Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Ticks are not just unsightly and annoying to your dogs.  They carry several serious diseases that they can transmit to the dog when the tick bites him.  One of the most well known of these diseases is rocky mountain spotted fever.  Rocky mountain spotted fever is caused by a Rickettsia, a rod shaped microorganism that look like bacteria but act like viruses, reproducing only in living cells.  The particular Rickettsia that causes rocky mountain spotted fever is the Rickettsia rickettsii .  Most infections occur from March to October.

Purebred dogs and German Shepherds are more likely to have a severe reaction to R. rickettsii than other dogs.  The first indication of a problem is a fever that happens within five days of being bitten by a tick caring the R. rickettsii organism.  Other symptoms then follow, including the following:  depression, lethargy, refusal to eat, blood in the urine, irregular heart beat, discolored spots along the skin that look like bruises, inability to walk normally, swelling in the limbs, bleeding from the nose or in the stools with no warning, difficulty with blood clotting, swollen lymph nodes, pain in the eyes, and inflammation, hemorrhage, or conjunctivitis in the mucus membranes, especially the eyes.  As you can see, this is a serious disease that makes the dog very sick and can even kill him.

When you take your dog to the veterinarian, it is very important to tell him if your dog has had a tick bite recently.  The veterinarian will do a routine exam, ask you about where the dog has been for the last couple of weeks, and run blood and urine tests.  He may also run a special antibody test to see if antibodies to the R. rickettsii organism are present.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your dog will probably have o stay at the hospital for a while for treatment.  Your dog will be given antibiotics, IV fluids, and possibly a blood transfusion.  The organism causing all these problems can cause anemia and poor blood clotting, both of which are treated by the blood transfusion.

Your dog may also have swelling in the brain, body, and lungs.  This may require corticosteroid anti-inflammatory medications to control the swelling and keep the dog from dying.

Since rocky mountain spotted fever is such a severe illness, it is easier to prevent than treat.  If you know your dog will be in a tick infested area, treat your dog with topical tick controls and try to keep your dog from being over exposed to ticks.  However, even with the topical tick controls, you need to take a comb and check the dog for ticks every time he comes in.  A tick has to be on the dog for five hours before it can transmit the organism causing the illness.  Catch the tick early and remove it to keep your dog safe.

To keep yourself safe while removing the ticks, wear latex gloves.  Be sure you get the mouthparts of the tick as well as the body.  Old ideas of touching a burning match to the tick or smothering it in Vaseline have been discredited because they tend to make the tick vomit his stomach contents into the dog — the very thing you are trying to avoid.

A dog with rocky mountain spotted fever has a good prognosis provided you seek treatment as soon as symptoms appear.  If you do this, the dog will likely survive with no long term complications.  If you do not act promptly, however, your dog may have long term consequences and even die.  Make sure you monitor your dog for rocky mountain spotted fever any time he has been exposed to ticks.