While finding a tick on your pet can be disturbing. The larger concern is a disease being transmitted. How long does it take for tick to transmit a disease?
So, ticks can carry all kinds of bacteria and disease, but the most prevalent, commonly heard of and one of the scariest is Lyme disease.
Although Lyme disease can take 2-5 months before physical detection in dogs, it's rate of spreading and infection is perplexing to even most scientists and veterinarians. A dog with no prevention, can be bitten with a tick carrying the bacteria (borrelia), and still end up not contracting Lyme disease. And even those that ARE infected may end up showing none to little symptoms of the disease.
The factors that need to be taken into consideration, if you're pet has been bitten by a tick and you're worried about infection, are:
1) the age of your pet. Lyme disease is more likely to produce in order dogs than in puppies.
2) if your pet already has health issues. Lyme disease spreads at a faster rate in pets with a weaker immune system or a pet that has reduced kidney or liver function. Since borrelia is a blood transferred pathogen, it would only make sense that it would be more capable of attacking an animal if it's liver and kidneys were not working at a better rate to clean and eliminate toxins from the bloodstream. Any pets with an autoimmune disorder would also be at a higher risk because the body needs to produce antibodies to attack the bacteria. It's also common that once infected, your pet may have symptoms similar to an autoimmune disease because the bacteria can trigger the bodies defensive immune system to turn on itself, in an attempt to fix the problem. Once the body detects Lyme it produces antibodies that can attack normal tissues, not just infected tissues.
3) Wheres my pets location?- Lyme disease is more popular in more areas than others. For example in the US Northeastern states and Northern California are at higher risks than other states. You can find more information on the prevalence of Lyme disease on the CDC website.
4) Can you identify the type of tick your pet was bitten by, that's in question to cause disease? Specific to Lyme disease the only ticks that carry Borrelia, which causes Lyme disease are as follows (common names used for sake of easier reading): US: Deer Tick,black-legged tick, Western black-legged tick, Europe and Asia: European sheep tick and Taiga Tick.
With all of that said, there is not a specific answer to the question but with certain factors I will do my best to answer the rate of how quickly infection is spread. In this study Biology of Infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, which I actually had to make phone calls to get better information: FOR Humans, monkeys, dogs, cats and mice: After an infected tick has had AT LEAST 72 on it's host, animals that became infected showed proof of spread (action of bodies producing higher white blood cell count to fight bacteria and production of antibodies) was an additional 12-48 hours after that 72 hour host period, from multiple healthy host pets. But with this list of animals, most do not show signs and symptoms until months later (dogs and cats 2-5 months, humans as late as years later) and all have a slower rate of killing the infection (bacterial Infection, not Lyme disease treatment) 7-14 days, . Hamsters: AFTER 72 hours of tick on host, hamsters showed signs of spreading to multiple parts of the body, not just bite site. Within 24 hours there after, thru tissue samples, a more rapid spread comparatively than other animals BUT never showed symptoms unless injected with the bacteria directly. In both instances hamsters showed a very rapid repair after infection. Rabbits AFTER 72 HOURS OF tick on host, infection was found spreading within 24 hours after that 3 day period, and had similar reaction to that of humans do if infected, rash and fever, but could rid the infection rapidly as well, 5-9 days to clear infection. Rate of infection is based on Healthy specimens, pets with additional health problems and compromised immune systems would be at a higher risk of faster transmission of disease.
With all of this mentioned you can prevent Lyme disease and Borrelia spread by:
1) tick prevention monthly, getting tested, seeing a vet for proper examination, and using a tick prevention will make this ALMOST a non issue. If you're concerned your tick prevention is not working on your pet, suggest switching to your vet.
2) removing not just the ticks body, but head and it's entirety to prevent spread. The longer the tick is on, the more likely the spread of disease. Sometimes a tick is not discovered within minutes of when it arrived, so do not wait. Remove ASAP.
3) Cleaning the bitten area. By thoroughly cleaning the area of bite, after removal of tick, you can kill the bacteria left behind and keep the surface bacteria from lingering and festering and entering the bloodstream.
4) Keeping your pet indoors. This will lower your pets exposure to ticks, and as you've seen, dogs and cats aren't the only pets affected. If you can keep your bunny hutch inside instead of out you lower the risk, and if you must keep your pet outside, keep its enclosure as clean as possible to make it easier to see a tick or ticks BEFORE your pet is bitten.
I know this does not totally answer the question as birds are also affected by ticks AND ticks spread a long list of diseases and bacteria, but I'm thinking with more specific questions this CAN be answered for all common tick diseases not just Lyme disease.
Thanks to those from the Biology Dept at ODU university who made phone calls with me to get better answers on experiments used on the Borellia bacteria.
NC State School of Veterinary Medicine