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What are the symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs?

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is seen in dogs across the US with symptoms ranging from mild to potentially life-threatening. Today we share some of the most common symptoms seen in dogs, as well as the treatments available for this tick-borne disease and how to help protect your dog against RMSF. 

What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is an acute, tick-borne disease seen in dogs throughout the USA.

RMSF is caused by an intracellular parasite called rickettsia rickettsii, which is transmitted to dogs through the bite of an infected Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick, or brown dog tick.

In order for transmission of the parasite to occur an unfed tick needs to be attached to your dog for more than 10 hours. Although, if the tick has already fed it is capable of transmitting the disease to your dog in as little as 10 minutes after attachment. 

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Symptoms in Dogs

Symptoms of RMSF in dogs begin to appear between 2 - 14 days after the bite occurred and can be extremely varied. Many of the symptoms of this disease are common to other conditions which can make diagnosis challenging. Knowing if and when your dog may have been exposed to ticks can help your veterinarian diagnose your pup's condition.

Any organ in the dog's body could be affected by RMSF and the symptoms can range from mild to severe or even life-threatening. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Non-specific muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swelling of the face or legs
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence
  • Pain
  • Eye/nose discharge
  • Nosebleed
  • Cough
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Lameness

Tiny hemorrhages in the skin can be a symptom of the disease in some dogs, and about 1/3 of infected dogs will experience symptoms related to the central nervous system such as spinal pain,  lack of coordination, weakness, balance problems, or seizures. 

Diagnosis Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

When diagnosing RMSF, your vet will begin by examining your dog for any of the signs of the symptoms listed above, then possibly perform a series of diagnostic tests such as: x-rays, basic blood tests, and urinalysis.

Results that point to RMSF include low numbers of platelets, red blood cells (anemia), and abnormal white blood cell counts on complete blood count (CBC) results. Other diagnostic tests could detect low protein levels, abnormal calcium levels, electrolyte abnormalities, and abnormal liver or kidney values which point towards a diagnosis of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in your dog.

Treatment for Dogs With Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

The primary treatment for RMSF in dogs is a round of antibiotics. Fortunately, many dogs respond well to the antibiotic treatment, with a noted improvement in their condition seen within 24 to 48 hours after starting treatment. That said, dogs suffering from a severe case of the disease may not respond to treatment at all.

The most common antibiotics used to treat RMSF are tetracycline, doxycycline, and minocycline. In more serious cases, your vet may also recommend a blood transfusion to treat anemia or other supportive therapies.

Prognosis for Dogs with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

For dogs that are diagnosed and treated for RMSF early, the prognosis is good and there tends to be few complications associated with the illness. In fact, lifelong immunity will often occur after the infection has been cleared up.

Dogs with advanced RMSF not treated in the early stages, are at higher risk for more severe complications of the disease such as kidney disease, neurological disease, vasculitis, and coagulopathies.

Protecting Your Dog Against Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

To help prevent your dog from contracting RMSF, limit your dog's exposure to ticks and tick-infested areas, particularly during peak tick months from March through October.

Whenever your dog has been out in areas known to have ticks, inspect your dog closely for ticks. The sooner you can remove a tick after it attaches to your dog, the better your chance that the parasite will not have had time to infect your pet.

Always wear gloves when removing ticks from your dog to avoid being infected through cuts and scratches on your hand. Tick remover tools are inexpensive and readily available at pet stores and vet's offices.

Year round tick prevention medications can help protect your dog against a host of tick borne diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Canine Ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, tularemia, and Canine Babesiosis.

Tick prevention is included in our Pet Wellness Plans here at Germantown Parkway Animal Hospital. Wellness Plans help to make yearly preventive care for pets more affordable. Find out more about our Pet Wellness Plans.

If your dog is showing signs of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, contact us at Germantown Parkway Animal Hospital in Cordova to book an examination for your dog.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever dogs - symptoms and treatments, Cordova Vet

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