What are symptoms of rocky mountain spotted fever in dogs?

What are symptoms of rocky mountain spotted fever in dogs?

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is an acute tick-borne disease seen in dogs across the US with symptoms ranging in severity from mild to potentially life-threatening. Today our Greensboro vets share some of the symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs, as well as the available treatments for this condition.

What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is an acute, tick-borne disease which is diagnosed in dogs across the USA.

RMSF is caused by an intracellular parasite called rickettsia rickettsii, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. Ticks that carry RMSF include the Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick, and brown dog tick.

For transmission of the parasite to occur an unfed tick needs to be attached to your dog for a minimum of 10 hours. That said, if the tick has already fed it is capable of transmitting the disease to your dog in as little as 10 minutes after attachment. 

What are the symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs?

Symptoms of this disease commonly appear in dogs between 2 - 14 days after being bitten by an infected tick, and may be vague. Many symptoms of RMSF are common to other conditions seen in dogs, so knowing if your pup may have been exposed to ticks can help your veterinarian to diagnose your pet's condition. 

RMSF can affect any of the organs in your pet's body and the symptoms can range from mild to severe or even life-threatening. Some of the most common signs of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Non-specific muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Eye/nose discharge
  • Nosebleed
  • Cough
  • Lameness
  • Swelling of the face or legs

Small hemorrhages in the skin can be a symptom of this disease in dogs, and about 1/3 of infected dogs will experience central nervous system issues such as spinal pain, seizures, lack of coordination, weakness, or balance problems. 

How is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever diagnosed in dogs?

Your vet will begin by examining your dog for any of the symptoms listed above, then possibly perform a series of diagnostic tests such as: x-rays, urinalysis, and basic blood tests.

Results that can indicate RMSF include low numbers of platelets, red blood cells (anemia), and abnormal white blood cell counts seen in complete blood count (CBC). Further diagnostic testing may show low protein levels, abnormal calcium levels, electrolyte abnormalities, and abnormal liver or kidney values which can indicate Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in your pup.

How is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs treated?

A round of antibiotics is typically prescribed for dogs diagnosed with RMSF. Most dogs respond well to antibiotic treatment, with a noted improvement in their condition seen within 24 to 48 hours. That said, dogs suffering from more severe cases of the disease may not respond to treatment at all.

Some of the antibiotics commonly used to treat RMSF are tetracycline, doxycycline, and minocycline. In severe cases of the disease, your vet may also recommend that your dog have a blood transfusion to treat anemia, or other supportive therapies to address symptoms.

What is the prognosis for dogs with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

In dogs that are diagnosed and treated early for RMSF, the prognosis is good and there tends to be few complications associated with the disease. In many cases, lifelong immunity will occur after the infection has been cleared up.

That said, dogs with advanced RMSF that has gone untreated the early stages, face an increased risk for severe complications from the disease such as kidney disease, neurological disease, vasculitis, and bleeding disorders.

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

To help protect your dog against RMSF, limit your dog's exposure to ticks and tick-infested areas, especially during peak tick months from March through October.

If your dog has been out in areas known to have ticks, inspect your dog's skin closely for ticks. The sooner you can remove a tick after it attaches, the better your chance that the parasite will not have had time to infect your pup.

Wear gloves when removing ticks from your dog to help avoid being infected through cuts and scratches on your hand, or use a special tick removal tool.

Keep your dog on tick prevention medications year round to help protect your dog against a host of tick borne diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Canine Ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, tularemia, and Canine Babesiosis.

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.

If your dog is in need of urgent veterinary care in the Greensboro area, visit our emergency animal hospital at Carolina Veterinary Specialists. Our compassionate critical care vets are here to help pets when they need us most.

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