Dog Ehrlichia

All About Dog Ehrlichia

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Kate Barrington

Researched & Written by

Kate Barrington

At EasyPet, we are committed to presenting the most accurate and up-to-date information to assist you in your pet care journey. When appropriate, we consult licensed and practicing veterinarians to fact-check our professionally written articles.

Most people who own dogs have heard about Ehrlichia, a more popular name for Ehrlichiosis.

This tick-borne disease is so common among dogs that it can be a concern regardless of where you live. Therefore, it makes sense to have a clear idea about dog Ehrlichia and how to deal with it. But, of course, not all dog breeds react to this disease in the same way.

In this article, we answer almost all the concerns you have about dog Ehrlichia. We’ll get started with the basic understanding of dog ehrlichiosis.

What Is Dog Ehrlichia?

Tick on white fur

Ehrlichiosis, better known as Ehrlichia, is one of the common diseases found in dogs. The disease develops when the dog gets bitten by an infected tick. While there are many types of dog ticks in the world, the brown dog tick is considered the most prominent carrier for dog Ehrlichia. According to history, the disease made it to the United States when military dogs returned from Vietnam after the war. Since then, dog Ehrlichia has become a common issue that bothers dog owners.

The disease gets its name because a rickettsial species called Ehrlichia canis is responsible for the issue. Even though some other organisms also cause the disease in dogs, Ehrlichia canis is the most significant carrier. It is worth noting that the United States and Canada have registered the presence of these ticks. However, in some states, especially the southeastern and southwestern ones, the disease is considered endemic. It must also be noted that other types of ticks could be carrying different subspecies of Ehrlichia.

A dog gets infected with Ehrlichia when an infected tick bites the dog. Even though effects are seen on most dog breeds, German Shepherd and Doberman Pinschers are two breeds that exhibit more proneness to the disease. Therefore, if you own either a GSD or a Doberman Pinscher, you should better understand the dog Ehrlichia disease. Now that you know the basics about dog Ehrlichia, shall we check out the major symptoms you should look out for?

What are the signs of Ehrlichia in dogs?

The signs of Ehrlichia in dogs vary depending on the stage. The infection of Ehrlichia is classified into three main stages: acute, sub-clinical, and clinical. You must understand each of these stages and act accordingly. The signs for these three stages are:

  • Acute: This set of symptoms are found on dogs if they live in an area where Ehrlichia is common. In this case, the common symptoms include swollen nodes, respiratory issues, weight loss, hemorrhage, neurological disturbances, fever, etc. The symptoms may continue for a few weeks. After that, the dog may either get rid of the infection or reach the next phase.
  • Sub-clinical: In this phase of the disease, you cannot see noticeable symptoms in the dog. Therefore, the sub-clinical phase of dog Ehrlichia is considered the most dangerous. It is possible that an owner does not come to know about the disease in the first place. The only way to confirm whether a dog is going through the sub-clinical phase of Ehrlichia is to do a blood test, which is again not so common. Even at this stage, the immune system in your dog’s body will try to remove the Ehrlichia organism in multiple ways. If this removal is unsuccessful, the next phase of the disease is reached.
  • Clinical: The clinical phase of Ehrlichia is also known as clinical Ehrlichiosis. It happens when the dog’s immune system is not able to eliminate the Ehrlichia organism. Once your dog has reached this stage, the problems could become bigger. For instance, anemia, bleeding issues, eyesight issues, swollen limbs, etc., become common in the body. Of course, these issues could worsen, leading to problems in the development of blood cells. In short, dogs that suffer from clinical Ehrlichiosis will have a higher risk of life than in the previous stages. This growth pattern is one of the reasons why you should not overlook Ehrlichia in your dogs.

As you can see, symptoms during the primary stages of Ehrlichia are very evident. Therefore, if you notice these symptoms in your dog, especially a GSD, you should not think twice before getting tested. However, it is better to be sure than let your furry friend go through the challenging task with fatal symptoms.

Can Ehrlichiosis in Dogs Be Cured?

