.
- Canine Hepatozoonosis: runny eyes and nose, muscle pain and bloody diarrhea.
- Mycoplasmosis: polyarthritis (inflammation in several joints), lameness, fever, conjunctivitis.
Can You Treat These Diseases Holistically?
The treatment most conventional vets recommend is a long course of heavy-duty antibiotics. Even some holistic vets take this route.
Unfortunately, 2% or more of people who get antibiotic treatment end up with chronic Lyme symptoms anyway. They use the same antibiotics in dogs … so you can be pretty sure that it will have about the same low efficacy.
And of course, antibiotics do harm as well. They kill many of the good bacteria in the digestive system … and some dogs can have a toxic or allergic reaction.
But homeopathy and herbs can both be effective ways to treat tick diseases in dogs. In both cases, you’ll need to consult a practitioner to prescribe the best solution for your dog.
Homeopathy For Tick Diseases In Dogs
Homeopathy can be very helpful in the early stages … and as possible tick prevention. Talk to your homeopath to make sure you get the right remedy in the best potency for your dog.
I recommend giving Ledum after any insect bite to help stave off infection. Ixodes is another remedy that can help after tick bites and as a preventative.
[Related: Treating Lyme Disease In Dogs Naturally]
A variety of herbs are also effective at supporting tick disease in dogs.
With herbs, be aware you can trigger severe Herxheimer reactions if you use too many … or too high a dose. A Herxheimer reaction is a toxic impact from die-off of the infectious organisms. So work with a canine herbalist or holistic vet. Use one herb at a time … starting at low doses and slowly increasing over time.
I recommend reading Stephen Buhner’s book Healing Lyme (visit his website) … as well as his book Healing Lyme Disease Coinfections. These books are an absolute treasure of information as well as being surprisingly easy to read and understand.
Herbs for treating Lyme disease include Japanese knotweed and cats claw.
Mycoplasma is one of the major coinfections with Lyme and some herbs and supplements that generally help include cordyceps mushrooms, Chinese skullcap, Isatis, Houttuynia, N-acetyl cysteine, and olive oil.
For Bartonella, most of the herbs I’ve already mentioned will help. Refer to Buhner’s book for more detail and his full protocol. Japanese knotweed, quercetin, cordyceps, L-arginine, hawthorn, milk thistle, and pomegranate juice are a good start.
Some antibacterial herbs that are of great value (but should be only given under the care of a skilled practitioner) are Alchornea cordifolia, Isatis and Houttuynia.
Canine Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis
A basic protocol would be built around the herbs salvia miltiorrhiza and ashwagandha. I also like to give: quercetin; milk thistle; and a combination tincture of Scutellaria baicalensis, cordyceps, Pueraria lobata, astragalus, angelica and glycyrrhiza.
The bottom line is that these diseases are hard to treat, and you’ll need to dig in and give the herbs for a lengthy time … from months to years.
This is such a complex topic that I can only touch on in a blog post. But herbal protocols can support healing from these diseases, so do your research. Find a skilled professional herbalist who can help you with the best herbal protocols and dosing for your dog.
From a dietary perspective, fresh raw whole foods are best. I recommend you add liver, eggs, oysters, spirulina, avocado and pomegranate juice to your dog’s regular diet.
Whether you choose homeopathy or herbs, these natural treatments can be more effective … and much safer than antibiotics.