Tick Fever. 牛蜱熱.

Eight-legged parasites. Blood suckers. Ticks are one of Hong Kong’s infamous blood suckers that wreak havoc in the dog population. The defining symptoms of  the disease include anemia, weakness and poor appetite.

Tick populations increase dramatically during warm and moist seasons – namely Spring and Summer. This type of parasite are maintains a high population amongst outdoor grassy and bushy areas. Reservoirs, hiking treks, dog parks are considered areas of high risk.

In Hong Kong, tick fever is most commonly caused by three types of ticks. The severity induced by each of these parasites are different, ranging from mild-moderate to severe and possibly death.

Dogs that are affected by this disease are usually said to be “tired”, “not himself / herself”, “not keen to eat” and “feels warmer than usual”. You may even find the eight-legged parasite your dog either as a tiny nymph or an adult. Be reminded however, that finding a tick on an animal does not automatically point to suffering from tick fever.

It takes a number of tests to confirm this disease with a number of these available at the veterinary clinic. Basically, it is vital to confirm the following:

a. Is the patient anemic?
b. How anemic?
c. Is there an additional or impending clotting problem?
d. May we be dealing with an auto-immune disease too?
e. Is this tick fever?
f.  Which type of tick fever?

Simply put, tick fever treatment can range from very affordable to expensive. This will be dependent on the type of infection the animal has contracted. This can be confirmed by a laboratory test when the vet has narrowed down the disease to tick fever.

This disease, regardless the type of tick causing the infection, cannot be eradicated from the body ever again. It is much like herpesvirus infection – it’s here to stay. The purpose of medical treatment during the active phase of the disease is to control the clinical signs – such as blood loss and secondary auto-immune platelet destruction. The parasites however will stay within the body within red blood cells forever.

Medical treatment
Tick fever is an infection that cannot be eradicated from the body. The contemporary episode may be treated and controlled through medicines which will only manage the infection. Medications cannot directly treat the existing anemia problem.

Treatment for the first two types of infection are reasonably economical, involving either oral medication or injections. The degree of anemia is not usually severe, therefore blood transfusion is not typically a necessary consideration.

Babesia gibsonii infection is a trickier and more complex disease to manage because it is commonly associated with a moderate to severe degree of anemia. Patients suffering from this type of infection have a life-threateningly low blood cell count usually below 15% where normal count is between 37 to 55%. This infection also complicates matter by further triggering an auto-immune mediated platelet deficiency, risking spontaneous hemorrhages which worsens the anemia.

Due to the potential severity of a B gibsonii infection, medications to treat this form of disease are significantly more costly. Treatment is more intensive, requiring up to three times daily oral medications to be provided. There are however medical options within this category with prices ranging from economical to moderately priced to sky-high expensive. The benefits? Well, the side effects are significantly reduced with the use of expensive drugs.
Blood transfusion
Transfusion is not an essential part of the treatment of tick fever. However, in cases where anemia is severe such as falling below 15%, blood transfusion is the only practical treatment to ensure the immediate survival of the animal. With blood transfusion, medications are given time to work on the body to treat the disease itself.

Blood transfusion is recommended based on the needs of the animal. To find out more, click here.

Long term expectations
The biggest enemy to an animal in remission from tick fever infection is itself – the immune system. Major illnesses that cause undermines the patient’s immune system such as cancer, spleen removal, major surgery or any serious illness may induce a relapse of tick fever.

A healthy and strong immune system is vital to the resistance of infection, a concept which applies to most diseases. In Hong Kong, additional tools to prevent tick fever include:

  • anti-tick collars
  • monthly spot-on product (eg. Frontline ®, Advantix ®)

Make sure to change anti-tick collars a minimum of every two months. Spot-on products must be applied religiously to ensure protection for the animal. Remember that neither products do well with water contact so make an effort to properly schedule the animal’s bath-time so you do not end up washing off the medication you just put on your pet’s back.

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