Stages of Canine Tick Disease

Check your dog for ticks after being in an area where exposure is possible.
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Numerous types of tick-borne diseases affect dogs every year. A few include Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, canine anaplasmosis, canine babesiosis, canine bartonellosis and canine hepatozoonosis. Of these, canine ehrlichiosis is the most common and the most dangerous for your dog. Transmitted through bites from an infected brown dog tick, the disease has three stages of symptoms.

Acute Ehrlichiosis

The initial stage, or acute phase, typically begins one to three weeks after exposure to the tick bite. Symptoms include fever, weight loss, lethargy, bleeding disorders, difficulty breathing, nasal discharge, swollen lymph nodes and, in some cases, neurological problems. The acute stage typically lasts for two to four weeks. At this point, dogs will appear to have recovered from the condition.

Subclinical Phase

After initial recovery from the acute stage, the subclinical phase begins. In this phase, the disease is present but no symptoms present. The only clinical symptoms that may display are prolonged bleeding from cuts or a blood sample. Blood tests may show low platelet count or high levels of globulin. Some dogs, during this stage, are able to produce a large enough immune system response to destroy the organism and recover completely. Others will progress to the clinical phase. A dog can stay in the subclinical phase for months to years before progressing.

Chronic Phase

Progression to the chronic or clinical phase reveals a host of different symptoms. You may notice severe weight loss, eye problems, neurological complications, lameness, swollen limbs, depression and abdominal tenderness. Bleeding becomes a huge issue, as the body is unable to form clots. You may notice your dog has bleeding gums, nosebleeds or small bruises, or coughs up blood. As the disease progresses, bone marrow fails and no longer produces blood cells. German shepherds seem to show a predisposition for progression into the chronic phase.

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment of canine ehrlichiosis generally depends on the stage your dog is in at diagnosis. Antibiotics, such as doxycycline, are effective at destroying the organism over a long time. Treatment typically lasts at least six weeks. If bleeding problems are present, blood transfusions may be necessary. Regular flea and tick preventative measures help reduce the risk of developing canine ehrlichiosis.