My Dog Tested Positive for Ehrlichia on the Blood Parasites Test – Now What?
Ehrlichia is a common tick borne infection in this area. A positive test does not always indicate an active infection and most often indicates “exposure,” meaning your dog has been infected from a tick bite but is not clinically ill. Many dogs have a brief phase of mild illness 1-3 weeks after infection, and then go into a subclinical phase that may last for many years. Only a small percentage of dogs who are infected with Ehrlichia ever develop significant clinical illness, either in the acute or chronic phase. It is thought that dogs who do develop significant clinical illness have a hyper-reactive immune system, and a component of the disease is immune-mediated. If your dog tests positive for Ehrlichia antibody on our in-house blood parasites test, and you would like to know if your dog has an active infection, we can send the blood out for additional testing. A large percentage of dogs in this area test positive for Ehrlichia; in 2018, 25% of our patients tested positive. Once a dog tests positive, they will likely continue to test positive for Ehrlichia long term. What we are starting to recommend for these pets now is yearly bloodwork, as there have been some recent indications that chronic Ehrlichia patients are more likely to develop other diseases such as chronic kidney disease. Your pet has no clinical signs of the active disease at this time - lethargy, fever, inappetance, swollen and painful joints, bruising and bleeding, as well as certain neurologic abnormalities and ocular (eye) abnormalities. Please monitor for these clinical signs and call if seen. We do not often treat dogs for Ehrlichiosis without active clinical symptoms, as the prevalence here is high and the incidence of clinical illness is low.
Our blood parasites test also tests for Lyme Disease and Anaplasmosis, two other tickborne infections. Anaplasmosis is very uncommon in this area, but has similar symptoms and low occurrence of clinical illness as listed above for Ehrlichia. Lyme Disease is much less common in this area than Ehrlichia, but cases are certainly on the rise, and the incidence of Lyme Disease is growing year by year in the South. Symptoms of Lyme Disease usually include fever, lethargy, inappetance, and a hallmark of the disease is swollen, painful joints and limping, often occurring in multiple joints or changing day by day (“shifting leg lameness”). Lyme Disease, in rare cases, can also lead to kidney failure and severe illness. We often will treat with a course of antibiotics in the case of a newly diagnosed Lyme positive case.
For prevention of tickborne diseases, it is very important that all dogs in this area are kept on monthly tick preventative, year-round. There are several different options, from the oral pills like NexGard (monthly) and Bravecto (every 3 months), to topical products like Frontline (monthly), and Seresto collars (usually last 6-8 months). Also pet and brush your dog frequently to check for ticks.