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Symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in Dogs: What To Watch For

Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial infection that is spread through the bite of an infected tick. Here, our Cumming vets share some important information about the causes and symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in dogs and how it can be prevented.

What is Ehrlichiosis and how does it affect dogs?

Ehrlichiosis is an infectious disease transmitted by ticks carrying bacteria in the Ehrlichia genus. These bacteria live inside your pet's white blood cells and the kind of cells they reside in indicates the kind of bacteria one has been infected with. The types of Ehrlichia bacteria that your dog is infected with depend on the types of tick that they were bitten by.

While there are many kinds of Ehrlichia bacteria, two are most prevalent in the United States:

Ehrlichia Canis

This bacteria lives in white blood cells called monocytes and causes the disease which is commonly known as Ehrlichiosis. It is primarily carried by the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus). It isn't known how long the tick needs to be attached to a dog to transmit this bacteria and infect your pup with Ehrlichiosis. While it could take up to 48 hours, it is likely to be a much smaller timeframe.

Ehrlichia Ewingii

This bacteria lives in white blood cells called granulocytes and causes a less serious version of Ehrlichiosis. It is most often carried by the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum). Dogs who are infected with this kind of Ehrlichia bacteria generally develop milder symptoms, or may not even appear to be infected at all. But often, symptoms will involve swollen or stiff joints. 

Ehrlichiosis in Dogs: Symptoms

There are three phases to Ehrlichiosis caused by Ehrlichia Canis, acute, sub-clinical, and chronic. You can expect the symptoms to begin to show between 1 and 3 weeks after infection. Here are a selection of the most common symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in dogs from all three phases of the disease:

  • Fever
  • Swollen Lymph Nodes
  • Weight Loss
  • Spontaneous Bleeding
  • Neurological Disturbances
  • Anemia
  • Lameness
  • Blindness
  • Swollen Limbs
  • Bleeding from the Eye

Dogs will generally move from the acute to the sub-clinical phase after about 1-4 weeks. In the sub-clinical phase, symptoms all but disappear as the disease hides itself in your pup's spleen. Not all dogs ever progress from the sub-clinical phase to the chronic phase, but when they do, the symptoms become much more serious. 

What are the treatment options for Ehrlichiosis in dogs?

Diagnosing Ehrlichiosis can be a difficult process. The disease is only diagnosable two to three weeks after your pup is infected, once symptoms have begun showing. And if you get your pet tested before then, even if they have been infected, the tests will result in a negative result.

If Ehrlichiosis isn't detected in your dog beforehand, it can be even more difficult to diagnose in its sub-clinical phase.

When your dog is diagnosed with Ehrlichiosis, regardless of its phase, you have many treatment options. Most often, your vet will prescribe an antibiotic such as doxycycline for your pet. While your dog will have to take a month-long course of this antibiotic, you should notice an improvement in their condition within a couple of days. 

The prognosis for pups in the acute and sub-clinical phases of this disease. With a course of antibiotics and further testing to ensure the disease has been eliminated, your dog should be able to make a full recovery. For dogs in the chronic stage, however, treatment is much more difficult since they are weaker and more debilitated. Treatment for dogs in this phase of the disease may involve blood transfusions in addition to the regular course of antibiotics and the mortality rate is much higher than in earlier stages of the disease. 

How to Prevent Ehrlichiosis Infections in Dogs

Even if your dog has already had Ehrlichiosis, they can be reinfected since Ehrlichia immunity isn't lifelong. Because this disease can be dangerous if it isn't caught early, your best bet for keeping your dog safe from Ehrlichiosis is prevention.

Year-round tick prevention medications are the number one defense against Ehrlichiosis in dogs. Speak to your vet to find out which parasite prevention medication is best for your pet based on where you live, your pet's age, and your dog's lifestyle. While these medications go a long way to protecting your dog, no tick prevention method is 100% effective, so diligence is always a must.

If your dog has been in areas where ticks are known to live such as farmland, forests, or areas with tall grass, be sure to inspect your dog's skin for ticks as soon as you get home. Most ticks are dark brown or black and fairly large once they have begun to feed. An online search should help you learn what ticks in your area look like and where they are typically found.

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.

Do you live in an area where ticks thrive? Contact Animal Medical Center of Cumming to book an appointment for important preventive care today. 

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