Ehrlichiosis in Dogs: What It Is and How To Prevent It

When the weather starts to warm up, the insects start coming out of the woodwork, literally. In addition to pests like mosquitos and flies, more dangerous pests become more prevalent as well – disease-transmitting pests like ticks. Though many dog owners assume ticks are little more than a nuisance, they actually have the potential to carry deadly diseases like ehrlichiosis. Keep reading to learn more about what ehrlichiosis is and how to protect your dog from it.

What is Ehrlichiosis, Anyway?

Ehrlichiosis is one of several tick-borne diseases that can be very dangerous for your dog. Brown dog ticks (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) are the species most likely to transmit this disease and it is caused by a specific bacterium known as Ehrlichia canis. These ticks can be found throughout the United States, but they are most heavily concentrated in warmer climates. This means that the risk for ehrlichiosis is higher in warmer climates, so you should be on the lookout.

Related: Common Types Of Ticks In North America

After being bitten by a tick carrying Ehrlichia bacteria, it will take anywhere from one to three weeks for your dog to develop symptoms. These symptoms may include the following:

  • Lethargy or low energy
  • Fever
  • Poor appetite
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Abnormal bruising or bleeding
  • Eye inflammation
  • Neurologic abnormalities
  • Lameness

If left untreated, these symptoms usually last for 2 to 4 weeks. After that point, the dog may appear to get better and it enters what is called the subclinical phase which can last up to several years. Other than a low platelet count, dogs in the subclinical phase appear normal but they may eventually enter the chronic phase in which symptoms worsen and become more difficult to treat.

How Do You Treat It and Prevent It?

If you suspect that your dog has been bitten by a tick, or if he starts to develop symptoms of ehrlichiosis, you should take him to the vet as soon as possible. Diagnosis can be complicated since many symptoms are indistinguishable from other tick-borne diseases. Your vet will perform a thorough examination and health history in addition to taking blood, a urinalysis, and a fecal examination. Keep in mind that just because your dog has been exposed to Ehrlichia bacteria doesn’t mean he’ll get sick, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Related: Do All-Natural DIY Tick Repellents Really Work?

Treatment for ehrlichiosis in dogs usually involves the antibiotic doxycycline. Your dog will need to take this antibiotic once a day for three to four weeks, sometimes in conjunction with other medications. As long as your dog is treated promptly, he should improve rapidly and recover well. In severe cases, additional treatments like blood transfusions, IV fluids, and immunosuppressive drugs may be needed.

Flea and tick preventives for dogs can be a little pricey, but it is well worth the cost to protect your dog against dangerous diseases. Don’t skimp and choose an off-brand or low-quality product because you could be putting your dog at risk for a dangerous reaction. Ask your veterinarian for advice on which product to purchase and then use it regularly to protect your dog.


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