Don’t cross the tick: ehrlichiosis in dogs

19 April 2021

Victorian dog owners and veterinarians are reminded to be on the lookout for a new dog disease which is spread by the brown dog tick biting dogs.

Ehrlichiosis was found for the first time in Australia in the Kimberley region in mid-2020. It is now found across mainland Australia apart from Victoria and the ACT, after being confirmed in South Australia in the last week.

Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Graeme Cooke said symptoms could include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, weight loss, cloudy eyes or conjunctivitis, pain, stiffness, nosebleeds, bruising on the gums or belly, and enlarged lymph nodes.

To date, no dog originating from Victoria has tested positive to ehrlichiosis, also known as canine monocytic ehrlichiosis (CME), a bacterial disease caused by Ehrlichia canis (E. canis).

“With dogs travelling readily around Australia, we need to be particularly mindful of these symptoms if they have come from another state or territory with confirmed cases and brown dog ticks present.

“​Reduce the risk of bringing the disease into Victoria by adopting or purchasing dogs within the state and avoid bringing dogs into Victoria,” Dr Cooke said.

“Protect your dogs from ehrlichiosis by regularly checking them for ticks, using effective tick control and seeking veterinary advice promptly if they become unwell. Be particularly vigilant if you’ve been interstate with your dog.”

Ehrlichiosis is potentially a deadly dog disease and there is no vaccine, but antibiotics may assist in managing the disease if affected dogs are treated early.

“This is a notifiable disease in Victoria, which means it must be reported to the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 when suspected,” Dr Cooke said.

“You should regularly check your dog for ticks by running your fingers through their coat, on the skin, paying attention to the head, neck, ears, chest, between their toes and around their mouth and gums.

“If your dog is unwell or you find any abnormal bumps or ticks, make sure you promptly arrange to take your dog to your vet. Discuss with your vet the testing system in place for ehrlichiosis in Victoria.

“Put a tick in a clean ziplock bag and take it to your local veterinarian to submit for identification. Freeze the bag with the tick first if you cannot take it to a vet immediately. If you are unsure about what is an appropriate tick control product to use, then consult your Veterinary advisor.”

On rare occasions humans can become infected through the bite of an infected tick. Please seek medical advice if you feel unwell after being exposed to ticks.

For more information, visit the Agriculture Victoria website or call the Customer Contact Centre on 136 186.

Media contact: Nicole Cairns, 0436 675 030