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Friday, March 31, 2006

Ehrlichiosis: A Bad Word I Wish I Hadn't Had to Learn

What's scarier than knowing your pet is really sick and having no assurance that she'll pull through? I can't answer for anyone who has actual human kids, which I don't, but for me, that's as scary as it gets.

While I was on vacation, my dog, Gracie, who's about 12 - lab mix, very playful and sprightly - grew listless and quit eating. My friend Scott, who was staying with the dogs, became sufficiently alarmed that he took her to a neighborhood vet in Miami. Good thing, because my poor little baby has Eherlichiosis, a nasty, tick-borne blood disease that can cause internal hemorraging and death. This despite diligent use of Frontline.

The vet put her on keflex, the strong antibiotic, but she didn't improve, so Scott delivered her to my boyfriend, Jake, who took her to our longtime vet, Emerald Hills Animal Hospital, in Hollywood.

There, dehydrated and not having eaten for four days, she had blood tests and was put on IV fluids and the antibiotic doxycycline, the preferred treatment for the disease. She was running a fever of 104, equal to 101 in humans.

The fever decreased by a degree yesterday, and she'd been rehydrated, so I brought her home where, after barely eating for more than a week, she snarfed down some hot dogs, sliced turkey and hamburger, an encouraging sign.

She's still quite mopey and draggy, so I'm watching her carefully, as I advise anyone whose pet is acting this way to do. If Eherliciosis progresses from the acute to chronic stage, you're in for real trouble. (No, your pet can't transmit it to you, but you can get it from an infected tick).

A good website for information is peteducation.com. Here's an exerpt from the page on Eherlichiosis:

Ehrlichia is transmitted by the Brown Dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus. The immature form of the tick feeds on an animal infected with Ehrlichia. When these immature forms or a mature form of the tick feeds on another animal, the Ehrlichia is passed on to that animal. The Ehrlichia can remain alive in the developing tick for up to 5 months. This means a tick could become infected in the fall, and infect a dog the following spring.

Because the disease is transmitted by the Brown Dog tick, it can occur wherever Brown Dog ticks are found. Almost every state in the United States has reported a case of ehrlichiosis.

What are the symptoms of ehrlichiosis?

Ehrlichiosis can have three phases. Signs of the acute phase of the disease usually develop 1-3 weeks after the bite of the infected tick. The acute phase of the disease generally lasts 2-4 weeks. The Ehrlichia enter certain cells of the body and reproduce inside of them. These cells are found in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, blood, and bone marrow. As a result of the infection, the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen are often enlarged. Anemia, fever, depression, lethargy, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, joint pain and stiffness, and bruises are often seen.

In the subclinical phase, the animal may show only slight anemia. During this phase, the dog either eliminates the Ehrlichia from the body or the infection may progress to the chronic phase.

The chronic phase generally develops 1-4 months after the tick bite and can be either mild or severe. Weight loss, anemia, neurological signs, bleeding, inflammation of the eye, edema (fluid accumulation) in the hind legs, and fever may be seen. Blood tests show that one or all of the different blood cell types are decreased. One cell type, the lymphocyte, may increase and be abnormal in appearance. This can sometimes be confused with certain types of leukemia. If a dog becomes chronically infected, the disease can keep coming back, especially during periods of stress.

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