Ticks are more than just annoying pests; they are also carriers of disease. As ticks travel from host to host, they can pick up and spread diseases as they go. While Lyme disease is the most commonly known tick-borne illness, there are a number of other serious diseases that can be spread by ticks, among them Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
What Causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs?
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii. This microorganism reproduces within living cells and is transmitted via bite.
In the United States, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is carried by certain species of tick: the American dog tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog tick.
Despite its name, ticks carrying the disease do not only live in the Rocky Mountains; in fact, today the area accounts for only a small percentage of cases. Ticks infected with the disease can live throughout the United States, and are common in the Southeast, the Midwest, the Southwest, and the Plains States.
Most cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever are reported between May and October.
Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs
Rocky Mountain spotted fever can affect any dog, but certain breeds are more likely to have a severe reaction; these include purebred dogs and German Shepherds.
Common symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty breathing
- Swollen limbs
- Joint pain
- Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat)
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Rash around the bite area (rarely)
- Discoloration on the skin
- Swollen or painful eyes
- Loss of coordination
- Blood in the urine and stool
- Hemorrhaging and nosebleeds
Treatment for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs
Contact your veterinarian if your dog exhibits any of the above symptoms or if you find a tick on your dog (or suspect they may have been bitten). The mortality rate is high when treatment is delayed, so don’t wait.
Depending on the severity of the condition, your dog may need to be admitted to an animal hospital and stay until they are stable. The disease itself is treated with antibiotics, and the antibiotics of choice are Tetracycline, Doxycycline, and Enrofloxacin. Most dogs begin to improve within days of beginning treatment.
Preventing Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs
Regardless of where you live, your dog should be protected with a flea and tick preventative. When spending time outdoors (especially in areas with tall grass), you may also want to use a tick collar (only if it safe to pair it with the flea and tick preventative you are using; ask your veterinarian).
Also be sure check your dog for ticks after they’ve been outside, and if you find any, remove them safely and contact your veterinarian.
More on Tick-Borne Disease
Types of Ticks in the US
How to Stop Ticks
How to Remove a Tick
PetMD - Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs
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