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The Symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

Dogs contract Ehrlichiosis after being bitten by a tick infected with the Ehrlichia organism. Diagnosing and treating Ehrlichiosis as early as possible is essential to prevent the disease from becoming more severe. In today's post, our Los Angeles County vets share more about this serious condition, including symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in dogs. 

What is ehrlichiosis in dogs?

Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial illness that develops in dogs bitten by a tick infected with the Ehrlichia organism. Ehrlichia canis (one type of Ehrlichia organism) is primarily responsible for Ehrlichiosis in dogs and is transmitted by the brown dog tick, which can be found throughout the United States and Canada.

What are the symptoms of Ehrlichia in dogs?

This condition is classified into three different stages, and the signs of Ehrlichiosis in dogs depend upon which stage of the disease the dog is in. The three stages are early disease (acute phase), sub-clinical (no outward appearance of disease), and clinical or chronic (long-standing infection).

Stage 1: Acute Ehrlichiosis

The symptoms of ehrlichiosis in dogs during the acute phase include but are not limited to:

  • Fever
  • Sores in the mucous membranes
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels
  • Bleeding disorders (nose bleeds, for example)

Prognosis: Early detection and antibiotic treatment can be administered. This early intervention can usually cure the infection.

Sometimes, either treatment is unsuccessful, or if treatment was never administered, your dog may move into stage two.

Stage 2: Subclinical Ehrlichiosis

Stage two is the subclinical phase. During this phase, dogs will still be infected but show no signs of infection. The bacteria will spend months or years hiding in your dog's spleen. While there are no clinical signs during this stage, your dog may have some changes in bloodwork (a slightly low platelet count and possibly elevated blood protein called globulin).

Prognosis: Dogs with subclinical ehrlichiosis tend to have a favorable prognosis after beginning treatment. Improvement should be noticeable within a few days.

Stage 3: Chronic Ehrlichiosis

During the chronic phase, the symptoms of ehrlichiosis in dogs can include:

  • Pale gums (caused by anemia)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Breathing problems
  • Coughing
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels
  • Increased urination and increased drinking (resulting from kidney problems)
  • Eye problems
  • Lameness
  • Neurological problems, including confusion, disorientation, and behavior changes

Prognosis: Dogs who have chronic ehrlichiosis usually cannot be cured, but there is treatment to manage their condition. Unfortunately, many dogs die from side effects during this stage.

Can Ehrlichiosis in dogs be cured?

Ehrlichiosis can be cured when diagnosed and treated promptly in the early stages. Your vet may perform various diagnostic tests, including bloodwork, to confirm the infection. If ehrlichiosis goes untreated, the bacteria will continue to multiply, causing severe damage to a dog's organs, including the kidneys, liver, and spleen. This disease can be life-threatening when left untreated.

Does Ehrlichiosis go away on its own?

While some dogs have been shown to recover from ehrlichiosis spontaneously, this is not common, and all infected dogs should receive treatment immediately.

If necessary, treatment for ehrlichiosis can include internal medicine, such as antibiotics and intravenous fluids. This treatment is usually sufficient if the disease is diagnosed in the early stages.

Dogs experiencing chronic ehrlichiosis are more challenging to treat. Your vet may prescribe steroids, and your dog might need multiple blood transfusions.

Often, the treatment can work to revive the symptoms affecting your dog, but the disease may still return as a chronic condition later on.

How can I prevent Ehrlichiosis?

Ehrlichiosis is one of several serious tick-borne diseases. The best way to protect your dog's health against Ehrlichiosis is to avoid ticks and keep your pet on year-round tick prevention medications.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

Has your dog been bitten by a tick or showing signs of illness or disease? Contact our internal medicine Los Angeles County vets to schedule an examination.

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