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Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial disease that can develop after your pet has been bitten by a tick. In today's post, our Nashua vets discuss ehrlichiosis in dogs, as well as the symptoms and treatment of this disease.

What is ehrlichiosis in dogs?

Ehrlichiosis is a disease caused by ehrlichia in dogs. This bacteria is spread through the bite of an infected brown tick. 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 bacteria can be challenging to treat since most antibiotics are unable to reach the inside of the cell where they live.

Ehrlichiosis in Dogs Symptoms

The ehrlichia in dogs symptoms are associated with three different 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:

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

Sub-Clinical Phase

The sub-clinical phase is often considered the worst phase of ehrlichiosis in dogs because there may be no outward sign of the disease, meaning that it is able to 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 dog’s infection may move to the next stage - clinical ehrlichiosis.

Clinical Phase

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

  • Lameness
  • Swollen limbs
  • Neurological problems
  • Bleeding episodes
  • Anemia
  • Eye problems (such as blindness or hemorrhage in the eyes)

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

Diagnosing Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

Early diagnosis of this disease can be difficult as the symptoms may not be consistent.

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 at Animal Medical Center of New England, 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.

Ehrlichiosis in Dogs Treatment

Some dogs experience severe bleeding and anemia when infected with Ehrliochosis and may require a blood transfusion during treatment.

Antibiotics such as the easily accessible and typically well-tolerated doxycycline may be used for about 4 weeks. Depending on your pup’s clinical state and blood parameters, different medications such as steroids may be prescribed.

Outcome for Dogs With Ehrlichiosis

Generally, the prognosis for dogs suffering from ehrlichiosis is fairly 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 Ehrlichia in Dogs

Like all other diseases and conditions, it is easier to prevent the issues than to treat them. Try to ensure there are no ticks in your dog’s environment by using the tick prevention product that your vet recommends for your pooch. The right tick prevention for your dog will depend upon your pup's risk of exposure to disease-causing ticks and other factors. Your vet will have more information on protecting your furry friend.

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 think that your dog may be suffering from ehrlichiosis? Contact our Nashua vets to schedule an examination.

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Animal Medical Center of New England welcomes emergency walk-ins and appointments when your pet needs us most. Our team of specialists is also accepting referrals from primary care veterinarians - fill out a referral form to get started.

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