Ehrlichiosis is one of several
tick-borne illnesses that can
strike you and your furry friends. Arm yourself to fight it by
learning as much as you can about ehrlichiosis symptoms.
“Ehrlichiosis” refers to any of
a group of diseases caused by bacteria in the Erhlichia group.
Ehrlichiosis is usually transmitted by ticks, and can be quite serious, both for
humans and dogs, though it’s rare among cats. Ehrlichiosis gets
harder to treat the farther it progresses, so early detection
EHRLICHIOSIS SYMPTOMS AND EFFECTS
Ehrlichiosis has three different stages that have different
symptoms and different prognoses. Since dogs get the disease
much more often than cats, symptoms in dogs are much better
understood. The first symptoms start one to three weeks after a
dog is first infected.
Stage 1: Acute Ehrlichiosis Symptoms in Dogs
- Sores in the mucous membranes
- Inflammation of the blood vessels
- Bleeding disorders (nose bleeds, for example)
Diagnosis: A simple blood test can confirm the
presence of the bacteria.
Duration: The acute phase lasts two to four
Treatment: This phase can usually be cured
Prognosis: Early detection, and treatment with
antibiotics, can often result in complete eradication of the
If neither antibiotics nor the dog’s own immune system fight
off the bacteria, the disease seems to disappear, but actually
moves into the second phase. Mild cases do sometimes go away on
their own, without treatment.
Stage 2: Subclinical Ehrlichiosis Symptoms in Dogs
Symptoms: The subclinical stage of the disease
has no symptoms at all.
Diagnosis: There are a number of blood tests
and other tests vets can do to find out if the Ehrlichia
bacteria are still in the dog, but none of them are reliable by
themselves. Most can give false negative results, while some
can also give false positives.
Duration: The subclinical phase can last up to
five years before the symptoms of chronic infection
Treatment: Subclinical ehrlichiosis can be
cured with antibiotics as well, but might require extended
treatment, and it is hard to be sure the treatment has been
Stage 3: Chronic Ehrlichiosis Symptoms in Dogs
- Pale gums (from anemia)
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Breathing problems
- Inflammation of the blood vessels
- Increased urination and increased drinking (from kidney problems)
- Eye problems
- Neurological problems including confusion, disorientation,
and behavior changes
Prognosis: Chronic ehrlichiosis can be
treated, but a cure at this stage is a bit of a long-shot.
Chronic ehrlichiosis can be managed, but can ultimately lead to
the death of your pet, usually from a related side effect.
Ehrlichiosis in Cats
Cats seem to have similar symptoms to dogs, as well as lethargy, weight loss, and an enlarged
spleen, and sometimes hypersensitivity to light, noise, or
other stimuli. Treatment is also similar to canine
Can I Get Ehrlichiosis from my Cat or Dog?
You can catch ehrlichiosis, but not from your dog or cat.
Ehrlichia travels by tick, and humans do not get the same kinds
of Ehrlichia as dogs or cats. You could catch the human version
of ehrlichiosis from a tick your animal brings inside, though.
Learn how to avoid tick bites, how to thoroughly check yourself
for ticks, and how to safely remove
an embedded tick.
What Do I Do If My Dog or Cat Gets Ehrlichiosis?
The early symptoms of ehrlichiosis are very hard to catch, yet
early diagnosis is critical. So do regular tick checks. If you
find an engorged tick on any of your animals (or on yourself),
freeze the tick in a sealed bag with the date on it. If the
bite victim gets sick within the next three weeks, assume
ehrlichiosis (or another tick-borne illness) is a possibility
and go to the vet. Bring the tick, in case the vet wants to
test it as well.
Antibiotics should cure the disease at this stage, but your pet
may also need to be treated for secondary problems, like
dehydration. In some cases, treatment won't ever clear the
infection completely and it will become chronic.
The early symptoms are easy to miss. If your pet does develop
chronic, or end-stage ehrlichiosis, your pet’s best chance will
be antibiotics plus other supportive treatments such as blood
transfusions and steroids.
