Ehrlichiosis in Dogs: What to Look Out For

ticks in dogs

Ehrlichiosis in dogs is a tick-borne infectious disease. It came to prominence as a disease of concern after infected US military dogs returned from Vietnam in the 1970s. 

The condition seems to be especially serious in Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds. The disease is more common in tropical areas and may require months of treatment. Prevention is vital because an infection can be fatal.

Read on to find out the symptoms of Ehrlichiosis and how to stop your pet from getting this nasty disease.

What Is Ehrlichiosis?

The rickettsia Ehrlichia canis will typically be the culprit causing ehrlichiosis in a dog. Rickettsiae are a special kind of bacteria that only live inside other cells. Carried by ticks, these organisms infect certain kinds of white blood cells.

The brown dog tick gets infected after feeding on other animals. Although this tick is the main carrier of the Ehrlichia organism, alternative tick species can also transmit the disease in dogs and may carry different subspecies of Ehrlichia. The brown tick is prevalent in most parts of Canada and the USA, particularly in the southern states.

What Are the Symptoms of Ehrlichiosis?

We can divide the signs of Ehrlichiosis into 3 stages: acute (early-on illness) sub-clinical (no outward symptoms of illness), and chronic or clinical (long-term infection).

In the early stages of the disease, a dog suffering from Ehrlichiosis may display the following symptoms:

These symptoms may last up to 4 weeks. Some dogs will then get over the infection, whilst others will enter the next subclinical phase. Deaths are rare in young, healthy dogs, provided an Ehrlichiosis diagnosis gets made early. 

During the subclinical stage, a dog may display no outward signs of illness. However, laboratory tests would show up that Ehrlichiosis was present. 

It’s possible for a dog owner to miss the illness early on if the symptoms were mild and passed quickly. That makes the next subclinical stage even more alarming because a dog may then get to the final or chronic stage without their owners realizing it.

Clinical Ehrlichiosis happens when the immune system is unable to get rid of the organism. Dogs will suffer a number of issues such as:

  • Anemia and bleeding problems
  • Eye issues including blindness
  • An ability to walk along with swollen limbs
  • Neurological issues and an inability to produce new blood cells
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Diagnosing Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

If you think your dog is suffering from the symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in dogs, you should contact a vet. This is especially important should your dog have been in a tick-infested region or spent time in a boarding facility or kennel.

Your vet would carry out a number of tests to diagnose Ehrlichiosis. These could include:

  • A complete blood count (CBC) that may show anemia or low platelet count
  • Serology tests for potential Ehrlichia antibodies
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR): only positive during the active phase
  • Blood cultures for a definitive diagnosis, but can take up to 2 months

Treatment for Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

Your vet will prescribe antibiotics to get rid of Ehrlichiosis in dogs. The usual varieties are minocycline and doxycycline. Your vet may also prescribe other drugs too to help with some of the symptoms. 

In cases of acute Ehrlichiosis treated, the prognosis is typically excellent provided the condition gets treated early on. Any fever will generally subside after a few days, although the course of treatment may last for a month or so. 

In cases of chronic infection, recovery is variable. Your vet is likely to recommend more prolonged courses of antibiotics. Although symptoms may subside after a few days, blood abnormalities can last for weeks or months. 

If the infection has led to your dog losing a great deal of blood, your vet may recommend a blood transfusion

Preventing Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

There are plenty of tick and flea preventatives for dogs on the market. There are, for example, tick-repellant collars, as well as topical creams and tablets available. Your vet will be able to recommend the most appropriate ones for where you live or if you intend to travel to a tick-infested area.

If you’ve traveled to an area of concern, inspect your dog carefully for ticks over several days. Should you live in a tick-infested area, you should check your dog for ticks each day. Here are the hotpots to look for:

  • Around the ears and eyelids
  • Between the toes and under the front legs
  • Around the tail and between the hind legs
  • Beneath the collar

Remove ticks with fine-pointed tweezers. Always grasp the head of the tick where it enters the skin. Pull the tick straight off, ensuring not to squeeze its body. For your own protection, wear gloves when looking for and removing ticks from your dog. You should still wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

If there are signs of lots of ticks, it might be best to get your vet to look over your dog and remove them for you.

Can I Catch Ehrlichiosis From My Dog?

People can pick up certain kinds of Ehrlichia bacteria. However, a tick is always a requirement for transmission. In that sense, dogs or other infected animals do not pose a direct threat of transmission under normal circumstances. 

However, infection in dogs might mean there’s a greater danger of human infections because of the heightened risk of tick exposure in a particular area or region. Some species of Ehrlichia can lead to disease in people. The elderly and those with a compromised immune system may suffer from more severe illness. 

Talk To a Vet Straight Away

If you have concerns that your dog may have the Ehrlichia canis bacteria or be carrying ticks, consult a vet straight away. Even if your dog has not been in an infected area, they may have picked up a harmful tick in another way.
We have a team of highly-qualified vets that you can talk to for advice and reassurance. Book a time slot with one of them today. The sooner we can treat Ehrlichiosis in dogs, the better.

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