Anaplasmosis

By Dr.Dawn Burke, YGRR Board of Directors

Anaplasmosis is a bacterial disease carried by the deer tick. Transmission of infection occurs within 24 hours of tick attachment and in most cases the incubation period is one to two weeks. While anaplasmosis in the dog is largely a self-limiting infection, it can cause clinical illness. Since it is carried by the same tick that causes Lyme disease, it is not uncommon to have a dog infected with both diseases.

Clinical signs of anaplasmosis are similar to Lyme disease, including fever, lameness, and lethargy. Less common symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, labored breathing, and rarely seizures, incoordination, and mental dullness. Anaplasmosis can also cause a decrease in platelets which can lead to bleeding problems.

Many veterinarians use the SNAP 4Dx test from Idexx Laboratories to screen dogs for heartworm disease, Lyme, anaplasmosis and Ehrlichia. The problem becomes what to do with the dog that is anaplasmosis positive but not showing signs of illness. As a positive test may only indicate exposure and not true infection, the current recommendation is to perform a complete blood count to check for abnormalities, especially in the platelets. If there are none, treatment is not recommended and a complete blood count should be repeated in 6 months. The dog should be monitored for signs of illness and reevaluated by the veterinarian if they occur.

If clinical signs are present, your veterinarian may recommend additional testing to determine if anaplasmosis is causing the illness. In acutely ill animals it may be possible to detect morula (anaplasmosis bacteria grouped together) in the white blood cells. Another diagnostic test is the PCR test, which detects the DNA of the anaplasmosis bacteria. A positive test confirms the organism is present. However a negative test doesn’t necessarily rule out infection as false negative results do occur. Blood samples for these tests should be drawn prior to beginning treatment to prevent a false negative result. Anaplasmosis antibody titers can also be performed. The first sample is taken at the onset of illness and a second sample is drawn three to four weeks later. A four-fold increase in the antibody titer usually indicates infection was present.

Like Lyme disease, the treatment for anaplasmosis is the antibiotic doxycycline. Dogs that have anaplasmosis should show improvement within 24 to 48 hours after starting doxycycline. A dog that is not improving should be reevaluated by the veterinarian.

While re-infection hasn’t been reported it is unknown if a dog can get anaplasmosis again. Some feel that natural infection may confer long term protection against development of new disease. More research needs to be done in this area.

A good tick control program is essential for prevention of anaplasmosis. In New England and many other areas of the country, year round tick control is a must. Regular application of long-acting tick control products such as Frontline, Promeris, Advantix, or Vectra is recommended if your dog visits areas known to harbor ticks. Make sure to check your dog for ticks and promptly remove them when he has been spending time outdoors.

In summary, in the New England area it is important to screen our dogs for tick-borne illness. We need to remember that with the screening test used by most veterinarians (Idexx Snap 4Dx) a positive test indicates exposure and not necessarily infection. Your veterinarian will need to evaluate your dog’s symptoms in conjunction with additional tests to determine if your dog needs treatment.

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Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1985.
Rescue and Adoption services for Golden Retrievers from the six New England states.
Address: P.O. Box 808, Hudson, MA 01749-0808
Hotline: 978-568-9700

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