How to Prevent Ehrlichiosis in Dogs and Cats
illness caused by bacteria in the Ehrlichia group. A
related group, Anaplasma causes
anaplasmosis, a virtually identical disease. In either case,
the bacteria attack the blood cells and can be fatal. Humans,
horses, cattle, and dogs (especially German
Shepherds and Dobermans) are vulnerable. Very rarely,
cats can also get sick. Early treatment is critical, but
ehrlichiosis is very difficult to diagnose. The best bet is to
keep your pet from getting sick in the first place.
You cannot catch ehrlichiosis from your dog or cat, but you can
catch it from the same tick.
In other words, your dog may pick up an infected tick and bring
it to your home, which is why you need to take precautions.
Symptoms of Ehrlichiosis in Dogs and Cats
Ehrlichiosis has three
different stages in dogs. The disease is so rare in cats
that not much is known about the feline version, but it appears
similar to canine ehrlichiosis.
- The first stage, acute ehrlichiosis, begins one to three
weeks after infection, and lasts up to a month. This phase is
usually not dangerous, and mild cases sometimes go away without
- If neither the patient’s immune system nor drugs get rid of
the Ehrlichia, it hides and becomes subclinical ehrlichiosis.
This stage has no symptoms at all and can last years, but if
not cured it can progress to chronic ehrlichiosis.
- The third stage, chronic ehrlichiosis, is very difficult to
treat and it can be life threatening.
Read more about the symptoms of
PREVENTING EHRLICHIOSIS IN DOGS AND CATS (AND HUMANS!)
Preventing ehrlichiosis begins with preventing tick bites.
Avoiding tick habitats might not be practical, since romping
through woods and fields are joys of life for animals and
humans alike. Fortunately, ticks need to feed for at least 24
hours before they can transmit disease, so a thorough tick
check once or twice a day should catch most ticks in time.
Anti-tick medications, like monthly spot-on treatments, can keep ticks
from biting. Unfortunately, ticks and flea populations evolve
quickly: they’re becoming resistant to many of the pest
repellant ointments we throw at them. So keep
doing manual tick checks,
too, just in case.
Dogs and especially cats can both remove most ticks by
grooming, but they can miss some. Check especially around the
head and face and under the collar. Non-engorged ticks can be
very small and hard to see. To search for them, use your
forefinger to part the hair one small section at a time.
Remember, just washing doesn’t work.
If you find a tick attached, do not use a match, petroleum
jelly, or your fingers to make the tick let go. Those methods
just make ticks vomit into their host’s body, a major infection
risk. Instead, use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as
close to the animal’s skin as possible and pull gently and
steadily. You don’t want to risk breaking the tick and spilling
its fluids, as these could also infect you.
If the tick is already partially engorged, freeze it in a
sealed plastic bag with the date on it, in case the bite victim
gets sick and the vet wants to have the tick tested.
EHRLICHIOSIS TREATMENT IN DOGS AND CATS
Ehrlichiosis symptoms are hard to spot, and early symptoms can
be mild. The best way to spot the disease is to notice the tick
and then watch for signs of illness over the next few weeks. If
your pet gets sick, the vet can do a number of different blood
tests. Some vets might routinely test for ehrlichiosis, since
it’s possible to miss the initial symptoms.
Vets treat ehrlichiosis with antibiotics, plus supportive therapies
such as intravenous fluids, if necessary. If the disease is
found during the acute stage, treatment usually works. The
subacute is also treatable with antibiotics, though it’s hard
to tell whether the treatment works since there are no
The final, chronic phase is very difficult to treat. The vet
may have to prescribe steroids and even multiple blood
transfusions. If your medical team can keep your dog or cat
alive long enough for the antibiotics to work, your pet has a
Oftentimes, treatment will alleviate symptoms, but the
infection can still return as a chronic condition.
More on Ticks
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How to Stop
How Do I Find Ticks on
This information is for informational
purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the
professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your
veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been
verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.