"Tick Fever"

Last week we had an unpleasant surprise. Jabber was diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a relatively rare but deadly disease. The common vector is the American dog tick, Dermacentor Variabilis, pictured above (along with Jabber.) RMSF is caused by an organism named Rickettsia rickettsii and it is characterized by severe vascular damage. Untreated, it can result in death; in fact RMSF is the most common fatal tick-born disease in the US. Both humans and canines are susceptible.

RMSF in humans has been reported in almost every state, but the majority of cases occur in the southeastern United States. The usual treatment is Doxycycline. Without antibiotics, the mortality rate is about 30%. With timely antibiotic treatment, mortality drops to just 4%. Death is usually attributed to delayed diagnosis.

Tick bites are painless. If you live in an area where ticks are prevalent, you should check your dog (and yourself) daily for ticks. An infected tick must feed on its host for several hours before infection can occur. This permits a reasonable time window to avoid the disease, even if you've been bitten.

If you contract Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, symptoms will begin to appear about a week after the tick bites you. The illness can last 2-3 weeks. The common symptoms of RMSF are the same for humans and dogs:
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Skin Rash (very common)
  • Joint or Muscle Pain
  • Lethargy
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Cough
  • Depression
  • Eye or Nasal Discharge
  • Rapid Weight Loss
  • Hemorrhage
  • Clotting Problems
In Jabber's case, we saw joint pain (manifested by limping), numerous skin hemorrages (large purple blotches on his belly), lethargy, weight loss, diarrhea, and bleeding gums. Our veterinarian suspected Lyme Disease. He took a blood sample and sent it off for testing. Of the four common tick-borne diseases: Lyme, Ehrlichoisis, Babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Jabber's test showed antibodies for RMSF. He had a very high titer. Coupled with his symptoms, the RMSF diagnosis was a no-brainer. As soon as he began taking Doxycycline his condition improved, but we are still seeing new hemorrhages under Jabber's skin. He is not completely out of the woods yet, but we feel pretty confident that Jabber will fully recover.

If you would like to learn more about tick diseases, visit Great Dane Links for a listing of 20 tick-related websites. Great Dane Links is a helpful resource. It offers over 500 links, sorted by category for easy browsing. Categories include health & welfare, breeding & genetics, clubs & organizations, rescue resources, breeder directory, private show dog/personal pet sites, and more.

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