Ticks have been shown to be present in the Philippines, according to research done by a scientist from the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB) College of Veterinary Medicine. They harbor bacteria, the most common of which is Ehrlichia canis, that cause ehrlichiosis in dogs.
Does your dog have it?
While fever of 40 degrees Celsius may not automatically point to ehrlichiosis, other signs may give more cluse to a clinician. Dogs with this infection may lose their appetite. Then, they feel weak and find it hard to walk.
There may be several other cues: nose bleeds, bleeding in the anterior chamber of the eyes, and “paint brush” hemorrhaging all over the body involving different areas, such as the groin, armpits, and ear flaps. However, others don’t necessarily show signs of bleeding, even with a very low platelet count.
In serious cases, some dogs collapse in shock. Others experience convulsions, swollen joints, and seizures presumably due to meningitis from chronic ehrlichiosis.
Some develop ascites during the course of the disease, probably because of kidney problems, such as glomerulonephritis or chronic kidney disease.
Some dogs with very low platelets don’t necessarily bleed because they have reached a hypercoagulable state – in other words, their blood has been excessively clotting because of compensatory activation of platelets and a reduction of normal clot removal.
How is it diagnosed?
Aside from looking at the manifestations, I once did a test based on a solid phase immunoassay principle (as done in ELISA).
Test kits and blood tests help with the diagnosis. Serum chemistry helps monitor the status of different organs.
There are times when a dog gets diagnosed in a chronic state of ehrlichiosis, which can be seen in a differential blood count revealing the moncyte level. Microscopy with proper staining technique can also help confirm the chronic status of this infection.
How is a dog with ehrlichiosis treated?
For dogs who have been bleeding, I have given blood transfusions, intravenous therapy using plasma volume expanders, and erythropoietin injections intended to promote blood cell production. While these help them deal with heavy blood loss, there is no reassurance that they will always survive.
There are ways to treat ehrlichiosis, especially when caught early. However, there are cases wherein cure is no longer a realistic goal. In these instances, a vet is likely to explain the condition’s likely outcomes and offer a humane way of no longer prolonging the suffering of a severely sick dog.
What can a dog parent do?
While ehrlichiosis seems like a scary disease, there are many things a dog parent can do to help prevent this infection or at least slow down its progression.
1. Ensure dogs are tick-free
A female brown dog tick (garapata in Filipino) can lay an average of 4,000 eggs, and sometimes even over 7,000 eggs. There are many ways to get rid of ticks on a regular basis — ask your vet about the many options available to you.
2. Schedule regular checkups
If a dog shows any of the manifestations enumerated above, mention them to your vet. This ensures that the infection is caught early before the chronic phase begins.
3. Don’t self-medicate
Self-medication delays adequate diagnosis and treatment. It keeps a dog from recovering proper care as soon as possible. Don’t postpone consultations. Iron shouldn’t be given indiscriminately.
4. Follow the prescription
For a dog’s symptoms and illness to be managed properly, the medication has to be given on time, with the right dosage and duration.
What it is not
There are several misconceptions about what ehrlichiosis is. Here’s a list of what it isn’t.
1. Not parasites
Ehrlichia bacteria are not blood parasites. They are more properly called tick-borne pathogens and are actually bacteria, not parasites.
2. Not just a case of ticks
The ticks are not the only problem. It’s what the bacteria that these ticks carry that eventually cause damage to a lot of organs and also lead to bleeding and shock.
3. Not dengue
Ehrlichiosis is not “dog dengue.” Dengue is caused by a virus; ehrlichiosis is caused by bacteria.
This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s January-February 2021 issue.