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Canine Ehrlichiosis (Tick-borne disease in dogs)

Ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne infectious disease of dogs. The organism most commonly responsible for this disease is a rickettsial organism (similar to bacteria) called Ehrlichia Canis. The disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick.

What are the clinical signs of Ehrlichiosis?

The clinical signs of Ehrlichiosis are divided into three stages, acute (early disease), subclinical (no outward signs of disease), and chronic (long-standing infection):

  • In the acute phase, clinical signs occur about 1 to 3 weeks after an infected tick bites a dog. Clinical signs associated with this phase can include depression, fever, loss of appetite, and possible bleeding disorders.

  • In the subclinical phase, the dog may appear completely normal because clinical signs are not observed. This phase may last for many months or even years, but eventually, the bacteria can reactivate and start to cause illness again.

  • In the chronic phase, the dog may show

  • Bleeding disorders (nose bleeds, pale gums, blood in stool or urine)

  • Central nervous system involvement (seizures, incoordination, spinal pain)

  • Lameness

  • Coughing and/or difficulty breathing

Cases of ehrlichiosis that are left untreated can result in the death of the patient.

How is a dog diagnosed with the disease?

A presumptive diagnosis of Ehrlichiosis may be based on the dog’s medical history and the presenting clinical signs. A CBC (complete blood cell count) may show changes in the white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets of the animal, however not all dogs will necessarily develop these changes. A confirmed diagnosis is made by performing an Ehrlichiosis antibody blood test.

How is Ehrlichiosis treated?

Treatment of Ehrlichiosis consists of specific antibiotic therapy. If the disease has caused other complications, they may need to be treated separately, using different medications or therapy protocols. Dogs experiencing severe anaemia or bleeding problems may require a blood transfusion.

The prognosis for dogs with acute Ehrlichiosis is good but guarded for those with chronic disease.

What can be done to protect a dog from Ehrlichiosis?

The best way to protect your dog from contracting the disease is to:

  • Take the appropriate tick-control measures (spot-on, tablet, or collar)

  • Perform an Ehrlichiosis blood test at least once a year

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