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Protecting Your Pup: A Guide to Anaplasmosis in Dogs

Many pet owners are unfamiliar with anaplasmosis in dogs, a tick-borne disease that can become severe. Ticks are the primary vector, transmitting bacteria that cause the disease to dogs, but other animals and humans can also become infected. There are preventative measures a pet owner can take to ensure their dog does not get infected.

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What is anaplasma in dogs?

Anaplasmosis is a disease that dogs can get from tick bites and may be associated with the transmission of two types of bacteria.

  • Anaplasma phagocytophilum infects white blood cells and is carried by the black-legged tick (deer tick) and the western black-legged tick. This is the most common form of the disease, known as granulocytic anaplasmosis.
  • Anaplasma platys affects platelets (which are important for blood clotting) and is transmitted by the brown dog tick. A less common condition is cyclic thrombocytopenia.

Symptoms of anaplasmosis in dogs

Recognizing signs of anaplasmosis in dogs is critical. Depending on the severity of the disease, symptoms can be mild or more serious and differ depending on whether the bacteria is Anaplasma phagocytophilum or Anaplasma platys.

Symptoms of Anaplasma phagocytophilum

Look out for these symptoms in your pet that may indicate the existence of Anaplasma phagocytophilum:

  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Joint pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing

The prognosis for Anaplasma phagocytophilum is generally good.

Symptoms of Anaplasma platys

Symptoms of Anaplasma platys are a bit different and include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Bruising on the gums and stomach
  • Nosebleeds
  • Weight loss

Many dogs with Anaplasma platys have only mild symptoms, and the prognosis is generally good. Many of the symptoms overlap with Lyme disease, another tick-borne illness. Some cases can be extremely mild or asymptomatic, while others can be severe.

How severe is anaplasmosis in dogs in general? If the disease is not detected or treated, long-term effects can include severe joint pain, lameness, organ damage, and a weakened immune system. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential as most dogs will recover fully with appropriate antibiotic treatment.

Diagnosis of anaplasmosis

Your veterinarian will take a thorough history of your dog's health and lifestyle and perform a complete physical examination. They will also ask questions about possible tick exposure and the symptoms you observe at home. Your vet may also examine blood cells under the microscope. White blood cells and platelets will be examined.

Occasionally, the vet can see the Anaplasma bacterium under the microscope, but more accurate tests must be performed. These tests may include the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test, a commonly used test that your vet can perform in-house. This test is usually performed each year as part of the annual exam. It involves getting a sample of blood and is not painful to your dog. A CBC examination chemistry panel may also be recommended.

If the ELISA test is positive, your vet may recommend a confirmatory test. This could be an IFA (indirect fluorescent antibody) test or a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. Most vets can run the ELISA test at the veterinary hospital but will send the IFA and PCR to an outside laboratory. If the ELISA test is positive, the veterinarian may start treatment while the outside lab completes the other test(s).

Treatment for anaplasmosis in dogs

Fortunately, if your dog has mild symptoms and is eating, treatment is usually relatively easy and typically involves a course of antibiotics. The vet may also prescribe pain relievers and anti-inflammatories. The most common antibiotic used is doxycycline. You will usually need to give your dog the antibiotic for 14 to 30 days. However, you should see improvement within a few days. You must finish the medication even if your pet is feeling better.

Dogs experiencing symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, or fever may need other treatments and may even need to stay in the hospital until they are eating and not vomiting. Treatment for anaplasmosis is relatively inexpensive, but diagnosis can be costly. If you have pet insurance that covers illnesses, these costs will likely be covered.

Preventing anaplasmosis in dogs

Protecting your dog from tick-borne diseases is accomplished by keeping ticks off your pet. The best way of avoiding your dog contracting anaplasmosis is through a thorough tick prevention program. There are three primary steps you can take:

  • Use a tick preventative. Very effective preventatives are available for dogs. These include spot-on preventatives, oral medications, and tick collars. Talk to your vet to find out what is best for your pet.
  • After every outdoor adventure, check your dog's coat thoroughly. Feel for ticks by running your fingers through your dog's fur and feeling for bumps. Check between the toes, behind the ears, in the armpits, and under the collar. Ticks can be of several different sizes, from the size of a pinhead that's almost impossible to see to one as large as a grape, depending on how long the tick has been feeding on your pet. Their color can be dark brown, black, or gray.
  • To remove them, use tweezers or a unique tool purchased at the pet store or online. See our thorough guide on how to remove a tick from a dog. After removing the tick, flush it down the toilet.

