Ehrlichiosis is caused by a tick-borne parasite called Ehrlichia canis. This parasite is a rickettsia, which is a microscopic organism which invades cells. Ehrlichia canis is carried by the brown dog tick, prevalent on the Gulf Coast, East Coast, the Midwest and California. Once infected, the parasite infects red blood cells and reproduces within the host’s body.

Clinical Signs

There are three phases to an Ehrlichia infection. The first, or acute, phase is associated with fever, loss of appetite, lethargy and depression. The lymph nodes (such as those in the neck) may become perceptibly swollen. After the initial stage, dogs may improve and the disease may not progress at all. Some dogs are able to clear the disease naturally. However, others enter the third, or chronic stage. These dogs may suffer from weight loss, fever, anemia, spontaneous nose bleeds, swollen limbs and neurologic symptoms. Other signs include muscle or joint soreness, neck and back pain, dark or bloody urine, eye infections, seizures, coughing and respiratory difficulty.


Ehrlichiosis may be elusive because of its similarity to other tick-borne diseases and the waxing and waning character of the infection. Diagnosis is best made by identifying the parasite, which may be achieved through a blood test using a special immunofluoresent antibody. This test is taken over two separate intervals, to determine whether the antibodies against the parasite are multiplying, suggesting an active infection.


The best treatment against Ehrlichia canis is a course of antibiotics such as Doxycycline and Tetracycline, lasting for 2 or 3 weeks. In severe or chronic infections, hospitalization may be necessary to deliver supportive care and intravenous fluids. In very severe cases of anemia, a blood transfusion may be necessary. Once diagnosed, however, many dogs recover well and no long-term care is required.

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