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Dog Checkups & Preventive Care Dog Health

New Study Shows Link Between Ticks and Kidney Disease

  • November 22, 2023
  • 4 min read
New Study Shows Link Between Ticks and Kidney Disease

[Editor’s note: Pet Health Network’s parent company is IDEXX, which provides diagnostic services to veterinary practices, such as kidney disease screenings. Remember, the decision for what types of preventive care and screenings are best for your individual pet should always be made after a discussion between you and your veterinarian — your best partner in your pet’s health.]

Tick encounters are increasingly hard to avoid. These adaptable parasites are responsible for spreading a variety of diseases throughout the United States, and their range is increasing. Unfortunately, due to issues, such as mice and deer overpopulation (they serve as hosts for ticks), reforestation, suburban sprawl, and patterns in bird migration, among others, ticks and other bugs are taking root in new regions. Add climate change on top of our boundary-less society, and it’s clear that your dog—and your family—may be meeting more parasites.

A single tick can transmit multiple infectious agents that can cause serious illness. Because dogs can’t tell you how they feel and may not always show clinical signs, it can be challenging to understand the true harm of any given infection to a pet’s health. Therefore, it’s so important for all dogs to be screened annually for exposure to tick-borne diseases.

An infection from a tick can lead to health issues, including chronic conditions affecting a variety of body systems—blood, joints, kidneys, and others. These complications can be hard to diagnose if we don’t understand that a dog has been exposed to an infected tick.

Two studies from IDEXX show a connection between one of these conditions—chronic kidney disease (CKD)—and dogs exposed to infected ticks in areas where Borrelia burgdorferi (the agent that causes Lyme disease) and E. canis are endemic. This research shows that dogs exposed to Lyme disease are at a 43% higher risk of developing kidney disease. And for dogs exposed to Ehrlichia in E. canis-endemic areas, that number jumps up to 112%. This research included both symptomatic and seemingly healthy dogs.

Why should I ask my veterinarian about screening for exposure to infected ticks?

All dogs should be screened annually because it’s quite possible your pet could be fighting an infection and not showing any visible signs of illness. Your veterinarian can screen your dog using tests like the IDEXX SNAP® 4Dx® Plus Test, which is a comprehensive pet-side test for tick- and mosquito-transmitted infections. Running a comprehensive test once a year is important to monitor your pet’s health, as recommended by the Companion Animal Parasite Council, an independent group of leading parasitologists.

What are the signs of Lyme disease or Ehrlichia?

This Pet Health Network article on Lyme disease outlines symptoms, as does this article on Ehrlichia. For both conditions, signs may include fever, fatigue, and enlarged lymph nodes. Lyme disease can also be accompanied by joint pain. However, many dogs with antibodies to Lyme disease or Ehrlichia may show no visible signs of their infection.

This new data suggests that certain dogs, regardless of visible signs, may be at increased risk of ensuing diseases, making annual health monitoring even more important in tick-exposed pets.

What if my veterinarian determines that my dog has been exposed to an infected tick?

If your veterinarian is using the IDEXX SNAP 4Dx Plus Test, a blue dot indicating exposure to an infected tick can be quickly and easily followed up with routine blood work and urinalysis to determine if there is hidden or underlying tick-borne disease. Your veterinarian can also monitor kidney function with the IDEXX SDMA® Test to help catch early signs of kidney function loss in at-risk pets. With this information, your veterinarian can determine what treatments are appropriate.

What happens if my dog’s results are negative?

The good news is that negative results are our goal. A negative test result for exposure to infected ticks indicates preventive measures are working, which should be great news for you and your pet.

To protect our pets and ourselves, it’s critical to stay alert to the risks. That means regularly screening your pet—whether symptomatic or seemingly healthy—to identify exposure to infected ticks. Make an appointment today with your veterinarian to get your pet screened for exposure to tick-borne disease.