An infectious disease caused by a tick bite, tick fever is very common in Hong Kong where ticks can be found everywhere in the beach, grass or outdoor areas. Most of the times, they can be found at the top of grass and low shrubs where they latch onto passersby. Since dogs are easy targets for ticks, you should always examine your four-legged friend after a walk, especially after going to the park, beach or anywhere with shrubs. You should run your hands all over the body and look closely around the ear, chin, feet and abdomen.
Like spiders, ticks are not insects but arachnids, a class of arthropods. Two types of general ticks can be found locally include the brown dog tick (a.k.a. Rhipicephalus sanguineus) and Boophilus microplus. They hatch as six-legged larvae that feed on the blood of animals including mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Then they develop into eight-legged nymphs and eventually into adults. Over the course of a lifetime, any adult female ticks can lay anywhere from a few hundred to over a thousand eggs. In terms of appearance, they are generally oval and flat when unfed. Once they are completely engorged with blood, they swell up and look like a black bean.
The process of blood sucking can cause ticks carry blood parasites namely Babesia and Ehrlichia. Through tick bites, these parasites are then transmitted to dogs, which will infect and live within the red blood cells and platelets; hence the name “tick fever”. The infection can lead to various symptoms, blood damages, hemolysis, and anemia. It can also cause fatal if left untreated. Although not every tick has blood parasites, you are still advised to bring your four-legged friend for immediate treatment at the veterinary if you discover any ticks or tick bites.
Physical symptoms of tick fever may appear shortly or from 2 to 4 weeks after the tick bite. Early signs include fatigue, weakness, poor appetite, refuse to eat, and paleness in gums or mucous membranes. Other symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. The urine will also turn orange-yellow or brow red color, a symptom that is often mistaken by dog owners as urethritis or urinary infection.
Since there are other diseases with similar symptoms as noted above, or the fact that it might take awhile for any symptoms to appear, the most common clinical diagnosis for tick fever is blood test and blood smears. While blood test can determine whether the number of red blood cells and platelets are normal, blood smear analysis can deduce if blood parasites are found in the dog’s blood. In fact, the most accurate diagnosis is PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) blood test. With 100% accuracy, the test can detect the blood parasite DNA in the dog’s blood.
Early detection and prevention of ticks are vital as they live everywhere in Hong Kong, and will likely intrude your four-legged friend’s life. Being a responsible pet owner, you must learn how to remove and prevent them, so that your four-legged friend can stay healthy and live long. To become more aware on the various prevention and treatment, please read our next article at Squarefoot.com.hk.