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Bleeding Disorder: Tick Disease to Blame The Ehrlichiosis Diagnosis
Tick bites are implicated in the spread of many infectious diseases to both animals and humans; one such disease is Ehrlichiosis- an infectious disease spread by the saliva of infected ticks.* In dogs, unexplained bleeding from orifices may be one of the first symptoms a pet owner notices in an Ehrlichia infection. Infected pets can go undetected until the chronic stage of infection. Learn about this disease and how to best protect your pets from ehrlichiosis through use of prevention strategies and through early recognition of symptoms.
How could this disease impact my dog’s health / performance / quality of life?
Symptoms of Ehrlichia canis infection can be vague at first: fever, malaise, swollen lymph nodes, and decreased appetite may be noticed. Discharge from the eyes and nose has also be reported. These signs are evident in the first few weeks following the infectious tick bite. If not caught early, the disease can become latent,emerging months to years later. Some pets appear capable of clearing the infection without treatment. Late stage disease is often severe and life threatening with complications such as clotting disorders and uncontrolled hemorrhaging, bone marrow depletion, inflamed eye tissue and blindness, seizures or neurologic disease, and death.
Can I test my dogs for this?
Routine blood tests to screen for tick diseases are recommended annually in apparently healthy pets. These screening tests can also be useful if a pet is exhibiting symptoms of a possible tick disease. A positive result on the screening test indicates exposure to Ehrlichia bacteria. Confirmation of infection requires additional lab tests. In mild cases, treatment may require antibiotics; more severe cases may require hospitalizations, IV fluids, intensive monitoring, and blood transfusions. In cases were bone marrow suppression and severe anemia occur, the outcome is likely fatal.
The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) is the tick species which carries Ehrlichia canis. This is not the same tick that carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease (Ixodes tick). If you find an attached, blood-filled tick, it is possible to test it for infectious agents. The entire tick must be submitted to a diagnostic laboratory through your veterinarian. This test is not routinely performed as a screening test but is available for those so inclined. Most dogs will not test positive on the screening test until a few weeks after the offending tick was attached.
Is my dog at risk?
In the USA, Ehrlichia canis is primarily a disease diagnosed in the southern states due to the preferred habitat of the brown dog tick. All states have reported dogs that test positive. It is not uncommon for tick exposed canines to test positive for more than one tick disease at time of detection, which can complicate diagnosis and treatment. Infection and subsequent treatment for Ehrlichia does not protect against repeat infection in the future.
Untreated infected canines (including coyotes and foxes) serve as a source of infection in communities, as ticks may feed on more than one animal. This is especially true of dogs in group housing environments without strict disease screening prior to entry, or when parasite prevention measures are substandard. There is not a vaccine available for Ehrlichia currently, faithful utilization of tick prevention methods is the best means to protect your pet from tick acquired diseases.
Is my family at risk?
Ehrlichia infections can occur in humans, but disease transmission requires a tick vector. Dogs cannot directly infect humans or other pets. In fact, humans are not routinely infected by the same species of bacteria as dogs. It is worthy to consider the increased risk of people who visit the same location as their pets, especially if their pet tests positive for a tick transmitted disease. It’s pertinent to mention this to your physician and veterinarian when applicable.
*Not all ticks are infected.
Dr. B’s recommendation: I can’t stress enough how important year round parasite prevention is to your pets health. Even in areas were risk is considered low, fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes can all survive indoors and can be transported by wildlife. It only takes one blood meal from a parasite to spread a potentially career ending and possible deadly diseases to your pet. The risk isn’t work it.
Amanda Burow, D.V.M. (Dr. B), is a graduate of Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Burow’s patient list includes hunting dogs of all varieties, as well as several field trial dogs and full time sporting guide dogs. In addition to practicing general veterinary medicine, she has special interest in the areas of preventive care, emergency medicine, and dermatology. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and on the lake, staying active, reading, and spending time with family and friends.
Mud River is proud to share these tips from Dr. B with our customers. Keep in mind it is best to work with your local veterinarian to determine the needs for your animals.