Ask the Vet | Tick Fever

Tick fever, or canine Ehrlichiosis, is a canine disease spread by the bite of the brown dog tick. Ehrlichiosis is a serious disease that may cause brain damage and severe anemia. Ehrlichiosis can be treated with tetracycline based drugs. Here’s what you should know about the symptoms and treatment of Ehrlichiosis.

Transmission of Ehrlichiosis

Ehrlichiosis, or canine tick fever, is transmitted through the bite of the brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus. Canine tick fever is contagious to humans, who can also catch the disease if they’re bitten by the brown dog tick.

Symptoms of Ehrlichiosis

Ehrlichiosis occurs in three stages: acute, sub-clinical and chronic. Dogs in the acute phase of the disease suffer from swollen lymph nodes, respiratory disease, fever, weight loss, neurological problems and bleeding disorders. During the sub-clinical phase, the dog shows no symptoms. If your dog has a strong immune system, his body may overcome ehrlichiosis during the sub-clinical phase.

If your dog’s immune system fails to overcome this tick fever, he’ll progress into the third stage of the disease, chronic infection. Dogs in this stage of the disease are at risk for serious complications, including:

  • Uncontrolled bleeding 
  • Anemia
  • Eye hemorrhage and other vision problems
  • Neurological disturbances
  • Lameness
  • Thrombocytopenia, or inadequate production of platelets, which allow blood to clot
  • Swelling of the limbs
  • Bone marrow failure
  • The chronic phase of ehrlichiosis can be deadly.

Diagnosing Canine Tick Fever

Diagnosing ehrlichiosis can be tricky during the initial two or three weeks of infection. Blood tests for canine tick fever check your dog’s blood for antibodies against this disease, but your dog’s Immune System won’t produce those antibodies until two or three weeks after the infection takes hold. For this reason, blood tests performed during the initial phases of infection can come back falsely negative. If an initial blood test for Ehrlichiosis comes back negative, your vet may order a second confirmation test a week or two later.

If you find large, engorged ticks on your dog, he’s at risk for contracting Ehrlichiosis. The longer a tick feeds from your dog, the more likely he could have contracted the disease. Have your dog tested for Ehrlichiosis within eight weeks if you find an engorged tick on your dog. If your dog exhibits symptoms of Ehrlichiosis, make sure you tell your vet about finding any engorged ticks.

Treating Canine Tick Fever

Ehrlichiosis is treated with doxycycline based drugs. Most dogs will need antibiotics for 10 to 30 days, but some dogs may require medication for up to four months. 

Preventing Ehrlichiosis

Canine tick fever is easy to prevent. Keep any ticks out of your environment and away from your dog. The best way to do this is with a spot on flea and tick repellent like Frontline, Revolution or Advantage. These products keep ticks from biting your dog.

If you don’t use a product like Frontline or Advantage, check your dog daily for ticks. The longer ticks feed from your dog, the more likely he is to get sick. Remove any ticks immediately and watch your dog carefully for symptoms of Ehrlichiosis. By Dr Ruan Du Toit Bester

Hope this info helps 

Till next week 

Dr Ruan Bester

Ask the Vet: Royal Veterinary Centre

Tel: +853 28501099, +853 28523678

Emergency: +853 62662268


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