A Potentially Fatal Disease, Most Dogs Respond Well to Treatment


I am the “grandmother” of a handsome poodle with a big problem. He has been diagnosed with Ehrlichia platys and has been a very sick boy. We would like clarification of exactly what this disease is and what medical course we should take. The vet has him on antibiotics and has had a course of prednisone. He has responded well but they tell us this is a life long disease. We really do love this boy!


Dr. Nichol:

You are right to be concerned about your granddog. Ehrlichia is a serious and potentially fatal disease. It’s found in lots of places. In the southwest it’s big in Arizona and Texas but we’re seeing more of it in New Mexico in recent years. Not good news.


The creature responsible is a rickettsia-sort of like bacteria in that it responds to antibiotics. It also resembles a virus because it must live inside the cells of the body to survive. For passage between dogs rickettsias require the services of ticks. Some dogs in these parts have gotten Ehrlichia canis, a parasite of white blood cells. Your boy has E. platys, which infects blood platelets. Both organisms cause fever, lethargy, poor appetite, and sometimes bleeding.


The good news is that your fine fellow is unlikely to be stuck with Ehrlichiosis his entire life. Most dogs are negative after 3-9 months of treatment. While there may be a few who have it smoldering in their bone marrow for life, persistent cases usually just need to change to another drug.


The best treatment for most dogs is the antibiotic doxycycline. Prednisone is sometimes helpful in the early stages if platelet numbers are very low. It’s important to stop the pred within a few weeks because it can slow your dog’s natural immune response. It might also prevent his ultimate cure.


Lastly, protect this fine dog against a repeat infection by preventing ticks. Frontline, a prescription spot-on treatment works best. That handsome poodle should be safe as long as he remains tickless. He doesn’t want déjà vu all over again.