Tick-borne diseases are, unfortunately, on the rise across the United States. Anaplasmosis is a tick-borne disease that can impact dogs, cats and farm animals, as well as people. The Companion Animal Parasite Council maintains a helpful online interactive map of the United States showing confirmed cases of anaplasmosis across the country, and predictions for areas most impacted so you can understand more about risk factors in your specific area. So far this year there have been 82,713 confirmed cases of anaplasmosis. So, what exactly is anaplasmosis? And what is anaplasmosis in dogs? Let’s learn more.
Anaplasmosis is an infection caused by bacteria transmitted by western black-legged ticks and deer ticks, explains Dr. Rick Marrinson, an Orlando, Florida-based veterinarian and board member of the Companion Animal Parasite Council. Because these ticks commonly carry other diseases as well, dogs with anaplasmosis may have other tick-borne diseases, too.
“In the United States, anaplasmosis is more commonly seen in northern-tier states, ranging from the Northeast, through the upper Midwest and into the Pacific Northwest,” Dr. Marrinson explains. Anaplasmosis in dogs is naturally more prevalent in those areas.
So, what are some signs of anaplasmosis in dogs? “Fever, lethargy, anorexia, weight loss, lameness/joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea and/or bleeding disorders,” Dr. Marrinson explains. Because these symptoms may signify a variety of medical conditions, Dr. Marrinson cautions that sometimes anaplasmosis is missed during diagnosis — even by vets.
Additionally, not all dogs with anaplasmosis are symptomatic. These dogs, “may not show any clinical signs but can serve as reservoirs of the bacteria,” Dr. Marrinson notes.
“Diagnosis is based on a combination of clinical signs, known exposure to ticks and laboratory testing,” Dr. Marrinson says. “There are ‘patient-side’ tests that can be run immediately in the veterinary clinic that can detect the patient’s antibodies that have formed against the bacteria. Diagnosis sometimes requires more sophisticated tests performed by outside laboratories.”
Treatment of anaplasmosis in dogs takes some time. “Therapy is typically a month-long treatment with doxycycline [which is an antibiotic],” says Dr. Marrinson. “After exposure, protective immunity does not develop, so animals can be re-infected with re-exposure to ticks” — even while they are being treated or after they have finished treatment for anaplasmosis.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for preventing anaplasmosis in dogs. “Prevention via effective tick control is imperative,” Dr. Marrinson explains. Although we might think of ticks as mostly a summer issue, Dr. Marrinson cautions that this really isn’t the case. “Because tick activity may occur year-round, the Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends that all pets be maintained on tick control products all year long.”
“There are several effective and affordable options in this class of medications,” Dr. Marrinson says. “Your veterinarian is the best local expert to help determine the right medication for each pet.”
Beyond medicated prevention, Dr. Marrinson encourages “avoiding tick-infested areas whenever possible, modifying the habitats around homes by keeping shrubbery and grass closely clipped.” If you find a tick on your dog, remove it quickly.
“People can be exposed even with the handling of ticks, so care should be taken to avoid direct contact by using forceps or a commercial tick-removal device, wearing gloves and hand-washing following tick removal,” Dr. Marrinson cautions. See some steps for safe tick removal right here.
Plus, should YOU worry about anaplasmosis? See how to keep yourself safe from anaplasmosis >>
Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author whose novels have been honored by the Lambda Literary Foundation and the American Library Association. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor and assists with dog agility classes. She lives and writes in Brooklyn with her partner, a senior Chihuahua mix, a rescued Shepherd mix, a Newfoundland puppy, two bossy cats and a semi-feral kitten. Learn more at sassafraslowrey.com.
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