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17 June 2021

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs, one of the deadliest tick diseases

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs, causes, symptoms, treatment strategies and finally prevention

A lot of dog guardians must’ve heard about the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. However, if you have not heard of this disease before, you have come to the right place. In this blog post, I will be discussing everything about this tick related disease and preventive measures.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is mainly caused by transmission of blood and saliva from ticks to your dog. It can be a pretty fatal disease if not treated immediately. Follow the blog post all the way to the end to understand the causes, symptoms, treatments as well as preventive measures of this dreaded disease.

What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or RMSF is a disease which is caused by the parasitic bacteria known as Rickettsia rickettsia. This bacterium is generally transmitted via the blood and saliva of ticks. Only the presence of this bacteria on the dog does not make the animal sick. However, if the ticks who generally carry these bacteria bite your dog, the bacteria gets transmitted from the saliva and blood of the tick into your dog’s bloodstream. This can lead to a life-threatening condition if the dog is not provided proper medical care as soon as possible.

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Prevalence of RMSF

This disease has most often been observed in the Central, South as well as North regions of America and is currently one of the most prevalent tickborne disease in the above-mentioned regions. If you think that your dog is showing any signs and symptoms of the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, do not cause any delay in consulting your veterinarian. The sooner your dog gets the treatment, the highest chances are of full recovery.

rocky mountain spotted fever in dogs

Other articles in the Dog Tick series:


What are the causes behind Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs?

The mode of transmission of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever generally involves ticks. The tick will first bite an animal who is already infected with the bacteria, Rickettsia rickettsia. Now the tick has the microorganism in its circulation. Next, the tick will go and bite another uninfected animal. During the process of sucking blood, the tick will transmit the microorganism Rickettsia into this uninfected animal’s blood, thus infecting him or her. Ticks have also been observed to pass Rickettsia into their mates or their eggs.

The most common species of tick which has been observed to transmit this disease is the wood tick and the American dog tick in the Western states. In Arizona, it has been observed that the brown dog tick is responsible for the transmission of the disease.

There are several species of ticks which have been observed to transmit this disease. The bacteria may also get transmitted during the process of blood transfusion if the blood being transfused has been taken from an infected dog. This is however a less commonly observed scenario.

Certain dogs are at high risk for developing symptoms of RMSF. Dogs who are purebred as well as German Shepherds have been observed to be at higher risks of developing this disease. Dogs living in regions where the prevalence of ticks is high or those who spend a lot of their time outdoors are more likely to get infected by this disease.

The tick season starts in March and ends in October. This is the time when your dog is most vulnerable to a tick infection. Therefore, all dog guardians must take the grooming part of dog care very seriously during this period.

How much time does it take for the symptoms to develop?

For an infected tick to pass the disease to your dog, it must feed on your dog for at least 5 to 20 hours for transmission of the parasite. Once the parasite has gained access to your dog’s bloodstream, it will enter into the blood vessels and reproduce there. This will lead to the constriction and inflammation of the affected blood vessels. The incubation period (the duration when the animal is infected but not showing symptoms) of this disease is generally two days however it can take as long as two weeks for your dog to start showing symptoms

Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs

Some dogs even after infection with RMSF may not show symptoms i.e. they may be asymptomatic. However, in other cases, the dog may develop severe and deadly symptoms of RMSF. The trouble here is that the symptoms of RMSF may be nonspecific and might mimic the symptoms of other canine diseases. Hence, if you are worried that your dog might be suffering from RMSF, do not delay in consulting your veterinarian.

In case you observe the presence of tick on your dog’s fur or if you see a tick bite on your dog, followed by the following symptoms, consult your veterinarian immediately:

  • anorexia
  • loss of appetite
  • weakness
  • Fever
  • lethargy
  • discolored spots on the skin which look bruised or purple in color
  • presence of blood in urine
  • abdominal pain
  • joint pain
  • coordination loss
  • swelling of the face or limbs
  • difficulty in breathing
  • exercise intolerance
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • redness observed in the eyes
  • bleeding from the nose or in stools
  • prolonged bleeding [no coagulation of blood]
  • swelling the lymph nodes
  • seizures
  • neurological signs and symptoms like wobbly walk
  • haemorrhages in the eyes and gums
  • arrhythmia
  • changes in normal behavior
  • necrosis of the extremities due to formation of gangrenes
  • Shock
  • Coma

Identification of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs:

When you take your dog to your vet, he or she will ask you a few questions like when did you first observe the tick on your dog, what signs and symptoms has your dog been displaying, how long from observing the tick bite did the symptoms start etc. Your vet will conduct a thorough examination of your pup’s fur, and identify if there are any ticks remaining on your dog. They may also have to shave certain regions if your dog has a thick fur coat. Once the tick has been removed, your vet will most likely send the tick for a species examination to identify the exact disease that your dog is suffering from.

