Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs (cont.)

Canine Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis

This is a relatively common rickettsial disease caused by the organisms E. canis and E. ewingii, although several other rickettsia are capable of causing ehrlichiosis. The disease is transmitted by the bite of the brown dog tick and, occasionally, other tick species. Ehrlichiosis occurs mainly in the Gulf Coast area, the eastern seaboard, the Midwest, and California. Outside the United States it is distributed worldwide. Some of the Ehrlichia species have been renamed and are now listed in scientific literature as Anaplasma platys.

Ticks acquire the rickettsia by feeding on an infected host. A variety of wild and domestic animals serve as reservoirs. Because of its chronic nature, cases of ehrlichiosis are seen year-round, not just during the tick season.

The disease occurs in three phases. During the acute phase, the dog develops fever, depression, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, enlarged lymph nodes, and, occasionally, signs of encephalitis. These symptoms may suggest Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, or canine distemper.

Two to four weeks after the onset of the acute phase, the dog enters a subclinical phase that lasts weeks to months. Some dogs eliminate the infection during the subclinical phase; others progress to the chronic phase. There appears to be a breed disposition for developing chronic ehrlichiosis; German Shepherd Dogs and Doberman Pinschers, for example, are at increased risk.

During the chronic phase, which appears one to four months after the tick bite, the disease attacks the dog's bone marrow and immune system, producing weight loss, fever, anemia, a hemorrhagic syndrome with spontaneous bleeding and nose bleeds, swelling of the limbs, and various neurological signs. These signs may suggest leukemia. Infections of E. ewingii usually show arthritis as well.

A serologic blood test (IFA) is sensitive for E. canis. However, the test may not be positive until two to three weeks after the tick bite. A new ELISA test has been developed that checks for Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and heartworm.

Treatment: Tetracycline and doxycycline are highly effective against rickettsiae, and should be given for at least one month. Improvement in the acute phase begins within one to two days. Supportive treatment involves intravenous fluids and blood transfusions. The outlook for recovery is excellent if treatment is started before the dog develops bone marrow suppression.

Prevention: Tick control is the mainstay of prevention. Ticks do not infect dogs until they have been attached for 5 to 20 hours. Therefore, examining pets who have been roaming in tick-infested areas, and promptly removing ticks, can prevent many infections.

This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.