With so much frightening information circulating about Lyme Disease, it is easy to forget that creepy-crawly-tiny-ticks can transmit a host of other harmful diseases. One such tick-borne illness that has been steadily on the rise in the U.S. is ehrlichiosis. According to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, more than 123,000 dogs tested positive for one of the two main strains of Ehrlichia in 2016; more than twice the amount of cases reported just four years earlier.
The first symptoms of ehrlichiosis can take one to three weeks to appear, making it difficult for pet owners to connect their dogs’ sudden illness with a tick bite. In the acute phase of the disease, dogs may experience swollen lymph nodes, fever, sore joints, lethargy, poor appetite and depression.
Up to several years after being bitten by an infected tick, dogs with chronic ehrlichiosis can develop a serious infection that leads to a blood clotting disorder known as thrombocytopenia. The condition destroys the platelets in the blood and causes bleeding into the body tissues.
Certain breeds – most notably German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers – are predisposed to severe forms of ehrlichiosis.
There are three species of tick and three strains of Ehrlichia bacteria that primarily affect dogs. The Brown Dog Tick is the main culprit for the disease, but the American Dog Tick and the Lone Star Tick are also known to transmit ehrlichiosis-causing bacteria.
As serious as the disease is – some dogs experience seizures, paralysis, kidney failure and severe anemia – it also tends to be highly treatable. “Cycline” antibiotics are excellent at targeting the disease-causing bacteria and dogs often show improvement in as little as 24 hours. Those with severe or chronic cases may require additional supportive care in the form of fluid therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs and/or blood transfusions.
Instances of ehrlichiosis were once limited to Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri, but positive cases are now reported in every US state. You can help protect your dog by using pet-safe tick preventive products, avoiding tall grass, woods and shrubbery on walks, and checking for ticks daily after trips outside. Don’t forget, ticks love to hide in warm, dark areas like the ears and groin!
You can also research the prevalence of ehrlichiosis in your area by clicking on the CAPC Parasite Prevalence Map.