Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

The tick-borne disease Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is found in dogs across the United States. It can cause a host of symptoms ranging from mild to potentially life-threatening. Today, our Flat rock vets explain causes, symptoms and treatments for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs.

What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is an acute, tick-borne disease found in dogs across the United States. Cases have been reported most often in western central states, southern Atlantic states, southern New England coastal states and areas of the mid-Atlantic.

This condition is caused by an intracellular parasite known as rickettsia rickettsii. An infected Rocky Mountain wood tick, brown dog tick or American dog tick can transmit RMSF to dogs, though an unfed tick must be attached to your pooch for more than 10 hours.

However, if a tick has already fed, it may transmit the disease in as little as 10 minutes after attaching.

Signs & Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Between 2 and 14 days after biting your dog, signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever will begin to appear, though they may vary extremely. Since many of these symptoms are also common to other conditions, knowing if and when your pup may have been exposed to infected ticks can help your vet diagnose your dog’s condition.

Some common signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are as follows:

  • Poor appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Pain in joints or abdomen
  • Eye/nose discharge
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cough
  • Nosebleed
  • Swelling in the face or legs
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Lameness
  • Fever

Up to one-third of dogs infected with the disease will experience symptoms related to function of their central nervous system such as weakness, lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements, seizures, balance problems, or spinal pain. About 20 percent may also have tiny hemorrhages in their skin.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can affect any organ in your dog’s body, and the symptoms can range from mild to severe, or even life-threatening.

How is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever diagnosed?

To diagnose your dog with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the veterinarian will look for any symptoms listed above, and potentially perform a series of diagnostic tests including urinalysis, basic blood tests, and x-rays.

Test results that may reveal Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever as the likely culprit include low numbers of red blood cells (anemia) and platelets, or abnormal complete blood count (CBC) results or white blood cell counts.

Other diagnostic tests may detect electrolyte abnormalities, abnormal kidney or liver values, abnormal calcium levels or low protein levels, which may increase the probability of being diagnosed with this disease.

What will treatment involve?

Antibiotics are the most prescribed treatment for dogs diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and most will respond to this treatment within 24 to 48 hours. However, dogs with severe cases of the disease may not respond to treatment at all.

The most common antibiotics used include minocycline, tetracycline and doxycycline. In some cases, your vet may also recommend a blood transfusion for anemia, or other supportive therapies.

What is the prognosis for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

If diagnosed and treated early, the prognosis is generally good and few complications tend to impede recovery. In many cases, a dog will have lifelong immunity after the infection has cleared.

However, more advanced cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever will be at higher risk for complications such as coagulopathies, kidney disease, vasculitis, and neurological diseases. In these cases, the prognosis is less clear as complications may be severe.

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

To help reduce your dog’s risk of getting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, limit your dog’s exposure to ticks and areas where ticks congregate, especially during peak tick months - March through October.

If your dog has been in areas known to have ticks, a close inspection on returning home is warranted, since the sooner a tick is removed after attaching to your dog, the better your chance that this external parasite will not have had the time or opportunity to infect your pet.

Remember to always wear gloves when removing ticks to avoid being infected through open cuts or scratches on your hand. Keep a tick removal tool handy, which can make removing ticks safer and faster for you and your dog - they are inexpensive and can be found at vet’s offices and pet stores.

Use tick prevention medications year-round to help protect your dog against many tick-borne diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, canine babesiosis, canine ehrlichiosis, and Lyme disease. Contact your vet to learn more about parasite prevention.

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.

Is your dog showing signs of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? We offer both primary veterinary care and emergency services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. contact our office today to book an appointment. Our compassionate vets are experienced in diagnosing and treating a number of illnesses and conditions.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs, Flat Rock Vet

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