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Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs & How It Is Treated

Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs & How It Is Treated

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is an acute tick borne disease seen in dogs across the US with symptoms ranging in severity from mild to life-threatening. Our North Asheville vets share some of the symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs, and how RMSF is treated.

What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is an acute, tick-borne disease which is seen in dogs across the United States.

RMSF is caused by an intracellular parasite called rickettsia rickettsii, which can be transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. Ticks species that carry RMSF include the Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick, and brown dog tick.

Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Symptoms of RMSF typically begin to appear in dogs between 2 - 14 days after being bitten by an infected tick, and can be somewhat vague. Many symptoms of RMSF are common to other diseases seen in dogs, so knowing if your pooch could have been exposed to infected ticks can help your vet to diagnose your pet's condition. 

RMSF can affect any of the organs in your pet's body and cause symptoms ranging from mild to severe or even life-threatening. Common signs of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Non-specific muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • High fever
  • Lack of energy
  • Eye/nose discharge
  • Nosebleed
  • Cough
  • Lameness, limping
  • Swelling of the face or legs

Small hemorrhages in the skin can also be a symptom of this disease in dogs, and about 1/3 of infected dogs will experience central nervous system issues such as spinal pain, seizures, lack of coordination, weakness, or balance issues. 

Diagnosing Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Your veterinarian will begin by examining your dog for any of the symptoms listed above then perform a series of diagnostic tests such as: x-rays, urinalysis, and basic blood tests to reach a diagnosis of RMSF.

Results that can indicate RMSF include low numbers of platelets, red blood cells (anemia), and abnormal white blood cell counts seen in complete blood count (CBC). Further diagnostic testing may show low protein levels, abnormal calcium levels, electrolyte abnormalities, and abnormal liver or kidney values which can lead to a definitive diagnosis of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Treatment for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Antibiotics are typically prescribed for dogs diagnosed with RMSF. Most dogs respond well to antibiotic treatment, with a noticeable improvement in their condition seen within 24 to 48 hours. However, dogs suffering from more severe cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever may not respond to treatment at all. In severe cases of the disease, your veterinarian may also recommend that your dog have a blood transfusion to treat anemia or other supportive therapies to address symptoms.

The Prognosis for Dogs with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

In dogs that are diagnosed and treated early for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the prognosis is good and there tends to be few complications associated with the disease. In many cases, lifelong immunity will occur after the infection has been cleared up.

Dogs with advanced RMSF that has gone untreated in the early stages, face an increased risk for severe complications from the disease such as kidney disease, neurological disease, vasculitis, and bleeding disorders.

Preventing Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

To help protect your dog against RMSF, limit your dog's exposure to ticks and tick-infested areas, especially during peak tick months. If your dog has been out in areas known to have ticks, inspect your dog's skin closely for ticks as soon as you get home. The sooner you can remove a tick after it attaches, the better your chances that the parasite will not have had time to infect your pet.

Wear gloves when removing ticks from your dog to help avoid being infected through cuts and scratches on your hand, or use a special tick removal tool.

Keep your dog on tick prevention medications year-round to help protect your dog against a host of tick borne diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Canine Ehrlichiosis, Canine Babesiosis, and Lyme disease.

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.

Is your dog displaying symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? Contact us to book an examination for your dog. At Animal Hospital of North Asheville, our vets offer comprehensive veterinary care for pets in the North Asheville community and beyond.

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