With case numbers of Canine Ehrlichiosis rising in parts of Australia, you might be wondering how concerned you should be. After all, it’s a tick-borne illness. If you live in a region without ticks, your dog should be fine, right?
Sadly, outbreaks can be hard to predict. As such, Dog Owners across Australia should be prepared in case the disease spreads beyond WA and NT. And, with basic knowledge of Canine Ehrlichiosis, we can all play a role in preventing the spread of this dangerous disease.
In this article, we’ll talk about symptoms, treatment plans, and—perhaps most importantly at this stage—prevention.
What is Canine Ehrlichiosis?
Canine Ehrlichiosis is a disease caused by a strain of bacteria transmitted to dogs primarily through ticks, especially the brown dog tick.
Brown dog ticks are some of the most common ticks found in Australia. According to one study, they accounted for 73% of ticks found on dogs across Australia between 2012 and 2015. And while they are most commonly found in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, these ticks have been reported in every state.
Of course, the presence of these ticks doesn’t necessarily mean that they are carrying the bacteria for Canine Ehrlichiosis. But what’s so concerning about brown dog ticks is their ability to form infestations. They’re one of the only ticks able to complete their life cycles both inside and outside, meaning that dog kennels are especially prone to tick colonies. So, as health officials explain, once the disease appears within one of these brown tick populations, controlling it can be quite a challenge.
Where is it most prevalent?
While the brown dog tick can occur in all areas of Australia, Canine Ehrlichiosis is most commonly found in the hotter, more humid regions of the north.
One challenge is that the areas where Canine Ehrlichiosis is most prevalent are also some of the more remote and difficult to access places in WA and NT. As we’ve covered so far, tick populations carrying this disease are very difficult to control. And, in areas where vet care is not easily accessible, outbreaks can grow rapidly.
But, that’s not to say that doggos outside of these areas are completely safe. In fact, this recent outbreak, as well as the fact that brown tick populations seem to be creeping farther south each year, has vets across Australia worried.
What does Canine Ehrlichiosis do to dogs?
There are generally three phases of Canine Ehrlichiosis. The first stage, called the acute phase, develops within the first few weeks after the tick bite. It typically showcases some obvious signs, including fever, rapid weight loss, difficulty breathing, and impaired functioning. It’s during this time that a dog’s immune system will try to attack and eliminate the bacteria. In some cases, the immune system is successful. In others, the disease moves into the second phase.
The sub-clinical phase is generally considered the most dangerous, because there are no obvious signs of distress or disease. This second stage can last anywhere from a few months to years, before developing into the third and final stage.
The chronic phase occurs when the dog develops symptoms similar to the acute phase. Unfortunately, these symptoms are likely to be much worse, and possibly fatal, at this late stage. In particular, the disease has likely attacked the bone marrow by this time, which renders the dog unable to fight infection, or heal from even mild wounds.
How do vets treat Canine Ehrlichiosis
There is some good news, here. When veterinarians are able to diagnose Canine Ehrlichiosis, they can treat it with antibiotics. The antibiotics available today are powerful enough to eradicate the bacteria within days, although Dog Owners will need to continue treatment as prescribed by their vet.
But, there are some challenges with diagnosis. Canine Ehrlichiosis can be hard to detect, especially very soon after transmission and during the symptom-less phase. Vets may rely on an array of different lab tests to check for changes in blood cell counts or the presence of antibodies which can suggest that a dog has been exposed to the bacteria.
As with any new outbreak, it has taken some time for vets to be able to access proper testing supplies. But, now that it’s widely understood that the best testing mechanism is a PCR test, vets across Australia are in a better position to screen for and diagnose Canine Ehrlichiosis.
What are the symptoms of Canine Ehrlichiosis
If you notice any of the below symptoms in your dog, contact your vet:
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Fever, which can manifest as red eyes, warm ears, a dry, warm nose, coughing, and shivering
- Bleeding that is spontaneous (as in the case of nosebleeds) or uncontrollable (small scratches continue to bleed without clotting)
- Lethargy and difficulty walking
- Eye problems such as blindness
- Swollen limbs
- Swollen lymph nodes, which appear on the neck just under the jaw, in the armpit, or behind the knees of the back legs.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it’s crucial to get them to a vet. With early treatment, your dog should be able to make a full recovery.
How can you prevent your dog from contracting it?
With everything we know about Canine Ehrlichiosis, what’s clear is that prevention is the best plan of action. Luckily, this bacteria cannot transmit from dog to dog; as such, the most effective way to prevent Canine Ehrlichiosis is to prevent tick bites. Here are a few recommendations to keep your pup safe:
- Do not take your dog to an area with an outbreak of Canine Ehrlichiosis. This may seem quite obvious, but outbreaks can grow quickly. Always check in with the latest statistics to know which areas are safe.
- All dogs should undergo preventative tick treatment, especially those living in an area where Canine Ehrlichiosis has been detected.
- Avoid common tick habitats. All ticks love open fields, tall grasses, and thick shrubbery. Brown dog ticks in particular, though, can also appear in outdoor dog houses and kennels. If you’re going to be going out of town, you might consider leaving your furry friend in the care of a vetted Pet Sitter instead of a kennel.
- Inspect your dog for ticks, frequently. Even if you don’t live in an area with many ticks, inspecting your dog for pests is a quick and easy way to make sure they’re tick-free. If you do notice a brown dog tick on your dog, contact your vet for details on how to proceed.
While we get a handle on this outbreak, make sure to share these tips with fellow Dog Owners. Your insured Dog Walker can also help by avoiding tick-infested areas on their route.
Overall, this is a disease that we should take seriously, even if it hasn’t reached all areas of Australia. With preventative steps and early treatment, we can keep our doggos safe from current and future outbreaks of Canine Ehrlichiosis.