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Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

Ehrlichiosis is a serious tick-borne disease seen in dogs predominantly in the Southeastern and Southwestern United States. Here, our Monterey Park vets discuss ehrlichiosis in dogs including its signs, treatment options, and preventive measures.

Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

Ehrlichiosis is a disease that develops in dogs that have been bitten by infected brown ticks which can be found throughout the United States and Canada. The organism which is spread by the ticks and causes the disease (Ehrlichia canis or E. canis) is considered endemic to the southeastern and southwestern states.

Ehrlichia can be challenging to treat since most antibiotics are unable to reach the inside of the cell where they live.

Signs of Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

Ehrlichiosis symptoms in dogs can be classified into three stages: early disease (acute phase), sub-clinical (no outward appearance of disease), and clinical or chronic (long-standing infection).

Acute Phase

The acute stage of ehrlichiosis can last 2 to 4 weeks, during which the infection is either eliminated or your dog will progress to the sub-clinical phase. Symptoms of the acute stage include:

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

Sub-Clinical Phase

In the sub-clinical phase, the Ehrlichia organism is present but there may not be any outward signs of disease. This is often considered the worst phase of the disease because it can progress undetected.

In some cases, the disease is detected when the vet notices prolonged bleeding from the injection site after taking a blood sample. If the organisms are not eliminated in this stage, your pooch’s infection may move to the next stage - clinical ehrlichiosis.

Clinical Phase

Clinical ehrlichiosis happens when the organism isn’t eliminated by the immune system in one of the previous stages. This stage can lead to several serious symptoms, including:

  • Lameness
  • Swollen limbs
  • Neurological problems
  • Anemia
  • Bleeding episodes
  • Eye problems (blindness, hemorrhage, etc.)

This phase becomes extremely serious if the bone marrow (where blood cells are produced) fails, meaning that your pup will be unable to create any blood cells he needs to sustain life (platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells).

Diagnosing Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

Dogs in the early stages of this disease may test negative for the condition, making the infection difficult to diagnose early on.

Because the immune system usually takes 2 to 3 weeks to respond to the presence of the organism, and for antibodies to develop, it may take testing at a later date to detect antibodies and properly diagnose the infection.

Your veterinarian may use a few different tests to find out which species of Ehrlichia are infecting your dog, then send the tests to our lab for analysis. Because we have an onsite lab and diagnostic testing, we’re able to get results quickly and efficiently.

The detection of antibodies, combined with certain clinical signs are your vet’s primary diagnostic criteria. More rarely, the organism will be detected in blood smears or cell samples from the spleen, lungs, and lymph nodes. Baseline blood tests, including a blood cell count and chemistry, should also be completed.

If anemia (low red blood cell counts, high levels of globulin protein, or a low platelet count) are spotted in the blood, this is a good indication that ehrlichiosis is the problem.

Treating Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

If your pup has severe bleeding problems or anemia due to ehrlichiosis, they may need a blood transfusion along with being treated for the disease.

Treating ehrlichiosis in dogs typically involves a 4 week round of antibiotics such as doxycycline. Depending on your pup’s clinical state and blood parameters, different medications such as steroids may be prescribed.

The Prognosis for Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

The short-term prognosis following effective treatment is typically very good. Once your pet begins treatment you should see an improvement in your dog's condition within 24 to 48 hours, if the disease was caught in its acute phase or mild chronic phase.

Preventing Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

Prevention is always the best medicine when it comes to tick-borne diseases, so be sure that your dog is up to date on their parasite prevention vaccinations. Also, try to ensure there are no ticks in your dog’s environment by using topical tick preventives.

There are also oral chewable options available. Ask your vet for recommendations on the right tick-prevention medications for your pooch.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. Please make an appointment with your vet to accurately diagnose your pet's condition.

Are you concerned that your dog is showing signs of ehrlichiosis? Contact our Monterey Park vets right away to have your pup diagnosed and treated.

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