Traveling Dog Lady: Blogging A to Z Challenge, Day 1: A is for Anaplasmosis

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Blogging A to Z Challenge, Day 1: A is for Anaplasmosis

I am not a veterinarian, medical professional, canine or feline professional or specialist.  I have owned and parented nine dogs and more than 40 cats in my lifetime. I write this blog based on my own experiences as a pet owner/pet parent.  Please consult a professional if you need help with a canine or feline medical or behavior problem.  Thank you.  

Our vet screens for tick-borne diseases annually, and vaccinates against Lyme disease, for which my dogs Hobie and Hector, both tested positive in the distant past. Many pet owners in Massachusetts opt to vaccinate for Lyme. The tick population here is overwhelming. Especially on Cape Cod, in spring, where we spend our weekends and vacations.

Last month, during his routine annual physical, Charlie Brown tested positive for a different tick-borne infection, anaplasmosis. He just completed a round of antibiotics to treat the infection. I had heard the name anaplasmosis before, but I didn't know anything about it at all. In fact, all I kept thinking of was toxoplasmosis, that thing that grows in litter boxes that gives pregnant women a pass in cleaning cat boxes for nine months.

Anaplasmosis is a vector-borne disease sometimes known as "dog fever" or "dog tick fever", and is prevalent in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic United States.  The symptoms are very similar to arthritis and "dog flu":  joint pain, stiffness, high fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and neurological signs including seizures.  (Also mentioned is neck pain, but I have to wonder how would we know when our dog is having neck pain!?)  The infection can be very serious, and equally difficult to diagnose.  But easy to treat.  Reading that list of symptoms, I have to wonder if Hobie contracted anaplasmosis last summer --  he was hospitalized for three days with all of those same symptoms. Of course, he was tested for everything (and I mean everything!), and anaplasmosis did not come back positive.  But, he was treated with mega-doses of antibiotics, so perhaps it cleared up really quickly and was therefore not successfully detected.  Like I said, anaplasmosis can be difficult to diagnose.

Charlie showed absolutely no symptoms whatsoever; he simply tested positive on a routine blood test, and so we treated the infection.  According to several articles I found online, treatment is remarkably successful with noticeable improvements in as few as one-to-four days.

As much as we are diligent in applying protective treatments, our dogs have nevertheless contracted vector-borne diseases on several occasions.  The prevalence of ticks here, especially on Cape Cod, is staggering.  I find ticks on myself constantly (gross!!!), and have been tested for Lyme several times myself (always negative).  Most of the time, when I find a tick on myself, I feel it crawling (gross!!) before it starts to bite or take hold.  I've never had to remove one that is biting.  I'm an absolute freak about checking myself, and have even felt ticks crawling on me in my sleep!  But the dogs are another story.  The disease-carrying ticks are tiny (see this photo) and even on a short-haired dog, they can easily disguise themselves until it is too late.

To make matters worse, Charlie will run away from me, and/or bite and growl if I approach him with the intention of removing a tick.  I still do it, but it's not easy.

On a humorous side note:  when we first started going to Cape Cod, where ticks are disgustingly overwhelming in spring and fall, Hobie was about seven years old.  He would step out of the car upon our arrival and 400 ticks would jump on him!  Ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but, because he is light-colored I was able to see them.  I would pull all the ticks off (they were not biting him, just sitting on him).  We would go on our walk.  As he would walk along, ticks would continue to jump onto him.  I could spot them immediately.  I would "pull over" and take the ticks off of him as soon as they alighted.  After a while, I inadvertently "trained" Hobie to pull ticks off himself.  If I asked him to heel and stop, he would immediately start checking his own legs.  If he found a tick, he would pull it off with his teeth -- and then I'd have to shove my hand in his mouth and grab the tick out of there!  I taught him, unintentionally, so well, that he now always checks himself for ticks and pulls them off with his teeth!  I have to be diligent with Hobie in a whole different way from Charlie -- I have to get to the ticks before Hobie does!

This year, we will be even MORE diligent (if that is at all possible) about tick preventative medications.  Not that I want to give more vaccines (that's a whole other topic) but there is no vaccine available for canine anaplasmosis as there is for Lyme disease.  There is an anaplasmosis vaccine for cattle.  My dogs all get the Lyme vaccine annually.

For more information about anaplasmosis, check out these websites: