FAQs about Ehrlichiosis in German Shepherds

Ehrlichiosis in German Shepherds is more common than other breeds. German Shepherds also have the highest mortality rate compared to other dogs affected by the disease. As a herding breed, German Shepherds spend a lot of their time outdoors and they are very likely to pick up ticks, which are the most common carriers of the bacteria causing ehrlichiosis in dogs.

What is ehrlichiosis?

Ehrlichiosis is a disease that is caused by a type of bacteria called Ehrlichia. The most common type of ehrlichiosis in dogs is the Canine Monocytic Ehrlichiosis (CME), which is caused by the bacterium Ehrlichia canis or E. canis that targets and infects monocytes, a type of white blood cell. CME produces the most severe infection, especially in German Shepherds.

According to the Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine: Diseases of the Dog and Cat written by Stephen Ettinger and Edward Felman, CME was overlooked until the 1970s, when a distressing number of cases were reported in German Shepherds during the Vietnam War. Veterinarians are of the view that this disease is arguably the equivalent of dengue fever in humans.

Are German Shepherds at an increased risk?

Ehrlichiosis seems to have more severe effects in German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers than other breeds. German Shepherds also have the highest mortality rate compared to other dogs with CME.

What are signs of ehrlichiosis in German Shepherds?

If your German Shepherd has ehrlichiosis, he may exhibit one or more of the following signs and symptoms.

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Appetite Loss
  • Lethargy
  • Edema
  • Exercise Intolerance
  • Weight Loss
  • Coughing
  • Pale mucous membrane
  • Unusual bleeding (ex. nose bleeding, bruising or abnormal bleeding under the skin, etc.)
  • Enlarged belly (that may be caused by enlarged spleen or liver)
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Skin ulcers
  • Limping due to muscle stiffness or pain
  • Greenish discharge from eyes and/or nose
  • Anemia
  • Jaundice

What are different phases of ehrlichiosis in German Shepherds?

Different symptoms occur depending on your German Shepherd’s immune response and the phase of ehrlichiosis your German Shepherd is in. The disease has three phases – acute, subclinical, and chronic.

  • Acute Phase -The acute phase of this disease happens 3 to 5 weeks after the tick bite.
  • Subclinical Phase – The subclinical phase can last for months and years without showing any symptoms.
  • Chronic phase – Even with treatment, dogs in the chronic phase of ehrlichiosis find it hard to recover from the illness. Some dogs experience recurrent Ehrlichia infection while some die from weakness, internal bleeding, massive hemorrhage, or other secondary infections.

How is ehrlichiosis treated?

Your veterinarian will check your German Shepherd for clinical signs and may ask a few questions about changes in his behavior, history of tick bites/infestation, outdoor activities, and the parasite preventative history.

After an assessment, blood tests are often done to determine your German Shepherd’s condition. Dogs with ehrlichiosis often show low platelet count, high liver values, and anemia. In some cases, low white blood cell count number is also seen.

Ehrlichiosis confirmatory tests, such as antibody tests, indirect immunofluorescent antibody (IFA) test, and ELISA test, are also used.

The treatment starts once the disease is confirmed. Treatment of ehrlichiosis in dogs includes antibiotics, immune system boosters, and other medications to ease the symptoms. Vitamin K is also recommended if your German Shepherd has a low platelet count. If blood cell counts are extremely low, blood transfusions are needed.

The antibiotic doxycycline and other tetracyclines may be used to treat this disease. Doxycycline is considered the best medication to treat ehrlichiosis because it can get into the bone marrow to kill the bacteria.

If your German Shepherd is treated during the acute phase, his condition should improve in 24 to 48 hours of receiving the first dose of treatment.

In some cases, the E. canis bacteria are not entirely wiped out of the dog’s body. Dogs, who experience this issue, have to undergo prolonged antibiotic treatments. Depending on your German Shepherd’s case, the veterinarian may advise on using different antibiotics.

How to prevent ehrlichiosis in German Shepherds?

No vaccine can protect your German Shepherd against ehrlichiosis. A dog, who has recovered from ehrlichiosis, only gets temporary immunity from it. He can still catch the disease after a few months.

The best way to prevent ehrlichiosis in dogs is to prevent exposure from ticks. There are many tick repellent products available in pet stores, including spot-on treatments, tick collars, powders, and soaps. The monthly spot-on treatment is recommended especially if your German Shepherd spends a lot of his time outdoors.

Make sure to keep grass and bushes trimmed especially if you live in an area where ticks are a problem. You may also consider treating your home and yard for ticks regularly.

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