If you own dogs and live in the western United States, particularly in the Rocky Mountain region, then there's a tick-borne disease that you need to be aware of. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a serious, sometimes deadly illness that is passed to dogs by the American dog tick and the lone star tick. Prevention is worth a pound of cure in this case -- but it's essential that every dog owner knows the basics about detecting, treating, and preventing this disease.
What Causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is caused by an organism called Rickettsia rickettsii. This is a species of bacteria that shares a lot of characteristics with viruses. The organism lives in and on American dog ticks and lone star ticks and can be passed into your dog's bloodstream when your dog is bitten by one of these ticks.
Can You Get The Disease From Your Dog?
Humans can become ill from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. However, you cannot get it from your infected dog. Like your dog, you can only contract the illness from an infected tick.
What Are The Symptoms?
Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever do not appear immediately after the dog becomes infected. Some dogs start showing symptoms a couple of days after the bite, while others don't show symptoms for two or even three weeks. When they do appear, symptoms include:
- Muscular and joint pain, resulting in a stiff gait and refusal to climb stairs or jump
- Fluid accumulation in the lower legs and face
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Hemorrhage in the eye, resulting in a red-eyed look or even blood coming from the eyes
How Will Your Vet Diagnose Your Dog?
The symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are quite severe, so they'd be hard to overlook. If your dog starts showing these symptoms, contact your vet immediately. If it's after-hours, contact an emergency pet hospital.
To diagnose your dog with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, your vet will administer a blood test to detect antigens to Rickettsia rickettsii. (Antigens are proteins your body makes in response to the invading pathogen.) It may take a few days for the results of the test to come back from the lab, so if your vet feels your dog's symptoms are indicative of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, he or she will likely begin treatment before the test results come back.
How Is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Treated?
Your dog will typically be given a large dose of an IV antibiotic. Doxycycline has been used traditionally, but some vets are finding that tetracycline works better in some dogs. After a few days of IV treatment, your dog may be able to take oral antibiotics instead. Supportive therapies like IV fluids will also be used to help your dog's body more effectively fight the disease.
With proper veterinary care, most dogs recover. However, delaying seeking treatment may lead to death. Some dogs do suffer permanent nervous system damage as a result of the illness. This is particularly common in German shepherds.
How Can You Prevent This Disease?
As with all tick diseases, the best preventative measures involve keeping ticks away from your dog. Obtain a spot-on flea and tick repellent from your dog, and administer it to your dog monthly. Check your dog for ticks after he spends time outside. The sooner you find and remove them, the lower the chances that they'll actually pass on the infection. Also, keep your yard free of brush and debris, since ticks love to hide in these areas.
With careful tick prevention, your dog's chances of contracting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever will decrease significantly.