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Tick Borne Diseases in Dogs - Ehrlichiosis

Dogs contract Ehrlichiosis after begin bitten by a tick infected with the Ehrlichia organism. It is essential to diagnose and treat Ehrlichiosis as early as possible in order to prevent the disease from becoming more severe. In today's post our Cordova vets share more about this serious condition including symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in dogs. 

What is Ehrlichiosis in dogs?

Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial illness that develops in dogs that have been bitten by a tick infected with the Ehrlichia organism. Ehrlichia canis (one type of Ehrlichia organism) is primarily responsible for Ehrlichiosis in dogs and is transmitted by the brown dog tick. These ticks can be found throughout the United States and Canada.

What are the symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in dogs?

This condition is classified into three different stages and the signs of Ehrlichiosis in dogs depends upon which stage of the disease the dog is in. 

The three stages are: early disease (acute phase), sub-clinical (no outward appearance of disease), and clinical or chronic (long-standing infection).

Acute Phase

This early stage of the disease typically 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. Ehrlichiosis symptoms in dogs at the acute phase include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Weight loss
  • Respiratory distress
  • Bleeding disorders (spontaneous hemorrhage or bleeding)
  • Fever
  • Neurological disturbances (meningitis or unsteady on feet)

Sub-Clinical Phase

While the organism is still present during the sub-clinical phase of Ehrlichiosis, your dog may not exhibit any symptoms. In many ways this is the worst or 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.

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
  • Anemia
  • Lameness
  • Swollen limbs
  • Neurological problems
  • Eye problems (possible blindness or hemorrhage)

At this stage 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 though blood tests, combined with specific clinical signs are your vet’s primary diagnostic criteria.

Ehrlichiosis in the early stages can be difficult to diagnose. Blood tests at this point may not be able to detect the presence of the disease. However, 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 help to confirm a diagnosis of the disease.

What is the treatment for Ehrlichiosis?

Antibiotics are the primary treatment for Ehrlichiosis in dogs. If your dog is diagnosed with Ehrlichiosis your vet will likely prescribe an antibiotic such as doxycycline to be administered for about a month. Other medications such as steroids may be required depending on the symptoms of Ehrlichiosis that your dog is experiencing.

Pets suffering from severe bleeding problems or anemia, may need a blood transfusion as part of their treatment for the condition.

What is the prognosis for treating Ehrlichiosis?

If the disease is detected early and treatment begins in the acute or sub clinical phase the prognosis is generally very good. You may begin to notice an improvement in your dog's health as early 24 to 48 hours after treatment begins.

The prognosis is guarded for dogs that have reached the chronic stage when bone marrow suppression occurs. 

How can I prevent Ehrlichiosis?

Ehrlichiosis is one of several serious tick borne diseases, meaning that 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.

At Germantown Parkway Animal Hospital in Cordova our Wellness Plans include 12 months of tick and flea prevention. Wellness Plans are designed to help make regular and prevent care more affordable for pet owners. See our Wellness Plans page for more details.

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.

If you think that your dog may be suffering from a Ehrlichiosis, contact our vets at Germantown Parkway Animal Hospital in Cordova to book an urgent appointment for your dog.

Ehrlichiosis in dogs - symptoms and treatments, Cordova Animal Hospital

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