Dog getting tick medicine

Thankfully, there are cures and proven treatments for Ehrlichiosis in dogs. However, correctly diagnosing the issue and understanding the stage of the disease is more important than you think.

We should keep in mind that the immune system requires some time to generate antibodies against the Ehrlichia organism in the blood system. Therefore, even if your dog has been infected, it could take a month to know it for sure. As of now, most vets recommend taking a PCR assay, which is available in vet labs. So, if you think your dog could be infected with Ehrlichiosis, this test is the best way to go.

As for the treatment, several techniques are followed. First, if the dog is facing bleeding issues and anemia, blood transfusion is followed to ensure that they can survive. It is a preventive action that must be followed by antibiotics. Doxycycline is one of the common antibiotics used against the issues of Ehrlichia. In addition to these, some veterinarians may recommend a few steroids. The core idea here is to ensure that the dog’s body can eliminate the Ehrlichia organism effectively.

Here is the more important thing: you have to talk to your vet to understand which treatment is the best for your dog. Depending on the medical history of your pup, different methods could be followed by a vet. In any case, the treatment could take up to four weeks, which should not be a surprise considering how deep-rooted Ehrlichiosis is.

Is canine Ehrlichiosis fatal?

During its early stages, canine Ehrlichiosis is not fatal. Even though the symptoms can be scary, a dog’s body will try to eliminate the organism causing the issue. However, things start to change when the issue reaches further stages.

For instance, if your dog is suffering from clinical Ehrlichiosis, the problems could be fatal. There would also be long-term impacts on your dog’s health. It is one of the reasons why you should not undermine the total effect of dog Ehrlichiosis.

What are the long-term effects of Ehrlichiosis in dogs?

As we said, the symptoms of dog Ehrlichiosis can be fatal if it is allowed to reach the clinical stage. Once the dog starts to experience clinical Ehrlichiosis, the problems could also expand. The long-term effects of such situations include kidney diseases, blood count loss, bleeding, and laziness.

Also, the treatment for the issue in dogs is not one-time. It means dogs that have survived Ehrlichiosis may become subject to the disease again. Therefore, you must be careful about the symptoms, especially among older dogs.

Again, we recommend that you have a detailed talk with your vet. Professionals will be able to suggest some medications that would offer some protection from Ehrlichiosis in the future. For instance, keeping your furry friend away from troublesome ticks is a great way to prevent the disease from getting into your dog’s body in the first place.

However, this task of isolating your dog from Ehrlichiosis-carrying ticks is easier said than done. As you can guess, there are different ways through which the organism can get into your dog’s body.

Can Ehrlichiosis be passed from dog to dog?

Finger with Tick and Dog in Background

Yes, Ehrlichiosis can be passed from dog to dog, but it is not always how you think.

As we said, the disease is a result of getting bitten by an infected tick. Considering that ticks stay on a dog’s body for an extended period, it is likely that the tick may get passed from one dog to another. If this tick contains the Ehrlichiosis organism, the second dog will also have the disease in no time.

However, if this contact-based movement of the ticks does not happen, there is no need to worry about Ehrlichiosis getting passed between two dogs.

So, if you live in an area where these ticks are common, you should prepare your dog for the issue as much as you can. Skin products and medications that stop the ticks from affecting the dog’s body are great ways to ensure your dog’s safety when playing with other dogs. For further details, you can get in touch with your vet.

Can humans get Ehrlichia from dogs?

No, humans cannot get Ehrlichia from dogs.

However, Ehrlichia is passed through the tick vector. Therefore, if you are exposed to this vector, you might have Ehrlichia, for which you may need proper treatment. Consequently, we would like to remind you that a tick bite is necessary to get infected with canine Ehrlichiosis.

So, in a way, if the tick is present on your dog’s body and gets in contact with you, you can indirectly get the disease.

The Bottom Line

We believe we have answered most of the questions you have about Ehrlichia in dogs. As it is clear, you must be careful about this disease. You do not want to overlook any of the symptoms we have mentioned.


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