Dog Ticks & Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
I’ve written about dog ticks and tick diseases before, including ehrlichiosis. Another devastating condition transmitted by ticks is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
I’m sharing this entry about ROCKY MOUNTAIN SPOTTED FEVER, an excerpt from Dog Facts, The Series 18 (Chapter R). This chapter covers a lot of ground, and here’s the topic list:
Rabies, Reading Food Labels, Reproduction, Respiration, Respiratory Distress, Restraint, Ringworm, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Rolling, and Roundworms.
I’ve broken the massive book into discounted treat-size alpha-chapter sections available ONLY to subscribers of my PETS PEEVES NEWSLETTER. Folks can choose which ones they most need. Each chapter will release every other week. Of course, you can still get the entire DOG FACTS book either in Kindle or 630+ pages of print.
WHAT IS ROCKY MOUNTAIN SPOTTED FEVER?
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a rickettsial disease caused by the organism Rickettsia rickettsii. Rickettsiae are tiny bacteria-sized parasites that live inside cells, and most spend a portion of their life cycle in an insect vector which then transmits them to an animal host, or reservoir. People and dogs are not the natural host for most of these agents, but can become ill when infected.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be transmitted by several different kinds of ticks, particularly the wood tick and the American dog tick. The illness affects both people and dogs.
HOW DO DOGS GET ROCKY MOUNTAIN SPOTTED FEVER
The disease is seasonal, with most cases occurring from spring to early fall. It has been reported in nearly every state, but is most prevalent in the central states from Colorado west to the coast. Most infected dogs may not show any signs at all, but others can suffer severe illness and rapid death. For unknown reasons, Siberian Huskies appear to be most severely affected.
The agent is transmitted to the dog from the bite of an infected tick, and the rickettsiae travel from the tissues to the lymphatic system. They proliferate in the cells found in the walls of small blood vessels throughout the body. This prompts an inflammatory response that results in blood clotting and bleeding disorders, and organ damage.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ROCKY MOUNTAIN SPOTTED FEVER?
Signs begin with vague illness and continue to get worse. Watch for :
- fever of up to 105 degrees
- loss of appetite
- signs of arthritis
- coughing or labored breathing
- abdominal pain
- vomiting and diarrhea
- swelling of the face or extremities
- thick mucoid discharge from the eyes and nose.
Neurologic signs are also common, and may include altered mental states, poor balance, and a rigid neck. Many of these acute signs are similar to canine distemper.
A week or two following initial signs, the dog develops bleeding disorders similar to ehrlichiosis. Nosebleeds, bleeding beneath the skin, or in the urine or feces may result in shock and multiple organ failure. Loss of blood circulation may lead to gangrene and death of affected tissue. Ultimately, kidney failure causes death.
HOW IS ROCKY MOUNTAIN SPOTTED FEVER DIAGNOSED & TREATED?
Diagnosis is sometimes difficult to make, but Rocky Mountain spotted fever should be suspected when these signs appear in a tick-infested dog during spring to fall. The diagnosis is best confirmed with tests, which are available in veterinary laboratories or schools.
When the disease is suspected, dogs should be treated immediately with tetracycline even before blood tests confirm the diagnosis. Dogs suffering from acute disease will respond with a reversal of symptoms within only a day or two of antibiotic therapy, which should be continued for two to three weeks. They may also require other supportive therapy, such as fluid replacement to combat shock and clotting disorders. Once they recover from infection, dogs appear to become resistant to reinfection.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MY DOG?
To prevent the disease, practice tick control with appropriate insecticides. In most instances, the tick vector must be attached and feeding for 12 to 48 hours before a rickettsial agent can be transmitted. Therefore, prompt removal of any ticks found on your dog will virtually eliminate chance of the disease.
However, the crushed tick that contaminates your skin may result in infection, so wear gloves and/or use tweezers to remove ticks from your pet, to protect yourself from exposure. Human signs of the disease include flu-like symptoms, and a rash on the hands, wrists, ankles and feet. See your doctor immediately if you suspect you’ve been exposed, because the disease causes death in 15 to 20 percent of untreated human cases.
Does your dog get ticks? Are you using tick treatment to protect him? Has your dog ever suffered from a tick-borne disease–or have YOU? Someone I know currently is going through long-term debilitating treatment to get rid of a tick-borne illness.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!