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The Symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in Dogs

Ticks across the United States spread Ehrlicha bacteria and can cause serious and life-threatening conditions. Here, our Snellville vets share the stages and symptoms of ehrlichiosis in dogs and whether it can be cured.

What is ehrlichiosis in dogs?

Ehrlichiosis is a bacterial disease spread through the bite of an infected tick. The two most common types of bacteria that cause ehrlichiosis in dogs in the United States are E. canis and E. ewingii. The Ehrlichia bacteria live in the white blood cells of the animals they infect.

Ehrlichiosis in Dogs: Stages & Symptoms

There are three distinct stages of infection in dogs with ehrlichiosis, each with its own set of symptoms.

Stage 1: Acute Ehrlichiosis

The symptoms of ehrlichiosis in dogs during the acute phase include but are not limited to:

  • Fever
  • Sores in the mucous membranes
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels
  • Bleeding disorders (nose bleeds, for example)

Prognosis: Early detection and antibiotic treatment can be administered. This early intervention can usually cure the infection.

In some cases, either treatment is unsuccessful or if treatment was never administered, your dog may move into stage two.

Stage 2: Subclinical Ehrlichiosis

Stage two is the subclinical phase. During this phase, dogs will still be infected but show no signs of infection. The bacteria will spend months or years hiding in your dog's spleen. While there are no clinical signs during this stage, your dog may have some changes in bloodwork (a slightly low platelet count and possibly elevated blood protein called globulin).

Prognosis: Dogs with subclinical ehrlichiosis tend to have a favorable prognosis after beginning treatment. Improvement should be noticeable within a few days.

Stage 3: Chronic Ehrlichiosis

During the chronic phase, the symptoms of ehrlichiosis in dogs can include:

  • Pale gums (caused by anemia)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Breathing problems
  • Coughing
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels
  • Increased urination and increased drinking (resulting from kidney problems)
  • Eye problems
  • Lameness
  • Neurological problems, including confusion, disorientation, and behavior changes

Prognosis: Dogs who have chronic ehrlichiosis usually cannot be cured, but there is treatment to manage their condition. Unfortunately, many dogs die from side effects during this stage.

Can ehrlichiosis in dogs be cured?

When diagnosed and treated promptly while still in the early stages, ehrlichiosis is able to be cured. Your vet may perform a variety of diagnostic tests, including bloodwork, to confirm infection. 

If ehrlichiosis goes untreated, the bacteria will continue to multiply, causing severe damage to a dog's organs, including the kidneys, liver, and spleen. This disease can be life-threatening when left untreated.

Does ehrlichiosis go away on its own?

While some dogs have been shown to recover from ehrlichiosis spontaneously, this is not common, and all infected dogs should receive treatment right away.

Treatment for ehrlichiosis can include antibiotics and intravenous fluids, if necessary. This treatment is usually sufficient if the disease is diagnosed in the early stages.

Dogs experiencing chronic ehrlichiosis are more challenging to treat. Your vet may prescribe steroids, and your dog might need multiple blood transfusions.

Often, the treatment can work to revive the symptoms affecting your dog, but the disease may still return as a chronic condition later on.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

Has your dog been bitten by a tick or showing signs of illness or disease? Contact our Snellville vets to schedule an examination.

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