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What is Rickettsial Infection?

Rickettsial infections are caused by bacteria from the Rickettsia genus, which are often carried by arthropods such as ticks and fleas. There are several different types of the infection, with two more commonly seen in dogs. The infection may be treated with antibiotics, but the treatment needs to begin as soon as possible, which is why an early, correct diagnosis is important for a better outcome.

Rickettsia bacteria are the cause of several infections, including ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever in canines. Ticks are absolutely the most common vectors of the bacteria for dogs, with three species being the most prevalent. Rickettsial infections may lead to severe clinic signs if allowed to progress to the chronic stage.

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Rickettsial Infection Average Cost

From 7 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,500

Symptoms of Rickettsial Infection in Dogs

Symptoms of an infection with R. rickettsii include:

  • Fever
  • Anorexia
  • Coughing
  • Depression
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

Depending on the stage, type, and severity of the infection, additional clinical signs may be present, including bleeding and swelling of the legs with ehrlichiosis and neurological signs with Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Types

There are two types of rickettsial infections: ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Ehrlichiosis

affected a significant number of military dogs in Vietnam during the 1970s and is now endemic in the southern United States. The disease may be acute, subacute, and/or chronic, depending on the length of infection.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever

is more prevalent in the southeastern and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. This infection tends to be more common in younger dogs, especially those that spend a large portion of their time outdoors.

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Causes of Rickettsial Infection in Dogs

Rickettsia bacteria are spread to canines by ticks, specifically the brown dog tick, the American dog tick, and the Rocky Mountain wood tick, with several other species implicated depending on the country of residence. When a tick feeds on a dog, the bite may be contaminated by the arthropod's saliva, which leads to a bacterial infection. Rocky Mountain spotted fever has historically appeared to be more prevalent in German Shepherd dogs.

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Diagnosis of Rickettsial Infection in Dogs

If your dog shows unusual clinical signs, bring him into the veterinarian for an initial examination. The veterinarian will take your dog's history and may perform laboratory testing, such as blood work or a urinalysis, both to narrow down possible causes for your dog's symptoms and to gauge his overall health.

Both ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are difficult to diagnosis, particularly in the early stages of the infection. The former is typically confirmed when antibodies are detected in the blood, which only occurs several weeks following exposure. The organism itself may be observed during the acute stage, but this is rare. If ehrlichiosis is suspected, the veterinarian may use a polymerase chain reaction to test for bacterial DNA.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever mimics other infections in terms of clinical signs and presentation, which makes it easy to misdiagnosis. The infection can be confirmed with direct immunofluorescent testing for antigen in tissues or with serologic testing for a rising immune response as the infection progresses.

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Treatment of Rickettsial Infection in Dogs

A rickettsial infection can be treated with antibiotics. Tetracycline or Doxycycline is the antibiotic of choice for ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever though treatment needs to begin as early and swiftly as possible for a better response and may need to be continued through several weeks.

If necessary, supportive care will be provided while the infection runs its course. The veterinarian may recommend hospitalizing your dog while fluids are administered to prevent hydration or, if your dog is anemic, while a blood transfusion is performed. The prognosis is good for dogs that are treated early on, but if the disease progresses to the chronic stage, the chances of a full recovery become lower.

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Recovery of Rickettsial Infection in Dogs

As with any treatment at home, it's imperative to provide your loved one with a safe, quiet, and covered place to rest in as he recovers, as well as access to plenty of fresh water. Depending on your dog's symptoms, you may wish to restrict his physical activity, though many dogs begin to recover quickly after treatment is started. Monitor your dog for additional clinical signs, and if you observe any behavior that is out of the ordinary, let your veterinarian know immediately.

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Rickettsial Infection Average Cost

From 7 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,500

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Rickettsial Infection Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Abby

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Mix

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16 Months

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Fair severity

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2 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

None

Hi, I have just adopted a dog from Spain which had some extensive bloodwork done. He was found positive for Rickettsia conorii and they started an doxycycline course immediately. He will be coming to us next week, and I was wondering if he really needs to have the course for 28 days? I have some bad experience with gut microbiome trouble after antibiotics in dogs and don't want to keep him longer on the doxycycline than necessary. He didn't have any clinical symptoms. Veterinary sites do vary a lot in duration, I read everything between 2-3 and 4 weeks. Could you advise on this? Thanks a lot!

April 22, 2018

Abby's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

The generally accepted time frame for treatment for Rickettsial diseases is 28 days. Some dogs benefit from a probiotic at the same time to protect gut microflora, and that would not interfere with Abby's treatment. I hope that all goes well for her.

April 22, 2018

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TJ

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Galgo Espanol

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression

I just adopted a dog who is positive for Rickettsia. The dog was not symptomatic but was picked up in routine blood work. He has been on Doxy for a week but during this time he traveled from Spain to the US. He had been up for adoption for over a year and described as bomb proof. If fact, they would place new arrivals, especially fearful ones with him in the shelter. During the trip to the US he snapped at the person he was traveling with as well as the owner of the shelter. Everyone was shocked. He has snapped at me a few times but more on a warning level. The big concern is that he has lunged at my existing dog a couple times. Clearly there is a huge stress factor for this pup in this situation but am curious how much the rickettsial diagnosis could be playing into it. He's a super dog and the adoption groups are involved in helping to find a solution. He has an a vet appointment in a couple days for a full work up but was doing some research to prepare. Thoughts?

Dec. 3, 2017

TJ's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Rickettsial diseases don’t normally present with behavioural issues and I believe that the trauma behind the transport is more likely a trigger for this behaviour. There is debate in the veterinary world about if we should treat asymptomatic dogs or not which are seropositive for some Rickettsial diseases. A good check over by your Veterinarian with full blood tests etc… would be a good next step. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Dec. 3, 2017

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Rickettsial Infection Average Cost

From 7 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$4,500

Vet bills can sneak up on you.

Plan ahead. Get the pawfect insurance plan for your pup.

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