Ehrlichiosis disease in dogs

Ehrlichiosis is a tick-borne disease of dogs that causes fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, abnormal bleeding, pain and weight loss. If not treated properly can result in death.

The disease has been detected for the first time in Australia in areas of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Investigations into the origin of the infection are underway.

Ehrlichiosis occurs worldwide, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Dogs infected with the disease cannot transmit the disease to other dogs – the only way transmission can occur is through infected ticks.

The tick that carries Ehrlichiosis has only been found to occur in remote far northern areas of South Australia, so it is unlikely that dogs in the rest of SA will be infected, unless they have recently travelled to areas where the tick occurs.

There is no change in the type or distribution of ticks in northern Australia.

Infected dogs do not transmit ehrlichiosis to people, however in rare cases, infected ticks may infect people. Information about ticks and human health precautions is available from the WA Health website.

How to report this disease

Infection with ehrlichiosisis a notifiable disease in Australia.

If your dog is showing signs of this disease, you must report it to your local vet or the national Emergency Animal Disease Watch hotline on 1800 675 888.

About erhlichiosis

Infection with the bacteria Ehrlichia canis causes ehrlichiosis.

Dogs become infected after being bitten by an infected tick.

The brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) is the main carrier and it is widely distributed worldwide.

This tick, which predominantly affects dogs, is only known to occur in far northern areas of South Australia. It is not expected that R. sanguineus will be found south of Port Augusta.

Symptoms of erhlichiosis in dogs

Ehrlichiosis has three phases: an ‘acute’ phase or early signs of disease, a ‘subclinical phase’ where there are no outward signs of disease, and a ‘chronic’ or long-term stage of disease.

The severity of the disease varies considerably among dogs. The incubation period for the development of acute disease is approximately 1–3 weeks after the tick bite, but the chronic form of the ehrlichiosis may not appear until months or years after infection.

Initial signs of infection can include:

  • fever
  • lethargy
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • loss of appetite
  • discharge from the eyes and nose
  • weight loss
  • bleeding disorders.

Visible signs in the chronic form of the disease are similar to those in the acute phase but are more severe.

Ehrlichiosis is diagnosed by a vet through a combination of clinical signs and blood tests. Ehrlichiosis can resemble other diseases like lymphoma and multiple myeloma, as well as other tick-borne diseases that are not currently present in SA, such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis.

Advice for dog owners

Dog owners, particularly those located in the pastoral regions of South Australia, can do a number of things to help prevent this disease in their dogs:

  • Commence and/or maintain a tick control program for your dog.
  • Have tick infestations in your house or yard managed by a pest controller.
  • Where possible, avoid taking your dog into tick-infested areas. Take particular care when bush-walking with your dog.
  • Inspect your dog daily for ticks, especially if they have been in a tick-infested area. Check your pet’s coat over their skin, feeling for abnormal bumps. Pay particular attention to the head, neck, ears, chest, between their toes, and around their mouth and gums.
  • Contact your vet if you find ticks on your dog, and are concerned about the risk of ehrlichiosis (and to seek tick control treatment options).
  • Look for any signs of the disease such as fever, lethargy and appetite loss. Contact your vet if you detect symptoms in your dog.

Ehrlichiosis requires veterinary treatment and supportive care (and may require hospitalisation, depending on the severity of the infection). Dog owners should contact their vet if their dog is unwell. Early treatment provides the best chance of recovery.

Preventing ehrlichiosis

The ideal tick prevention is one that can potentially kill the tick before it attached on/or prevents attachment. Talk to your vet about the appropriate product.

  • Treat your dogs for ticks regularly, as well as their bedding and the yard so they are not reinfected by their environment.
  • Check your dogs for ticks regularly (especially around the neck, head, ears, armpits and belly) and carefully remove any ticks. This is important as tick treatments may not always kill the tick fast enough to stop the dog becoming infected.

Travelling with your dog

Travelling with dogs can increase exposure to infectious diseases and, if travelling into northern Australia, their risk of contact with the brown dog tick. You can minimise the risk by:

  • using a tick preventative
  • inspecting your dog regularly for ticks
  • avoiding stops in areas where high tick infestations of dogs or significant tick populations occur. This will help to avoid ehrlichiosis transmission between dogs by the brown dog tick.

If your dog gets sick when travelling, tell your veterinarian where you went and when.

Advice for vets

Fact Sheet – Ehrlichia canis information for private vets (PDF 261.6 KB or DOCX 112.0 KB)

More information

Page Last Reviewed: 28 Jul 2020
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