Ehrlichiosis, a plague upon us

At the outset, it is important to stress that the only consistent findings among the cases of Ehrlichiosis is inconsistency.
R. Lee Pyle, VMD, MS, DACVIM

I hesitated to broach this vast subject because of the space restrictions of this article; but, other brave breed columnists have come forward and I feel I have additional information. Ehrlichiosis has extreme ramifications on the health of all dogs and the lives of those who care for them. Ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne rickettsial disease. Once considered a tropical, or at least a southern problem, it is now recognized all over the United States. Actually there are varieties worldwide. It appears anywhere there are ticks. This disease can be contracted from the bite of an infected tick or in utero from an infected dam. Ehrlichiosis can lay somewhat dormant for over ten years, thus confusing its origin. Other issues such as estrus, injury, stress can set it off. For instance a dog may live in New York City for most of its life but have contracted the disease as a puppy in the suburbs of New Jersey. When symptoms emerge, the caregiver could easily miss considering a tick-borne disease. Tick can be tiny, newly hatched at the size of a pinhead. They can secrete between toes, in ears, etc., never to be observed. Symptoms often include bleeding events or bruising, small hemorrhages on the stomach or the gums. Lameness and roached back, stiff neck, malaise and anorexia. More frightening are tremors, seizures, various eye damages, paralysis, temperament changes, and death.

Living in Central Virginia I have had considerable experience with Ehrlichiosis. It took years of going to various clinics before a veterinarian recognized the disease. Oddly the patient was a Catahoula. She had become very unpredictably aggressive at eight-years of age and then became totally paralyzed in her rear legs. She was so afflicted for several years. On aggressive and persistent treatment with doxycycline she completely recovered to a healthy useful working farm dog and lived to be fifteen. A whippet had similar symptoms; a mature Ibizan had every symptom of ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease. It became clear I was living in a battlefield. The area where I live is an endemic area. From observation I find fifty percent Brown Dog Ticks and fifty percent Lone Star Ticks. Once recognized and treated all mysterious health issues disappeared. Symptoms are often confused with aging with weakness in the rear, stumbling gait, and cognitive deficits. Now my dogs live fourteen or fifteen healthy active years.

Unfortunately the symptoms are often treated without recognizing the larger issue of the disease itself. Good news is that aggressive treatment has given my dogs their health back. Persistence in treatment is important. There are published guidelines available. Discuss this disease with your veterinarian. Encourage them to attend Ehrlichiosis and other tick-borne disease symposiums.

Ticks are dangerous disease vectors. Many ticks are carrying several concurrent diseases. We owners of athletic field dogs have a daunting task protecting them to function in nature. Until we get a vaccine for this epidemic we must fight with prevention and antibiotics.

  • The Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck & Co, Inc
  • Ehrlichial Diseases of Dogs, Veterinary clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice&emdash;Vol. 21. No. 1, January 1991, by Benny J. Woody, DVM, MS, and Johnny D. Hoskins, DVM, PhD
Nan, 2008