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All You Need to Know About Tick Fever (The Gory Details)

Photo Credit: Alpha.prim / Wikipedia

I hate ticks. Period. I used to hate them earlier because they seemed to prefer me to the dogs but since the Cuckoo episode, I hate them even more, even on the dogs. I have always been paranoid about them and have kept an ultra clean house to keep them out. [You can read my earlier list of home remedies for ticks to gauge my paranoia. 😀 ] But in the last two months with all the shifting and settling in, I slipped up and the dogs picked up a few of the critters, next thing I know, Cuckoo is diagnosed with tick fever.

I don’t know much about tick fever. Wait, let me correct that. I didn’t know much about tick fever until now and I still don’t know so much. However here’s what I’ve learned from a little bit of reading.

Tick fever is medically called Ehrlichiosis, and is also known as canine rickettsiosis, canine hemorrhagic fever, canine typhus, tracker dog disease, dog AIDS and tropical canine pancytopenia. Yep, that’s a lot of names!

Tick fever as the name suggests is a tick borne disease; it is a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks when they bite (or through blood transfusion) and the organism that usually causes it is Ehrlichia canis. There are various types of tick fever and even several species of Ehrlichia, but the one that is most common and has the most severe clinical signs is Ehrlichia canis, carried by the brown dog tick or Rhipicephalus sanguineous. These are the little critters we see around here in Bangalore and most parts of India.

Tick fever is not limited to dogs, it is also seen in humans, cats and other animals that ticks prey on. It doesn’t pass from dogs to human, only through ticks.

Ehrlichiosis has three stages with varying severity. The first stage is the Acute Stage which occurs one to three weeks after infection and lasts up to a month. The symptoms usually seen at this time are fever and lowered peripheral blood cell or platelet count due to the bone marrow being suppressed. These are the symptoms seen in Cuckoo along with the blood spots or petechiae. Sometimes a lack of appetite, drop in activity levels, bleeding, vasculitis, discharge from the eyes and nose, and/or edema of the legs and scrotum is also seen, but that depends from dog to dog.

The Subclinical phase is the second stage and has no outward signs. This stage can last for the remainder of the dogs life and the dog then remains infected and becomes a carrier of the organism. That said, apparently some dogs can manage to eliminate the disease during this stage.

The third stage of Ehrlichiosis is the Chronic stage and the most serious stage of the infection. In this stage the dog has very low blood cell (red, white and platelets) counts or pancytopenia, bleeding, bacterial infection, ophthalmic and neurological disorders, etc. which could lead to kidney disease. Some of the visible symptoms are weight loss, pale gums, lameness, bleeding, breathlessness, coughing, excessive thirst, excessive peeing, etc. Chronic ehrlichiosis can be fatal.

With tick fever the outcome for dogs in the Acute stage is good, however once dogs reach the chronic stage there is no telling which way it will go as the suppression of the bone marrow and low level of blood cells leads to the dog not responding well to treatment.

The usual treatment for Ehrlichiosis is a six to eight week course of the antibiotics tetracycline or doxycycline. Every week a repeat blood test is done to check on the response to treatment but the dog may take up to a month to respond. In severe case steroids, subcutaneous or intravenous fluids and even blood transfusions may be given.

When it comes to tick fever prevention is definitely better than cure. Keeping the dog and it’s environment tick free is the best way to avoid this pain in the ass infection.

That’s a lot of gyaan on tick fever but reading wasn’t all I did. I went to the Vet and other experts who have more than three dogs or a pack at home and learned tons more on tick fever management. The tons more is in the next piece of this write up – How to Manage Tick Fever If You Have a Pack of Dogs 😛

If you’d like to read more about tick fever, here are some links you might find helpful –
Canine Ehrlichiosis explained on Wikipedia
Protea Animal Clinic’s write-up on Tick Bite fever by Dr W J Grobler BVSc
Animal Health Hospital P.C.’s take on Tick Fever
Health24’s article on Tick bite fever in Humans

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