Tick-borne dog disease ehrlichiosis confirmed in Northern Territory

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The disease ehrlichiosis, an exotic tick-borne dog disease, has been confirmed in a small number of dogs in Katherine and, a remote community west of Alice Springs. Ehrlichiosis was also previously detected in Western Australia’s Kimberly region during May 2020.

Caused by a tick-borne bacteria, ehrlichiosis requires veterinary treatment and early treatment provides the best chance of recovery.

The disease cannot be directly passed from infected dogs to humans. In extremely rare cases, ticks infected with Ehrlichia canis may infect people. However human ehrlichiosis is almost always caused by species other than Ehrlichia canis and these species have not yet been found in Australia.

For information on human health implications associated with ticks, as well as prevention, removal and first aid advice visit the Department of Health website.

Once the disease is in the brown dog tick population it’s very difficult to control, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions.

Symptoms can include:

    • Fever
    • Lethargy
    • Anorexia
    • weight loss
    • pain and stiffness
    • bleeding disorders (such as nosebleeds or bleeding under the skin that looks like small spots or patches or bruising)

It is important to seek veterinary advice and treatment, as the disease can resemble other conditions with similar signs in dogs, including tick-borne diseases such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis, which are already present in the Northern Territory (NT) and, if not properly treated can result in death.

To protect your dog from ehrlichiosis:

    • have your dogs on a tick prevention program
    • ensure any tick infestations in the house yard are managed by a pest controller
    • avoid taking your dogs into tick-infested areas
    • take particular care when bush-walking with your dog
    • inspect your dogs daily for ticks, especially if they have been in a tick-infested areas. Run your fingers through your pet’s coat over their skin, feeling for abnormal bumps. Pay particular attention to the head, neck and ears, chest, between their toes and around their mouths and gums.
    • contact your veterinarian if you find ticks on your dog and are concerned.
    • be on the lookout for signs of ehrlichiosis, such as fever, lethargy and appetite loss.

The Northern Territory Government is working with Territory veterinarians to co-ordinate surveillance for the disease in NT dogs and is preparing a detailed surveillance plan, which includes free diagnostic testing for the bacteria Ehrlichia canis in dogs at Berrimah Veterinary Laboratories.

If you suspect your dog is showing signs of the disease, report it to your local vet or the national Emergency Animal Disease Watch hotline 1800 675 888.

For more information go to the NT Government website.

Person removing ticks from dogs belly

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