Ehrlichiosis is spread by the bite of a tick infected with the Ehrlichia organism. It is essential to diagnose and treat Ehrlichiosis in dogs as early as possible to prevent the disease from becoming severe. Today our North Asheville vets explain the symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in dogs and how it is treated.
What is Ehrlichiosis in dogs?
There are many tick borne diseases in dogs, Ehrlichiosis is one of them. Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial illness which spreads through the bite of ticks infected with the Ehrlichia organism. Ehrlichia canis (one type of Ehrlichia organism) is primarily responsible for Ehrlichiosis in dogs and is typically transmitted by the brown dog tick. These ticks can be found throughout North America.
What are the symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in dogs?
This condition is classified into three different stages. The symptoms that your dog displays will depend upon which stage the disease is in.
The three stages of Ehrlichiosis are: early disease (acute phase), sub-clinical (no outward appearance of disease), and clinical or chronic (long-standing infection).
1 - Acute Phase Ehrlichiosis
This early stage of the disease generally lasts from 2 to 4 week. If the disease is not treated and eliminated during the acute phase your dog will progress to the sub-clinical phase. Acute phase Ehrlichiosis symptoms include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss
- Respiratory distress
- Bleeding disorders (spontaneous hemorrhage or bleeding)
- Neurological disturbances (meningitis or unsteady on feet)
2 - Ehrlichiosis Sub-Clinical Phase
Although the organism is still present during the sub-clinical phase of Ehrlichiosis, your dog may not exhibit any symptoms at all. In many ways this is the most dangerous point in the disease because it is able to go undetected and progress to the clinical phase. Some dogs are able to fight the infection and avoid progressing to the clinical stage, but others will move into the clinical phase. German shepherds and greyhounds are particularly prone to developing long-term symptoms of this condition.
3 - Clinical Phase (Chronic Ehrlichiosis)
Chronic Ehrlichiosis happens when the organism isn’t eliminated by the immune system in one of the previous stages. Symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in the clinical phase can be very serious and include:
- Bleeding episodes
- Swollen limbs
- Neurological problems
- Eye problems (possible blindness or hemorrhage)
If your pup reaches this stage of the disease the dog's bone marrow (where blood cells are produced) can fail, meaning that the animal's body is unable to create blood cells required to survive (platelets, white blood cells and red blood cells).
How is Ehrlichiosis in dogs diagnosed?
The detection of antibodies through blood tests, combined with specific clinical signs are your veterinarian's primary diagnostic criteria.
Ehrlichiosis in the early stages can be challenging to diagnose. Blood tests at this point may not be able to detect the presence of the disease. That said, once the dog's immune system has had sufficient time to respond to the presence of the organism and build up antibodies (2-3 weeks) blood tests can be helpful in confirming a diagnosis of the disease.
What is the treatment for Ehrlichiosis?
Antibiotics are the primary treatment for Ehrlichiosis in dogs. If your pup is diagnosed with Ehrlichiosis your vet will prescribe an antibiotic such as doxycycline to be administered for about a month or more. Other medications such as steroids could be prescribed depending on the symptoms that your dog is experiencing.
Pets suffering from severe bleeding problems or anemia may need a blood transfusion as part of their treatment for Ehrlichiosis.
What is the prognosis for dogs with Ehrlichiosis?
If the condition is detected early and treatment begins in the acute or sub-clinical phase the prognosis is typically very good. You may begin to notice an improvement in your dog's health as soon as 24 to 48 hours after treatment begins.
The prognosis is more guarded for dogs that have reached the chronic stage of the disease when bone marrow suppression occurs.
How can I prevent Ehrlichiosis?
Because Ehrlichiosis is spread by ticks, the best way to guard your dog's health against Ehrlichiosis is by avoiding ticks, and keeping your pet on year-round tick prevention medications. It is also important to check your dog's skin for ticks whenever you have been in areas where ticks are known to live.
Speak to your vet to find out how to remove ticks safely and properly from your pet, and to find out which tick prevention medication is most appropriate for your dog.
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.