If he or she has been bitten by an infected tick, a dog can pass ehrlichiosis on to another canine. It’s essential to have this disease detected and treated early. Our Waxhaw vets list symptoms of ehrlichiosis in dogs and discuss treatment options.
What is ehrlichiosis in dogs?
When a dog is bitten by a tick infected with ehrlichiosis, disease can develop. Brown ticks are common throughout the United States and Canada, and E. canis is considered endemic to the southeastern and southwestern states.
A host’s white blood cells can become infected with Ehrlichia bacteria, which spread from host to host via tick bite and are difficult to eliminate. This is because most antibiotics do not penetrate to the interior of the cell, where the bacteria lives.
What are signs of ehrlichiosis?
Symptoms of canine ehrlichiosis fall into three categories:
- Early disease (acute phase)
- Sub-clinical (no outward appearance of disease)
- Clinical or chronic (long-standing infection)
This stage typically lasts between 2 and 4 weeks. If your dog’s body does not eliminate the infection naturally, it progresses to the sub-clinical phase. Symptoms of the acute phase include:
- Weight loss
- Respiratory distress
- Bleeding disorders (bleeding or spontaneous hemorrhage)
- Neurological disturbances (meningitis, or unsteady on feet)
- Swollen lymph nodes
While the organisms may be in your dog’s body during this phase, your pup may still not display any outward symptoms of the condition. The sub-clinical phase is often considered the “worst” phase as the disease can progress if it remains undetected.
Your vet may need to take a blood sample to see if there’s prolonged bleeding from the puncture site. If the organisms are not eliminated during this phase, your dog’s infection may progress to clinical ehrlichiosis.
When the organism is not eliminated from the immune system during one of the other stages, the condition progresses to clinical ehrlichiosis. Your dog may have numerous potential symptoms, including:
- Bleeding episodes
- Eye issues (such as hemorrhage into eyes, or blindness)
- Swollen limbs
During this stage, hugely problematic issues can develop. If the bone marrow (where blood cells are produced) fails, your pup will not have the blood cells he needs to sustain life (white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets).
How is ehrlichiosis diagnosed?
During the early stages of ehrlichiosis, dogs may test negative, making the infection challenging to diagnose early on.
Because it usually takes the immune system 2 to 3 weeks to respond to the organism’s presence and for the body to produce antibodies, testing at a later date may be necessary to detect antibodies and correctly diagnose the infection.
Your vet may use a number of different tests to learn which species of Ehrlichia are infecting your dog before sending the tests to our lab for analysis. At Providence South Animal Hospital in Waxhaw, we have an onsite lab and diagnostic testing, which means we receive results quickly and efficiently.
By detecting antibodies and noting clinical signs, your vet will be well on their way to diagnosing the condition if it is what’s causing your pet’s symptoms. More rarely, we’ll be able to detect the organism in cell samples or blood smears from the lymph nodes, lungs and spleen.
Baseline blood tests, including a blood cell count and chemistry, should also be taken. If anemia (low red blood cell counts, a low platelet count or high levels of globulin protein) is found in the blood, this is a sign that ehrlichiosis is the issue.
How is ehrlichiosis treated?
If your dog has anemia or severe bleeding problems, she may need a blood transfusion in addition to being treated for the disease.
Antibiotics, including the typically well-tolerated and easily accessible doxycycline, may be used for about 4 weeks. Depending on your dog’s blood parameters and clinical state, different medications such as steroids may be needed.
What is the prognosis for treating ehrlichiosis?
Following effective treatment, short-term prognosis is typically very good. If the disease was detected in its acute phase or mild chronic phase, your dog’s symptoms should typically improve within 24 to 48 hours.
How can I prevent ehrlichiosis?
Prevention is the best medicine - so try to ensure there are no ticks in your dog’s environment.
Our parasite prevention products can help protect your pet from common parasites. Topical tick preventives such as Advantix or Frontline Plus can help, along with chewable options such as Nexgard. Ask your veterinarian to recommend the right tick prevention medications for your dog.
Since this disease is transmitted exclusively via tick bites, dogs cannot transmit it directly to humans (who can contract canine ehrlichiosis through tick bites). But infected dogs may act as warnings to indicate to their owners that infected ticks are lurking in the area.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.