Anaplasmosis in Dogs

Anaplasmosis in DogsDiscovering a tick on your canine companion can be quite distressing. Seeing an engorged tick resembling a swollen, blood-filled grape is particularly unnerving. Beyond the initial discomfort, the primary concern is the range of illnesses ticks can transmit. While Lyme disease is widely recognized, anaplasmosis remains an under-the-radar ailment, yet it's vital to know it can impact both humans and their furry friends.

What is Anaplasmosis?

Anaplasmosis is a bacterial ailment that manifests in two distinct forms when it comes to dogs:

  1. Anaplasma phagocytophilium targets white blood cells and is also observed in humans.
  2. Anaplasma platys affects a dog's platelets, crucial in blood clotting.

This condition is prevalent in several areas across the US and Canada, closely linked to the distribution of specific tick species responsible for spreading the disease. Hotspots for canine anaplasmosis include the northeastern regions, Gulf areas, California, the upper Midwest, southwestern territories, and the mid-Atlantic zones.

The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) suggests that as the deer tick's territory broadens in 2022, the spread of anaplasmosis will correspondingly increase. Areas like the Northeast and the upper Midwest are anticipated to report the highest number of cases. Additionally, the CAPC forecasts a surge in anaplasma detections in parts of Virginia, West Virginia, and Texas.

How Does Anaplasmosis Spread? 

The brown dog tick transmits Anaplasma platys, whereas the deer tick and the western black-legged tick carry the Anaplasma phagocytophilium. Given that the deer tick and the western black-legged tick can carry other illnesses, it's not unusual for dogs to contract multiple tick-related diseases simultaneously, including ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Lyme disease. However, there's no indication that dogs can pass the Anaplasma bacterium directly to humans.

Anaplasmosis can be found globally and affects various mammals, including dogs, cats, and humans. It's believed that rodents are the primary host for A. phagocytophilum, while dogs might be the leading carriers for A. platys. In both scenarios, even though mammals act as hosts, the actual transmission is carried out by ticks.

What Are the Symptoms of Anaplasmosis?

Symptoms manifest between one and two weeks post the tick bite and consequent transmission. Since the two primary anaplasmosis strains infect divergent cell types, the manifestations vary based on the specific strain affecting the dog.

A. phagocytophilium is the prevalent strain. Its symptoms tend to be ambiguous and broad-ranging, complicating the diagnostic process due to the absence of a distinct indicative sign. In humans, frequent symptoms encompass fever, headache, chills, and muscle pain. For pets, while we can make educated guesses regarding their sensations, we primarily rely on observable symptoms. Notable manifestations in dogs comprise:

  • Discomfort in joints leading to limping
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced appetite
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Less frequently: respiratory distress, convulsions, vomiting, and diarrhea

On the other hand, A. platys targets platelets, influencing blood coagulation. Consequently, symptoms associated with this strain pertain to the body's hindered bleeding control, manifesting as bruises, crimson patches on the gums and abdomen, and episodes of nosebleeds.

How Do Veterinarians Detect Anaplasmosis? 

To diagnose anaplasmosis, your vet will first gather a comprehensive health history of your dog and conduct a thorough physical check-up. Depending on the clinical indications of anaplasmosis and the vet's assessment, they may recommend a series of tests. Dogs with contact with ticks, reside where the disease is prevalent, or display relevant symptoms are generally deemed at risk.

A blood analysis is typically the initial step to inspect the blood cells and platelets. While occasionally, the pathogen can be spotted through microscopic examination, more precise diagnostic methods are executed in specialized labs. These diagnostic tools encompass techniques such as ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay), IFA (indirect fluorescent antibody), and PCR (polymerase chain reaction).

How Is Anaplasmosis Treated?

The preferred medication for anaplasmosis is the antibiotic doxycycline. The sooner the treatment is initiated after detecting the disease, the more favorable the results. Typically, dogs undergo a treatment regimen lasting between 14 to 30 days, though noticeable improvement often manifests within the initial days of the therapy.

It's crucial to ensure that the entire course of antibiotics is completed, even if the dog seems to have recuperated. Dogs that have been treated fully usually have an excellent long-term outlook. However, it remains uncertain if certain dogs can be asymptomatic carriers. Some dogs might still test positive for anaplasmosis post-treatment, even though they display no signs of the illness.

How Do I Prevent Anaplasmosis?

Preventing ticks is paramount. While "natural" tick deterrents often show limited effectiveness, especially in tick-prone regions, many potent topical treatments, oral medications, and tick collars exist. Seek advice from your veterinarian to find the most suitable option for your pet.

Make it a habit to inspect your dog for ticks daily. Focus on areas between the toes, under the collar, behind the ears, and in the armpit region. You can detect any unusual bumps by running your fingers through the dog's fur. Ticks can range from the size of a tiny seed to that of a grape. They are generally dark brown or black, but their color can shift to a grayish hue after latching on and feeding for a while. When removing a tick, aim to grasp it near the skin using tweezers or a tick-specific removal tool. It's best to dispose of the tick by submerging it in alcohol or flushing it.

It's not standard practice in veterinary care to prescribe doxycycline as a preventive measure post-tick bite. Antibiotics are typically given to dogs showing symptoms and testing positive for the anaplasma bacterium. Nonetheless, some labs can test ticks for the presence of diseases like anaplasma and Lyme. After a tick is detached, sending it to these labs to ascertain its disease-carrying potential is worthwhile.

Although anaplasmosis may not be as widely recognized as other tick-borne ailments like Lyme or ehrlichiosis, its significance as a canine disease is growing in the US. Knowing that a dog diagnosed with a tick-borne disease could harbor other infections due to the common vectors is essential.

Effective tick control is the primary preventive measure, but knowing there's a reliable treatment available is reassuring. Should you suspect your dog has come into contact with ticks or related diseases, notify your veterinarian promptly to ensure your pet remains healthy.

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