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Diseases Spread by Ticks: Ehrlichiosis

Spring is here, and with the tulips and warm days come pollen, fleas, heartworm-spreading mosquitoes, and…ticks. We’re coming out of an unusually warm winter, so expect to see lots of them! Of course, ticks are more than just an itch-causing nuisance. They spread life-threatening diseases to their hosts. You’ve probably heard of Lyme disease, and maybe even Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but are you familiar with Ehrlichiosis?

What is Ehrlichiosis?

Brown dog tick which is responsible for spreading ehrlichiosis and rocky mountain spotted fever in the South, including Raleigh, NC.“Ehrlichiosis” is a broad term for any of a group of diseases caused by the closely-related Ehrlichia, Anaplasma, and Neorickettsia bacteria. Dogs and humans are much more susceptible than cats are, and dogs are primarily affected by Ehrlichia canis. Brown dog ticks spread the illness when they bite their hosts, and in the United States, it is most common in the South. We see it every year in Raleigh!

Initially, ehrlichiosis presents with mild symptoms and can therefore go undetected for years without regular testing. Don’t let the thought of “years” give you the wrong idea about how dangerous it is, though. It is deadly. Ehrlichiosis acts by infecting blood cells. The longer it goes untreated, the harder it is to treat at all.

Simple, annual blood tests can detect the presence of Ehrlichia! This is easily paired with your dog’s annual heartworm test.

K9 Martin enjoys the Raleigh outdoors safely by staying current on tick prevention.

K9 Martin, police explosives detection dog, always uses tick prevention. Follow him on IG! @k9_officer_martin

3 Stages of Ehrlichiosis

After infection and an incubation of up to three weeks, the disease progresses in three stages:

Stage 1 Symptoms (Duration of 2-4 Weeks)

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Sores on mucous membranes
  • Bleeding disorders

Stage 2 Symptoms (Duration of up to 5 Years)

  • No obvious symptoms

Stage 3 Symptoms (Duration until Successful Treatment or Death)

  • Anemia
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Lameness
  • Neurological signs
  • Inflammation of blood vessels
  • Eye problems

Treatment is done with antibiotics and is very successful during stage one.

Some Breeds are Especially Prone to Severe Illness from Ehrlichiosis

K9 Martin enjoys the Raleigh outdoors safely by staying current on tick prevention.

K9 Martin plays it safe with tick prevention! Follow him on IG! @k9_officer_martin

All dogs can get sick from this tick-borne disease. But German shepherds, Siberian huskies, and Belgian malinois are especially at risk to progress to stage three. Ironically, all their fluffy hair also makes it harder to spot any ticks that have gotten on them, so be vigilant!

Prevent Tick-Borne Illness by Preventing Ticks!

As always, prevention is your first line of defense. Be conscious of tall grass or debris that ticks love to wait around on for a new host to brush by. And be consistent with your flea and tick preventive! There are many good products available in different formulations, so a dog who doesn’t want to take a tablet might be best suited to a topically-applied product. Ask your vet for the best recommendation for your pet!


A Note on Cats:
Never give your dog’s flea and tick prevention to your cat! This can be deadly to them.

***Special thanks to K9 Officer Martin for modeling for our blog, setting a good example in our canine community, and for being so handsome!