Long-term effect of anaplasmosis in dogs

With early detection and prompt treatment, most dogs return to perfect health and have no long-term effects. Some dogs will continue to test positive on the ELISA test. Exposure to ticks carrying the disease can result in reinfection. Any dog testing positive for anaplasmosis should have its tick control and prevention measures reevaluated.

Recent research reveals that there may be long-term effects for dogs with anaplasmosis.

  • Joint health. Chronic anaplasmosis may result from infection in some dogs. This can lead to chronic inflammation in joints, which can lead to the development of arthritis and other musculoskeletal issues. This happens because the joint inflammation that occurs with anaplasmosis can lead to cartilage damage and increased wear and tear on the joints. This can make pre-existing joint conditions worse or lead to arthritis later in life. If severe, significant decline in mobility and quality of life can occur.
  • Neurological complications. Anaplasmosis can also lead to symptoms such as seizures, ataxia, and weakness. These symptoms may continue past the acute stage of the disease, suggesting the possibility of long-term damage to the nervous system.
  • Immune system dysregulation. This can increase the risk of other infections.

Dog anaplasmosis life expectancy

If you administer treatment early in the disease, your dog's life expectancy should not be affected. It depends on several factors, including the seriousness of the disease, the presence of other diseases, and the expediency of treatment.

While anaplasmosis may not cause deaths in most cases, complications caused by anaplasmosis can impact your dog's quality of life and prognosis. If you treat your dog late in the disease when your pet is very lame and there has been organ damage, you may not be able to repair all the damage that has been done.

Anaplasmosis vs. Lyme disease in dogs

There are mainly similarities between the two diseases, although some differences exist.

  • Ticks transmit both anaplasmosis and Lyme disease. Anaplasmosis is caused by bacteria, either Anaplasma phagocytophilum or Anaplasma platys, while Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. A tick can transmit bacteria into your dog's bloodstream when it bites.
  • The geographical distribution is also different. Lyme disease is more prevalent in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States, as well as parts of Europe and Asia. Anaplasmosis tends to be more common in the upper midwestern, western coast, and northeastern United States.
  • The black-legged tick (also known as the deer tick) and the western black-legged tick carry both anaplasmosis and Lyme disease.
  • Both diseases have similar symptoms, but Lyme disease is more commonly associated with chronic arthritis.
  • Diagnosis is similar, including testing.
  • Anaplasmosis is generally treated by two weeks of antibiotics, while Lyme disease is most commonly treated for four weeks.
  • Tick prevention is critical for both diseases, but there is also a vaccine for Lyme disease.

Is anaplasmosis in dogs contagious to humans?

People can become ill with anaplasmosis. However, the transmission mode is from tick bites, not from contact with a dog. The symptoms are generally the same as for dogs, with the addition of headaches with people. Also, anaplasmosis in people is found in North America and Europe and is carried by the black-legged tick called the sheep tick.

Diagnosis is with blood tests, as with dogs, and treatment is also with antibiotics. Prevention is by wearing protective clothing (long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and closed-toe shoes), using tick repellents, and checking your body, clothing, and pets when you come in from outdoors. Keep your lawn well-maintained and free from leaf litter.

Anaplasmosis: a threat to canine health

While not as familiar as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis is a potentially severe tick-borne disease that all pet owners should be familiar with. Knowing the symptoms to watch for is extremely important, and implementing preventative actions is equally vital. Talk to your veterinarian about the tick preventative that's right for your dog and discuss whether it should be used year-round or seasonally. Keeping ticks away will prevent anaplasmosis, Lyme disease, and other tick-borne diseases, essential for your canine companion's health and well-being.

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