What all dog owners need to know about ehrlichiosis (tick disease)

EHRLICHIOSIS (transmitted by ticksis the biggest killer of dogs in our area, and it’s mortality rate is over 50%! – THIS IS BECAUSE THE ANIMALS DON’T RECEIVE THE ADEQUATE TREATMENT IN TIME. Diagnosed and treated on time, i.e  when the first symptoms occur and before it affects other organs, ehrlichiosis can be cured.


Ehrlichia infection can cause a number of clinical signs. It can be extremely hard to diagnose due to the wide range of detectable symptoms that can occur. Most dogs infected with this microorganism will be lethargic, lose weight, show less interest in food and become anemic. Other possible clinical signs include hemorrhages under the skin and/or around the gums, swollen lymph nodes, muscular or joint soreness, nasal discharges or nosebleeds, severe neck or back pain, blood in the urine and eye problems ranging from a simple discharge to severe inflammation of the internal eye structures. Neurologic signs such as seizures and difficulty walking can also occur. If the acute infection is not treated, and the animal does not succumb during this stage, ehrlichiosis will change to its chronic form. In this case, the dog may appear to be normal or may show vague signs of illness occasionally, but the chronic illness can suddenly become very severe again if the dog is stressed in some manner or his immune system goes down for any reason.

The diagnosis is based on the typical clinical signs and results of special blood tests.WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND TO ALWAYS CONSULT A VET AND LEAVE THE DIAGNOSIS TO HIM/HER. We know of many cases when the owner “diagnosed” the disease by himself, often based on some information read on the Internet and/or the fact that the dog had tics. These usually end tragically, as in some cases the dogs actually had kidney problems, which if not treated in time, (plus the effect of the strong antibiotics given to the animal over an extended period of time) usually results in the animal’s death.


The antibiotic recommended to treat this illness is Doxicicline. Most recent studies made in Costa Rica at the National University show that to successfully treat Ehrlichia, this antibiotic has to be administered in a dosage of 10 mg per kilo, every 12 hours for 28 days.Lower dosages, different schedules (for example every 24 hours) and/or a shorter duration of treatment will NOT completely cure the animal, and could cause the transition to the chronic version.


There is no vaccine for ehrlichiosis. Tick control is the established way to prevent this tick-transmitted disease. Products which repel and kill ticks (FRONTLINE, ADVANTIX) used together with tick collars containing the active ingredient Amitraz (PREVENTIC), work in most cases. It’s much more difficult if the dogs are maintained and/or spend considerable time on farms or in the woods, due to the higher concentration in these areas. In these cases the dogs have to, in addition to the regular prevention, be checked for ticks every day. One needs to also be aware that in our country (Costa Rica) the tick responsible for the transmission of ehrlichia usually lives in environments created by humans, so it’s highly recommended to control and fumigate the areas where both people and animals live.

In closing, areas such as right here in Garabito county, where probably 70% of our dog population is infected with ehrlichia canis, we strongly recommend to NEVER ignore any signs of an illness, and ALWAYS consult a professional regarding any diagnosis and subsequent treatment. PLEASE DO NOT PUT YOUR DOG’S LIFE AT RISK – AT THE FIRST SIGN OF ANY SYMPTOMS, BRING HIM TO THE CLINIC!

Katja Bader
Asociación Pro Bienestar Animal (McKee Jaco)

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