Ehrlichiosis is caused by bacteria that are transmitted by the bite of an infected tick. It can be transmitted by a lone star tick, American dog tick or deer tick. The ehrlichiosis bacteria live inside an infected person’s (or animal’s) white blood cells. In humans, signs, and symptoms usually start to appear within a week of the initial tick bite and are often similar to flu symptoms.
Symptoms may include fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and confusion. Sometimes an adult will manifest rashes, but this is most common in children. Since ehrlichiosis attacks a body’s white blood cells (the disease fighters) and the platelets (involved in blood clotting), it has the potential to cause severe symptoms such as damage to the brain and nervous system, respiratory failure, organ failure, uncontrolled bleeding, and death.
Ehrlichiosis is very common in dogs as they are an easy target for ticks. This bacterium, like in humans, infects and lives in the white blood cells of the canine host. In canines, it can take 1-3 weeks for them to show signs. If they do not fight the infection off by themselves, they can enter the acute phase. Acute phase symptoms include fever, lethargy, poor appetite, occasional lameness, abnormal bruising and bleeding, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Canines will often recover without treatment and enter into what is called the subclinical phase, in which they don’t show any symptoms. In this phase, the bacteria live inside the canine, but does not cause discomfort. Therefore, even if the bacteria are detected in the blood, the canine may live a happy, healthy life without any symptoms of the disease.
Unfortunately, some dogs enter the chronic phase, which can happen even after the disease has subsided for a time. The canine may experience weight loss, pale gums, abnormal bleeding, coughing, lameness, and neurological abnormalities. If you suspect ehrlichiosis in your canine, you should have them screened by your veterinarian. The vet will do some blood work and start your canine on a course of antibiotics if necessary.
Make sure you give you dog monthly flea and tick medicine to help prevent ticks from latching on to them! The oral medication is transmitted to the tick when they bite your dog; it kills the tick once ingested.