Ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne illness commonly seen across the US. Today, our Citrus County vets are here to talk about the disease including its symptoms, treatment and prevention tips.
What Is Ehrlichiosis In Dogs?
Ehrlichiosis is a disease that can be found throughout the United States and Canada. It can develop in dogs after they have been bitten by an infected brown tick. The organism which is spread by the ticks and causes the disease (Ehrlichia canis or E. canis) is considered endemic to the southeastern and southwestern states. Ehrlichia bacteria can be challenging to treat since most antibiotics are unable to reach the inside of the cell where they live.
The Symptoms Of Ehrlichiosis In Dogs
There are 3 main stages of Ehrlichiosis in dogs and each stage has different symptoms, early disease (acute phase), sub-clinical (no outward appearance of disease), and clinical or chronic (long-standing infection).
The acute stage of ehrlichiosis can last 2 to 4 weeks, during which the infection is either eliminated or your dog will progress to the sub-clinical phase. Symptoms of the acute stage include:
- Weight loss
- Respiratory distress
- Bleeding disorders (spontaneous hemorrhage or bleeding)
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Neurological disturbances (meningitis or unsteady on feet)
This phase is considered to be the worst phase of the disease. This is because there are no outward clinical signs so the disease is allowed to progress completely undetected.
In some cases, the disease is detected when the vet notices prolonged bleeding from the injection site after taking a blood sample. If the organisms are not eliminated in this stage, your dog’s infection may move to the next stage - clinical ehrlichiosis.
Clinical ehrlichiosis occurs when the organism isn’t eliminated by the immune system in one of the previous stages. This stage can lead to serious symptoms, including:
- Swollen limbs
- Bleeding episodes
- Neurological problems
- Eye problems (such as blindness or hemorrhage into eyes)
This phase becomes extremely serious if the dog's bone marrow (where blood cells are produced) fails, meaning that your dog will be unable to create any blood cells they need to sustain life (platelets, white blood cells and red blood cells).
How Do Vets Diagnose Ehrlichiosis In Dogs?
In the early stages of the disease, your dog may actually test negative for ehrlichiosis, making it even more difficult to diagnose until the later stages.
Because the immune system usually takes 2 to 3 weeks to respond to the presence of the organism, and for antibodies to develop, it may take testing at a later date to detect antibodies and properly diagnose the infection.
Your veterinarian may use a few different tests to find out which species of Ehrlichia are infecting your dog, then send the tests to our lab for analysis. Because we have an onsite lab and diagnostic testing at Dunnellon Animal Hospital, we’re able to get results quickly and efficiently.
The detection of antibodies, combined with certain clinical signs are your vet’s primary diagnostic criteria. More rarely, the organism will be detected in blood smears or cell samples from the spleen, lungs and lymph nodes. Baseline blood tests, including a blood cell count and chemistry should also be completed.
If anemia (low red blood cell counts, high levels of globulin protein or a low platelet count) are spotted in the blood, this is a good indication that ehrlichiosis is the problem.
How To Treat Ehrlichiosis
If your pooch is experiencing severe bleeding problems or anemia due to ehrlichiosis, they may need a blood transfusion along with being treated for the disease.
Antibiotics such as the easily accessible and typically well-tolerated doxycycline may be used for about 4 weeks. Depending on your pup’s clinical state and blood parameters, different medications such as steroids may be prescribed.
What Is The Prognosis For Ehrlichiosis?
The short-term prognosis following effective treatment is typically very good. Once your pet begins treatment you should see an improvement in your dog's condition within 24 to 48 hours, if the disease was caught in its acute phase or mild chronic phase.
How Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Infected With Ehrlichiosis?
Prevention is always the best way to handle diseases in pets especially when it comes to tick-borne illnesses. You can do your part to keep ticks off of your dog by providing a tick prevention product that your vet recommends for your pooch. The right tick prevention for your dog will depend upon your pup's risk of exposure to disease causing ticks and other factors. Speak to your vet to find out more.
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.