Here on Kauai we are seeing a large increase in the number of dogs coming into the shelter with ehrlicheosis. Ehrlichea, as it is commonly called, is caused from a tick bite from an infected tick. It is not contagious from one animal to another; however, an infected tick can infect more than one animal.
Ehrlichea is a complicated infection because the bacteria can lay dormant in your animal’s system and they may not show any signs of the infection. The infection is often triggered when an animal’s immune system becomes compromised but it can show up at any time in an otherwise perfectly healthy dog.
The symptoms of ehrlichea vary greatly and can be hard to pinpoint. Dogs with early stage ehrlichea may have enlarged lymph nodes, weakness, lethargy, loss of appetite, difficult respiration and fluid in their limbs
As the disease progresses they can have abnormal bleeding, bleeding from the nose, severe weight loss, fever, trouble breathing, joint inflammation and pain, lack of coordination, head tilt, eye pain, seizures, anemia, kidney failure and paralysis. A dog with ehrlichea may require a blood transfusion. Ehrlichea can be fatal and is clearly a very serious illness that we should not take lightly.
There is a test for ehrlichea. Your veterinarian may have to send a blood sample to a laboratory off island or they may have a SNAP test which gives immediate results. Ehrlichea is treatable, particularly when it is caught early. It requires a specific antibiotic that your vet can prescribe.
The best way to keep your dog from getting this serious illness is to use a monthly tick control medication that repels and or kills ticks. Check your dog regularly for ticks and contact your vet if you notice any unusual symptoms in your dog.
Ehrlicheosis is a very serious illness that is becoming more and more common on our island. With education and prevention you can help keep your dog from suffering from this terrible disease.