Ehrlichiosis: A Guide For Dog Owners

Posted on: 28 July 2015


Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial infection that is spread to dogs by ticks. There are several strains of the illness, and some infect people, too. If you're a dog owner in an area where ticks are prevalent, it's important to know the basics about this illness, so you can watch your dog for symptoms, seek treatment if needed, and follow preventative measures.

How is ehrlichiosis spread?

 Ehrlichiosis is primarily spread when a dog is bitten by by a certain species of tick known as the brown dog tick.  This species of tick is prevalent in the eastern United States, particularly in Florida, and also along the west coast. If you live in these areas, you should be particularly vigilant about preventing tick bites and watching for the symptoms of ehrlichiosis. 

What are the symptoms of ehrlichiosis?

Symptoms of ehrlichiosis typically show up about 1 to 3 weeks after the dog is bitten by an infected tick. By this point, many owners have forgotten that their dog was bitten by a tick, and thus it may take them a while to make a connection between the symptoms and a tick bite. The symptoms of the disease typically include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Depression
  • Runny eyes and nose
  • Nose bleeds
  • Swelling in the limbs and around the eyes

How is ehrlichiosis diagnosed?

If you take a dog with symptoms that resemble those of ehrlichiosis to your vet, he or she will likely conduct a blood test. This test will measure the levels of antibodies to the Ehrlichia bacteria in your dog's blood. A high level of antibodies indicates that your dog is, indeed, positive for ehrlichiosis.

How is ehrlichiosis treated, and what is the prognosis?

The typical treatment involves administering IV antibiotics to the dog for several weeks. If treatment is begun early, most dogs recover quite well. However, if the disease is not treated within a week or so if the initial onset of symptoms, the bacteria may go dormant in the dog's body and chronically cause bouts of stiffness, swelling, fatigue, and depression throughout the dog's life.

It's a lot easier to prevent ehrlichiosis than it is to treat this illness. Keep ticks from biting your dog by treating him or her with tick-repellent medications on a regular basis. Do not allow your dog to run and play through tall grass, and always inspect your pet for ticks as soon as he or she comes inside. Removing a tick promptly will often prevent the spread of infections like ehrlichiosis. Check with a professional Animal Medical Center to make sure it was removed correctly.