Ehrlichia: The Disease Dogs Get from Ticks

Ehrlichiosis is a disease dogs get from ticks. Ehrlichia are a living organism rather than a bacteria or virus. When a tick feeds on an infested animal, they ingest the Ehrlichia where they live in the tick for five months. When the infected tick feeds on another animal, usually a dog, they pass the organism on to the host. Humans and cats can contract ehrlichia disease but it's uncommon.

Tick Varieties Likely to Carry Ehrlichia

The Deer Tick is known to cause Lyme disease. However, it is the Brown Dog and Lone Star Ticks that most commonly cause Ehrlichiosis. You should check your dogs for ticks after outdoor play and immediately remove ticks you do find. If your dog has been bitten by a tick, watch him carefully for signs of the Ehrlichia disease dogs contract from infected parasites.

Be aware that your dog can contract Ehrlichiosis disease in dogs without having been bitten. If your dog receives a blood transfusion from a dog carrying the ehrlichia organism, he can contract the disease. This isn't common, but there is that small risk.

Symptoms of the Ehrlichiosis Disease Dogs Acquire

There are three stages to Ehrlichia disease dogs contract through a bit from an infected tick. In the first phase, symptoms appear anywhere from one to three weeks following the bite. Symptoms include:

  • Anemia

  • Appetite loss

  • Bruising

  • Depression

  • Fever

  • Joint pain

  • Shortness of breath

These symptoms can last for up to a month. Some dogs will fight off the infection without any problem. Other dogs will worsen. During this time, the ehrlichia develop within the bone marrow, liver, lymph nodes and spleen.

Because these are the areas they target, there may be confusion where the dog is believed to have leukemia. A blood test for antibodies is often used to diagnose ehrlichiosis. A full blood panel will be run to check platelet counts and proteins.

Research finds that ehrlichiosis is more common in purebred dogs than mutts. It's also more common in middle-aged and elderly dogs than puppies or young adult dogs. For some reason, there are specific breeds that seem unable to battle the disease to keep it from progressing into the second or third stage. These breeds include:

  • Doberman Pinschers

  • German Shepherds

During the second stage, most dogs appear to be fine. They may become slightly anemic as the organisms grow within the spleen. The final stage includes symptoms from the first and second stage. However, bleeding, eye swelling, water retention in the hind quarters and neurological changes are also likely.

Treatment for Ehrlichiosis Disease in Dogs

Antibiotics are necessary to treat ehrlichiosis. The antibiotics are given for a month. If the dog is very anemic, blood transfusions and IV fluids may be necessary.

In areas where ticks are a problem and numerous cases of Ehrlichiosis have been confirmed, veterinarians often prescribe low dosages of tetracycline antibiotics as a preventative treatment.

Prevention is important. If you have ticks in your region, make sure your dog has a tick collar or is on a topical tick prevention medication. This is the only way to ensure ticks stay away from your dog so that the disease cannot happen.