Ehrlichiosis in Dogs can have Multiple Symptoms

Blindness may be Reversible is Treated Soon


Is there anything I can do to cure Ehrlichia in my dog?  She only has 1 symptom; she suddenly lost her eyesight about 4 weeks ago. She tested positive.

Dr. Nichol:

Ehrlichiosis is a blood parasite that is carried by ticks. It is a nasty disease. The symptoms can appear suddenly or creep up so gradually as to be recognized only in their advanced stages. Your dog’s blindness may be reversible if treatment is swift and sure. The drug of choice for most cases is the antibiotic doxycycline. Dogs with severe anemia also need blood transfusions.


These boys and girls can get real sick and die. Infected dogs present with any one or combination of symptoms including bleeding, difficulty breathing, swollen lymph nodes, lethargy, weakness, poor appetite, fever, head tilt, staggering, or other neurologic signs. Nose bleeds are common. Like most infections, early treatment carries a much better prognosis. Chronically infected dogs can still be helped but may carry a smoldering form of ehrlichiosis for life.


What has always bothered me most about this disease is the way it can masquerade as other problems. I routinely test any dogs whose symptoms are even remotely suggestive of ehrlichia. The best prevention is to keep your dog free of ticks by using a monthly spot-on treatment like Frontline or Advantix. Both are safe, effective, and available from your veterinarian.





More on Ehrlichiosis


We adopted a wonderful two year old neutered male English Springer spaniel a few weeks ago. He was recently diagnosed with ehrlichiosis and is on an antibiotic regimen for 14 days and then a follow up blood test in June. Are there any special concerns? The information we have been given seems confusing.


Dr. Nichol:

You and your new dog are fortunate that his ehrlichiosis was diagnosed early. This is a sneaky blood parasite that can surprise even the most observant dog owner. Transmitted by ticks, and also seen in horses, it can take months to show itself. For some dogs the first symptom is a nose bleed or other wound that won’t stop bleeding. Others may be vaguely lethargic because of diminishing red blood cell numbers. Ehrlichia can infect the eyes, nervous system, and bone marrow, leading to blindness, a head tilt, staggering, and chronic illness.


There are several treatments for ehrlichiosis; most often we use the antibiotic doxycycline. The majority of infected dogs improve but some relapse months or years later. The most common treatment failures occur because a cure was assumed.


Your veterinarian should recheck your dog’s blood platelet count every 3 days, continuing his medication until it’s normal. A follow-up ehrlichia test in several months will rule out a smoldering infection that could come back to bite your boy later. Finally, do your best to prevent a new infection by staying after ticks with a spot-on product like Frontline or Advantix.