The bacteria Ehrlichia is the primary cause of ehrlichiosis in Labradors. There are different species of Ehrlichia and three of them – the E. canis, the E. chaffeensis, and the E. ewingii – can affect your pet. Each of these species transmitted through ticks causes different types of symptoms.
As Labradors love playing or working outdoors, they are more likely to fall prey to ticks. A single bite of an infected tick may lead to ehrlichiosis in Labradors. E. canis is the most dangerous Ehrlichia subtype, and its strain results in a severe form of infection called canine monocytic ehrlichiosis. The brown dog tick that carries E. canis is found worldwide though it is more common in tropical and subtropical countries. The bacteria targets and overwhelms a type of white blood cell called monocytes.
Ehrlichiosis in Labradors: Symptoms and Phases
Acute Phase Ehrlichiosis Symptoms
Once a tick bite transmits E. canis into the body of a Lab, it waits for 1 to 3 weeks before manifesting in the acute phase of ehrlichiosis. During this phase, your Labrador may experience the following symptoms.
- Lowered blood cell counts
- Loss of appetite
- Limping due to muscle stiffness or pain
The acute phase usually lasts for 2 to 4 weeks. Depending on your Labrador’s immune system, his body may recover on its own. If not, the disease progresses to the subclinical and chronic stages.
Subclinical Phase Ehrlichiosis Symptoms
An Ehrlichia-positive dog may not show any symptom when the disease enters the subclinical phase. The subclinical phase can last for months and even years without being detected. The following any of these three things may happen to your Labrador during this phase.
- His body may successfully fight off the bacteria on its own.
- The bacteria may continue to live in his system without suffering from life-threatening symptoms for the rest of his life.
- The disease may enter the deadly chronic phase.
Medical studies show that the infected dog may turn to be an asymptomatic carrier of E. canis bacteria when his body is not able to fight off the infection. This means that a tick that has bitten him can potentially transmit the bacteria to other dogs.
Chronic Phase Ehrlichiosis Symptoms
Your Labrador may suffer from mild to severe symptoms when he enters the chronic phase. Ehrlichiosis at this stage may include the following symptoms.
- Very low blood cell counts
- Bleeding (usually from the nose)
- Appetite Loss
- Weight loss
- Secondary bacterial infections
- Green eye discharge
During this phase, infected dogs often find it hard to recover from the disease even with treatment. Many dogs die from severe weakness, hemorrhage, and secondary infections. Those are able to recover experience recurrent and persistent infection.
Diagnosing Ehrlichiosis in Labradors
The veterinarian assesses your Labrador’s clinical signs. He may also ask you a few questions about your Lab’s history of parasite-infestation, outdoor activity, behavioral changes and more. If the vet suspects your Labrador has ehrlichiosis, additional tests may be recommended to confirm the infection. Blood tests are also needed to check your Labrador’s blood cell count.
Dogs who suffer from Ehrlichiosis often experience:
- low/decreased platelet count (thrombocytopenia)
- low/decreased RBC count (anemia)
- elevated liver enzymes
- low/decreased WBC count
The results of the blood tests help the vet determine the damage done to the peripheral blood cells and the treatment required. As symptoms, such as low RBC, platelet, and WBC are visible in case of other diseases, the vet may prefer to do an Ehrlichia confirmatory test. Some of the tests used to confirm Ehrlichiosis in dogs include
- Ehrlichia Antibody Test Kit
- Indirect Immunofluorescent Antibody (IFA) test
- Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test
Diagnosing ehrlichiosis can be harder if your Labrador is also suffering from other tick-borne diseases.
Treating Ehrlichiosis in Labradors
The list of the most common medications given to treat ehrlichiosis in Labradors include
- vitamins B complex
- vitamin C and/or other immune system boosters
- vitamin K (if there is bleeding and bruising)
Depending on the severity of E. canis infection, your Labrador needs to take antibiotics for 28 to 45 days. In worst cases, where blood cell counts are very low, blood transfusion is a must. You must avoid giving iron supplements and dairy products to your pet when he is on taking Doxycycline.
Preventing Ehrlichiosis in Labradors
There is no vaccination to prevent ehrlichiosis. Even dogs who survived and recovered from the disease may catch it again.
The best way to prevent ehrlichiosis in Labradors is to prevent tick bites. There are many tick-repelling products available in pet store, such as
- monthly spot-on treatments
- flea and tick powders
- flea and tick soaps
- tick collars
Spot-on treatments are highly-recommended for working and hunting dogs. Do not forget to check your Labrador’s coat every day for ticks so that you can remove them immediately.