What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?
Despite the geographic name, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is widespread in the United States and poses a serious threat to humans and dogs alike. Ticks may become infected and thus spread the disease at any stage of development, from larval to adult, and therefore in areas of high risk such as Arizona as many as 5% of ticks may carry the infection. The disease is not normally contagious, but humans may acquire the disease either by being bitten themselves or contacting the bodily fluids of an infected animal or tick. Always wear gloves when removing ticks from your dog, and contact a veterinarian immediately if your dog is running a fever, coughing or experiencing sudden weakness. RMSF poses a serious threat to a dog’s life if not treated quickly. If you live in an area with ticks, avoid areas with tall grass and groom your pet frequently to remove any ticks that may not yet have bitten your dog.Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a disease capable of infecting both humans and dogs. This disease, caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii, is primarily spread through the bite of an infected tick, most commonly the American Dog Tick and the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick.
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Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs
- High fever
- Weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Swelling of the face or extremities (edema)
- Bleeding of the tissue around the eyes and mouth
Causes of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs
Bite from a tick carrying the Rickettsia rickettsii bacterium.
Diagnosis of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs
Owners who notice their dog has suddenly taken ill with fever, coughing or vomiting should be rushed immediately to a veterinarian’s office. The veterinarian should make a physical inspection of the dog for ticks in addition to a normal examination. If a tick is found, the tick may be sent for testing to see if it is a carrier of RMSF. Unfortunately, there are no lab tests to diagnose RMSF in a reasonable period of time to begin treatment on a confirmed case. The solution commonly employed by veterinarians is the following: if there is any suspicion of RMSF, antibiotic treatment is started immediately and continued for 10-21 days. Fortunately, RMSF responds quickly to antibiotics, the most commonly administered being doxycycline. If your dog is severely ill, IV fluids and other supportive measures may be necessary, but in many cases antibiotics alone are curative. If the dog did not have RMSF, these antibiotics may still be helpful in the case of a different bacterial illness, and at least will not hinder the treatment of a different disease.
Treatment of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs
The veterinarian will prescribe Doxycycline antibiotics, usually in pill form. It is important to finish the entire course of antibiotics even after symptoms improve. This ensures that an antibiotic-resistant strain will not develop. Supportive care for extremely ill dogs may include IV fluids, iron supplements for anemia, and warming blankets to maintain body heat. Care should be used when administering fluids, as the disease can alter the strength of blood vessels, and excessive fluids can cause these vessels to leak or hemorrhage.
Recovery of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs
Improvement in your pet’s condition can be seen in as little as an hour following administration of antibiotics. Full recovery is expected in a little over a week. Dogs and humans who survive RMSF are immune to re-infection, but taking measures to reduce the likelihood of coming in contact with ticks is recommended, as the diseases has shown itself in your area. Using anti-tick collars, avoiding areas of tall grass, and grooming your pet frequently reduce the risk of letting ticks into your home, where they may bite you or your dog and thus pass on the disease.
If you delay taking action, it is likely that your dog will suffer serious long-term consequences. The bite from the Rickettsia rickettsii can absolutely devastate the central nervous system of the dog. This can happen within a few days or even hours.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I have a 9 year old male beagle Chinese Shar-Pei mix. He has been losing weight over the last four months and more recently in the last 2 months has been fatigued with decreased appetite and halitosis. Saw the vet and have had ua dip completed 3 times with 4+ protein and fever 103+ each time. Placed on amoxicillin and chem panel drawn results as follows: lipase 55, albumin 1.9, total protein 7.9, globulin 6.0, glucose 60, albumin/globulin ratio 0.3, T4 0.6, WBC 18.7, HGB 12.3, HCT 34.2, MCV 58, MCH 20.7, neutrophil 16400, lymphocyte 823. At that time we drew a tick panel that showed a positive result of 1:100. Started a new antibiotic tonight. Everything I've read states that symptoms show up in a relatively short time from infection and many symptoms are neurologic in nature. Henry has had no neurological symptoms, so far, and the symptoms he had had (weight loss, decreased appetite, halitosis and fatigue) have been going on for months. My question is, does the diagnosis of rmsf fit the symptoms, test results and time frame? I do not want to miss a coinciding illness just because rmsf was also found. Thank you for your advice.
The blood tests results provided are not a comprehensive set of results covering liver and kidney function so it isn’t so easy to know if there is a concurrent condition. After being bitten by an infected tick, symptoms may take five to fourteen days to present; symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are vague and may be attributable to other conditions. If a dog is suspected of having Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, doxycycline is treatment of choice and should be administered immediately for three weeks; if Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is the cause, an improvement should be seen within a few days. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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