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Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a tick-borne disease that can cause several symptoms ranging from mild to potentially life-threatening. Today, our Baltimore vets describe causes, symptoms and treatments for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs.

What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

This tick-borne disease is an acute condition found in dogs throughout the United States. Caused by an intracellular parasite referred to as rickettsia rickettsii, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is transmitted when an infected Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick or brown dog tick bites a dog.

While an unfed tick must be attached to your dog for 10 or more hours, a tick that has already fed can transmit the disease in as little as 10 minutes after attaching. Cases have been reported most often in areas of the mid-Atlantic, southern New England coastal states, southern Atlantic states, and western central states.

Signs & Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever will start to appear some time between 2 and 14 days after an infected tick has bit your dog, though these signs can vary extremely.

It’s useful to know if and when your pooch may have been exposed to infected ticks, as many of these symptoms are common to other conditions, and having a rough time frame can assist your vet in diagnosing your dog’s condition.

These are common symptoms of Rocky Mounted Spotted Fever in dogs:

  • Cough
  • Poor appetite
  • Reduced appetite
  • Nose/eye discharge
  • Vomiting
  • Nosebleed
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Lameness
  • Swelling in legs or face
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain in abdomen or joints
  • Lethargy

Up to one-third of dogs that become infected with the disease will suffer from symptoms that impact the central nervous system, such as seizures, spinal pain, balance problems, lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements or weakness. Tiny hemorrhages in the skin may become an issue for approximately 20 percent.

Any organ in your dog’s body can be affected by Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and symptoms can range from mild to severe to life-threatening.

How is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever diagnosed?

The veterinarian will examine your dog for any symptoms listed above, and may perform a series of diagnostic tests including basic blood tests, x-rays and urinalysis.

Low numbers of red blood cells (which could indicate anemia) and platelets, abnormal white blood cell counts or complete blood count (CBC) could point to this condition as the cause.

Other diagnostic tests may find low protein levels, electrolyte abnormalities, abnormal liver or kidney values or abnormal calcium levels, which may increase the likelihood of your dog receiving a diagnosis of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

What will treatment involve?

Antibiotics are most often prescribed for dogs diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Most will respond to the treatment within 24 to 48 hours, but severe cases may not respond at all to treatment.

Doxycycline, tetracycline and minocycline are the most commonly prescribed antibiotics. If your dog is also suffering from anemia, your vet may recommend supportive therapies or blood transfusion.

What is the prognosis for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

The prognosis is generally good and few complications tend to impede recovery if the disease is diagnosed and treated early. In many cases a dog will also have lifelong immunity after the infection has cleared.

However, if your dog’s case of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is more advanced, the risk for complications such as neurological conditions, kidney disease, vasculitis, and coagulopathies will be higher. In these cases, prognosis is less clear and complications can be severe.

How can I prevent my dog from getting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

To help decrease your dog’s risk of getting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, limit your pooch’s exposure to areas where ticks congregate, as well as ticks themselves especially during peak tick season - March through October.

Use tick prevention medications year-round to help protect your dog against numerous tick-borne diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis and canine babesiosis. To learn more about parasite prevention, contact your vet.

If your dog has been in tick-infested areas, closely inspect his body upon returning home, since the sooner you are able to have a tick removed, the better the chance that this external parasite will not have had the opportunity to infect your pet.

Remember: When removing ticks, always wear gloves to avoid being infected via scratches or open cuts on your hand. Keeping a tick removal tool handy can make removing ticks faster and safer for both you and your dog - find them at pet stores and vet’s offices.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or another tick-borne disease? Contact our Baltimore vets at Falls Road Animal Hospital right away to schedule an appointment for testing.

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