I noticed that my dog has small reddish dots scattered in several parts of his body. When I brought my pet to the Veterinarian, the Doctor said that my dog has a low platelet count. Does this mean that my dog has Dengue? Let us start from the most basic. Dengue as we know it is transmitted by mosquito-bite. With dogs, the most common infection they get from mosquitoes is heartworm disease. Most of the time, when our dogs get this small reddish dots or spots scattered or confined in some parts of their body, with low platelet, the most common disease that we diagnose is Ehrlichiosis, caused by Ehrlichia sp. (pronounced as Ehr-lee-kia).For the familiarity of disease, let us call it Ehrlichia in our discussion. The effect of this disease is dengue-like for our dogs. Our pouch could have haemorrhage around the body, in the form of tiny red dots or sometimes bruises. In other cases they could have nose-bleeding or small wound eruptions on the skin. But the most common signs that owners observe are weakness, loss of appetite (even with their favorite meal!). There are a number of dogs with a lot of eye secretion aka ‘muta’. If you check their gums and the inside of their ears, you could see that it’s relatively pale from the original pinkish color. All these signs are brought about by low red blood cell count and its components, low platelet and most of the time high white blood cell count.
How did my dog get it if you mentioned that it’s not transmitted by mosquitoes?
The main culprit in spreading Ehrlichia is TICKS. In Filipino we call them “Garapata” and in Cebuano we call “libon”. These are the spider-looking 8-legged lazy parasites that we always see sucking on our pets, and yes they look like they are asleep most of the time when they are on our dogs. These ticks either look like maroon and thin (male) coupled with a fat, gray and big female engorged with blood. Don’t be fooled by the lazy character of these parasites, ticks are very fast crawlers and they know how to find their host (dog). It means that our dog can get ticks even if there is no direct contact with other dogs. It only takes one tick bite to transmit Ehrlichia. It is also very possible that our dog could have gotten the disease way before they start showing clinical signs.
What are the clinical signs of Ehrlichiosis?
Aside from the common clinical signs already mentioned, some dogs may show the-not-so-common clinical signs like blindness, neurologic signs like seizure and lameness (trouble walking). So far, we have noticed quite a number of Golden Retrievers having seizures when they turn positive for Ehrlichia. Other dogs could have liver and or kidney failure. And some they could have pregnant-looking tummies, we call ascites, because of enlarged spleen or there is abnormal fluid accumulation in the abdomen. In short, Ehrlichia may show a lot of different clinical signs, depending on the organ system it affects. German shepherd needs extra attention if they turn positive for this disease because the effect to them is worse than any other breed, and may be fatal.
Once we notice at least one of the clinical signs, and with history of ticks, normally I check the Complete blood count (CBC). If there is something wrong with the CBC then I would recommend the Ehrlichia Antibody test kit. If the condition is worst, then more complete blood test are recommended to check for liver, kidney and electrolytes.
Can my dog be treated once he gets this disease?
Yes! If your dog has acute or newly acquired Ehrlichia it is highly treatable. In fact, for acute cases of this disease, the dog gets better after a day or 2 of treatment. Don’t get me wrong, the treatment of this disease is not short at all. It could last from few weeks to months to years. For chronic (long-term) phase of the disease though, the chances of recovery is relatively slim.
If I get bitten by a tick, can I also get this Ehrlichia?
So far, there are no reported cases of Ehrlichia from dogs transmitted to humans (yet!) in the Philippines. BUT there are reported cases of this disease transferred by ticks to humans in the country of Venezuela, South America. Again, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
How can we prevent the spread of this disease?
This is a serious problem that affects a great population of dogs. It’s complicated because it circulates with the blood, then affecting most of the organ systems. Early prevention will help eliminate this problem. Get rid of the ticks to get rid of the disease! There are monthly tick and flea preventatives that we can use for our dogs. Also, don’t forget to clean the surroundings where your dog normally stays, by brushing. These ticks can hide in cracks and crevices for 6 months up to a year-and a-half without feeding. Once hungry they will attach back to their host and the cycle repeats again.
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Animal Wellness Veterinary Hospital
Ivy Alvarez, DVM