Your vet may also conduct a few basic blood tests, x-rays as well as urinary analysis. The abnormal findings would be a low number of platelets, anemia as well as abnormally high levels of white blood cell count. If your dog is still in the early stages of the disease, the white blood cell count might be low. However, if your dog is in the late stages of the disease, the white blood cell count would be elevated.

The biochemical tests will show reduced protein levels, abnormality in the calcium levels, abnormalities in the electrolyte, liver and kidney values.

What is the confirmatory test for Rocky Mountain spotted fever?

The test used to confirm the presence of Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the in direct immunofluorescence assay test. To conduct this test, two samples of your dog’s blood will be required, one which is obtained at the time of illness and second blood sample which is obtained a few weeks later. The diagnosis is made on the basis of increase in production of antibodies between the first and second samples. In the first sample, the antibody titer would still be low because the infection would be in the initial stages. However, in the second samples the antibody titer would be much higher, a two-to-four-fold increase is expected in the antibody levels.

The other tests for RMSF are PCR or spinal fluid top. However, these tests are less sensitive compared to immunofluorescence assay test.

Treatment options for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs

The primary treatment for RMSF involves the antibiotic Doxycycline or Tetracycline administered over a period of two to three weeks. Doxycycline is generally administered for 7 to 20 days depending on the dose administered. While tetracycline is administered for a period of 14 to 21 days. It is not advisable to administer these drugs to young puppies or to pregnant females. Depending on the severity of the case, your dog may or may not require hospitalization. Your dog may also need corticosteroids to reduce any inflammation which may have occurred.

Most dogs start to respond to the treatment within 1 to 2 days. The sooner the treatment is started, the better the chances of recovery of your dog. If this disease is left untreated or ignored, it can be fatal to your dog.

Your dog may need hospitalization if he or she is showing lethargic behavior along with loss of appetite. Hospitalization may also be needed if the dog is showing signs of organ failure, or if supportive therapy is needed like administration of intravenous fluids. Once your pup become stable, he or she will be discharged and the rest of the treatment can be continued at home.

Prevention of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

As it has previously been said, prevention is better than cure. Now that you know the months when the tics are most prevalent, be very careful during those months and follow the following instructions to keep ticks away from your dogs

Keep your house, furniture, dog shed, garage as well as yard tick free. You can use pesticides for this. However, consult with the veterinarian regarding which pesticide is safe for use around your dog. For in house cleaning, you can use diatomaceous earth the details of which I have discussed previously.

You can make an anti-tick spray or even anti-tick collars for your dog.

Regularly bathe your dog in an anti-tick shampoo

Check out these 32 home remedies as well and prevention measures to keep ticks away from your dog, your house as well as your life.

There are certain over-the-counter medications available to prevent tick infection in dogs. However, always consult your veterinarian before going for over-the-counter medicine.

If you observe a tick on your dog’s fur, be very cautious while pulling it out. Always wear a pair of latex gloves before you go anywhere near the tick as there is a chance that the tick might bite you as well. Remember to remove the entire tick from the body of your dog including the head.

 Is there a chance that humans may get affected by this disease?

If your dog gets infected by the Rocky Mountain spotted fever from a tick, your dog will not be able to pass it to you or any human. However, if the tick that is carrying the causative organisms Rickettsia, infects the dog and then goes and bites the human, then the person can get infected with Rocky Mountain spotted fever is just like their dog. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RMSF is considered as one of the deadliest tick diseases in America. The treatment model for humans is pretty similar to the one used in dogs. Again, if the disease is left untreated, it can become fatal for humans as well

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Some final thoughts

As dog guardians we always worry about our kids. However, with RMSF there is another major problem. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be transmitted from your dog to you i.e. humans. Therefore, it is a risk not only to your dog but to you as well. Thus, keeping ticks out of your life should be of top priority. Has your dog ever suffered from a tick bite? What did you do with your condition? What was your veterinarian’s advice and the treatment plan? Let me know in the comment section below. If there is any dog care story or anecdotes you wish to share with everyone, feel free to contact me on my social media channels. I will be happy to share your story with the world.

 See you in my next blog post

Shruti


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