Anaplasmosis in Dogs
What is Anaplasmosis in Dogs and Cats?
Anaplasmosis is a tickborne disease in dogs and cats that was formerly known as Ehrlichiosis and has two different forms. The more common, found throughout a larger area of the country, is caused by a bacterium called Anaplasma phagocytophilum. This form of anaplasmosis is transmitted to animals (and people) by tick bites primarily from the black-legged tick (aka the deer tick) (Ixodes scapularis) and the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus). These are the same ticks that transmit Lyme disease, which increases the risk of coinfection with anaplasmosis.
The lessor form of anaplasmosis is caused by the organism Anaplasma platys and is an infection of the blood platelets that can lead to bleeding disorders and is transmitted by the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus). Ticks in the nymph and adult life stages are most frequently associated with transmission of anaplasmosis to dogs and cats, however this tickborne illness is much more common in dogs and so for the purpose of this article we will focus more on our canine companions.
Symptoms of Anaplasmosis in Dogs
Typical symptoms of Anaplasmosis in dogs, cats and other animals can be difficult to diagnose, because animals can’t describe their symptoms and signs can be unclear. However, pet parents are usually familiar with their animal's normal behavior and can often tell when one is feeling under-the-weather. Distinguishing between a bacterial or viral infection and tickborne disease can’t be diagnosed without specialized laboratory tests, but symptoms to watch for that could be related to Anaplasma phagocytophilum included:
- Loss of appetite
- Lameness, joint pain, reluctance to move
- Neck pain or neurological signs in some cases
Symptoms of Anaplasma platys are often very difficult for pet owners to identify as an infection. Since this tickborne illness can interfere with proper blood clotting typical symptoms can include any of the following:
- Bruising on the gums and belly
- Spontaneous nosebleeds
Usually, symptoms of Anaplasmosis will occur within 1-2 weeks of a tick bite.
How to Treat Anaplasmosis in Dogs
After anaplasmosis is diagnosed, conventional treatment relies on the antibiotic Doxycycline which is a tetracycline antibiotic. Many infected dogs are treated for 30 days and in the majority of cases, symptoms improve rapidly. One of our concerns with the use of an antibiotic like Doxycycline is that this class of tetracycline antibiotics are known as broad spectrum, which means they are effective against a wide range of bacteria, including the beneficial bacteria that inhabit your dog and cat’s intestinal tract. Destruction of the normal ecology of the intestinal tract with the use of a powerful antibiotics for such a long period of time can lead to chronic illnesses like IBD, urinary tract infections, candida overgrowth etc.
The reason we mention this is because many animals are able to fight off tickborne illness on their own. The blood test that shows anaplasmosis antibodies indicates that a dog or cat's immune system is responding to the infection. Many holistic veterinarians often recommend to keep an eye on your animal and see if any symptoms present themselves. Even if lameness shows, we have had vets recommend to wait for a day or two to see if it resolves itself and it often does. Doxycycline is often used out of fear and this is not healthy for your animal. Antibiotics should only be used if absolutely necessary.
Natural Treatment for Anaplasmosis in Dogs
We have used natural treatments quite successfully for tickborne illnesses. Many dogs we have worked with have responded wonderfully to our Antimicrobial formula. This formula contains the immune boosting herbs echinacea and cat’s claw along with antimicrobial herbs such as thyme, goldenseal and oregano. This blend of herbs helps to support the immune system by providing antimicrobial properties and boosting white blood cell production. The side-effects described in the Conventional Treatment above are why we recommend a natural course of treatment initially for anaplasmosis if your dog's situation is not immediately life-threatening. In our experience antibiotics like Doxycycline can always be used later if the natural course of treatment does not produce the desired results, and you may be able to avoid some potentially life-changing side-effects for your canine. See the next paragraph...
Does My Pet Require Treatment for Anaplasmosis?
The screening test used by most veterinarians is the Idexx Snap 4Dx and a positive test indicates exposure and not necessarily clinical disease. Your veterinarian will need to evaluate your dog’s symptoms in conjunction with additional diagnostic tests to determine if your dog needs treatment. Many of our clients inform us that their dog is being treated for a tickborne illness after the fact. They tell us there were no symptoms, but a positive test came back during a yearly veterinarian examination and a course of Doxycycline has been recommended. This does not make us happy; see side effects of Doxycycline above.
According to Dr. Dawn Burke, anaplasmosis is largely a self-limiting infection, which means, according to medical definition, it is a condition that ultimately resolves itself without treatment. Many animals will come into contact with a tickborne illness, like anaplasmosis, during their lifetime, but they will never display clinical symptoms because their immune system is functioning properly. If there are no symptoms a complete blood count to check for abnormalities can be performed, if there are none then treatment should not be recommended with the animal monitored for anaplasmosis symptoms as always in the future.
Where is Anaplasmosis Most Common?
Both forms of canine anaplasmosis are found throughout the United States and Canada, wherever there are deer, western black-legged and brown dog ticks. Areas where Anaplasma phagocytophilum are more common include the northeastern, mid-Atlantic and north-central states, as well as California. Anaplasma platys is more common in Gulf Coast and southwestern states because the brown dog tick is more common in warmer climates.
How Long Does Anaplasmosis Last in Dogs?
In our experience, if an animal displays symptoms that can be associated with anaplasmosis, such as lameness or lethargy, these will often resolve themselves within 24 - 48 hours though they can last up to 7 days. We have had clients confirm this and we have experienced this with our own dogs, though we have sometimes provided our Antimicrobial formula. Please keep in mind that an animal may test positive for anaplasmosis for their lifetime. This does not mean the animal has an active infection, just that antibodies are still present in the blood from exposure to the bacterial organism. During this time, if the dog is clinically healthy, a second round of antibiotic therapy to try to obtain a negative blood test is generally not recommended. Be aware that some of these animals may have a chronic, low-level infection and could be adversely affected by medications that compromise the immune system, such as steroids, so use these drugs with caution. Focus on supporting the immune system of these canines by using astragalus, mushrooms or colostrum.
How Common is Anaplasmosis in Dogs?
One study demonstrated that approximately 40% or more of dogs from areas where anaplasmosis is common may be seropositive (a positive result on a blood test). However, it appears that many dogs that have antibodies to A. phagocytophilum display no evidence of clinical disease. These otherwise healthy animals may have a low-level, persistent infection with the anaplasmosis organism and be labeled "chronically infected carriers" but never become ill. They should be monitored and have their immune systems kept healthy using diet, supplements, and limiting exposure to unnecesary vaccinations, flea and tick pesticide products (ironically, but this is important - use natural methods instead) and other chemicals.
How Serious is Anaplasmosis in Dogs?
Animals infected with the most common form of anaplasmosis, A. phagocytophilum, will usally have symptoms for 1 to 7 days; however, some will have no or only minor symptoms. If symptoms do last longer and require treatment with Doxycycline symptoms improve rapidly. Dogs are often markedly better 24 to 48 hours after therapy is begun, and the prognosis for clinical recovery is excellent. In the case of infection with the less common A. platys that can interfere with the blood clotting process, clinical disease is often mild, but some dogs may develop bruising or bleeding (including nosebleeds), especially during the early stages of infection when platelet counts may be at their lowest.
How to prevent Anaplasmosis in Dogs?
This can be looked at two ways. The first is avoiding exposure to ticks. This can be accomplished by avoiding areas that have high tick populations and if this can't be done then a safer, chemical-free, repellent should be used. Since natural sprays dissipate more quickly the spray should be reapplied every 1 - 2 hours. Then, after potential exposure you should thoroughly go over your dog and remove any ticks you find. A tick must be attached and feed for at least 12-24 hours to transmit anaplasmosis to your animal so if your remove it before then your animal should be okay and not all ticks carry this bacteria.
The other important thing to do is maintain your animal's immune system by providing a healthy diet, immune boosting supplements and lowering their exposure to stress. Individuals are generally programmed to focus on "killing" organisms but we focus more (at least at first) on "building immunity" against invaders. If you maintain a strong immune system, this will usually be enough to protect your dog or cat from tickborne illness. Please keep in mind that this "protection" is indicated by the presence of antibodies on a blood test - this means your animal's immune system is doing its job!
How to Test for Anaplasmosis in Dogs?
There are several types of tests for anaplasmosis that include: enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA), and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In addition, the bacterial organism can sometimes be seen through a microscope during peak phases of infection. The screening test used by most veterinarians is the Idexx Snap 4Dx, and please keep in mind that a positive test indicates exposure and not necessarily clinical disease.
Does Anaplasmosis Just Go Away in Dogs?
Infection with the more common form of anaplasmosis, A. phagocytophilum, often causes lameness, joint pain, fever, lethargy, and lack of appetite. Some infected dogs will have symptoms for 1 to 7 days; however, some will have no, or only minor, symptoms. In most cases a dog's immune system responds by creating antibodies to defend against the bacteria, but as indicated earlier this does not mean they have clinical disease if there are no symptoms present. Without the pet owner doing anything, the afflicted canine will often regain health in a few days as the immune system responds. During this time it would be beneficial to provide herbs such as echinacea or cat's claw that support immune function as found in our Antimicrobial formula. If symptoms increase in severity or continue for more than a few days treatment with Doxycycline may be necessary.
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