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Anaplasmosis in Dogs: Accurate Diagnosis, Treatments and More

It’s no secret that Lyme disease is the most well-known tick-borne disease. But, what about the others, like Anaplasmosis? Anaplasmosis is a tick-borne disease that infects a dog’s bloodstream. Two types of ticks carry Anaplasmosis; they are the brown dog tick and the deer tick

Anaplasmosis and Their Animal Transmitters

Of course, Anaplasmosis is transferred via a tick vector (an organism that can carry and transmit disease). As stated above, the brown dog tick and the deer tick are the two main villains bringing Anaplasmosis to our furry friends. Dogs themselves can, of course, attract ticks because ticks are not picky. 

They’re always looking for a blood meal. So if they smell blood, they’re going to try extremely hard to find it. However, it’s common for a tick to fall off a reservoir host such as a rat or a deer and then find your dog. Two types of bacteria cause Anaplasmosis:

  1. Anaplasma phagocytophilum – the more common bacteria that show symptoms of lethargy, fever, joint lameness, inappetence, and sometimes diarrhea.
  2. Anaplasma platys – is the rarer bacteria between the two that will sometimes cause cyclic thrombocytopenia (a condition that causes a decrease in platelet count). Platelets, as we know, allow for our dogs’ blood to clot. With a reduction, a lot more bleeding disorders can occur, and you may notice bruising. 

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How is Anaplasmosis Diagnosed?

Anaplasmosis is diagnosed through blood tests. Several different types of tests can be performed. Based on your veterinarian’s recommendation, we will decide which one should be done. These tests include:

  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) – frequently performed in the clinic through a kit called a 4dx+ test. This test measures the number of antibodies present in your dog’s blood. If your dog were exposed to this bacteria, their blood would have created antibodies to fight it off, which will show up on the test. 
  • Indirect Fluorescent Antibody (IFA) – this test is similar to the ELISA test, where the antibodies present in your dog’s blood are recognized. However, it is more sensitive to early exposure. 
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) – this test will measure the amount of genetic material of the bacteria and will be able to tell if an active infection is present.  
  • Microscopic examination – when infection levels are high, it is possible for a lab technician or veterinarian to see the bacteria under a microscope. 

Anaplasmosis has many similar clinical signs to Lyme disease. Both are treated relatively similarly, but it’s essential to differentiate between them to determine a proper history. 

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Can Humans Contract Anaplasmosis From Canines?

Humans can most definitely get Anaplasmosis but not directly from our dogs. The take-home is that your dog cannot transmit an active infection to you. The only way a human can contract the disease is through a tick bite themselves. It’s important to note that if that same tick falls off your dog and finds you, you are also in danger of contracting the disease. Making it that more important to prevent tick infections from occurring. 

Tick-proof Strategies – a Preventative Approach

The best way to cure something is to prevent it. With that said, there are so many ways to go about this. Education is super important when it comes to preventing tick bites and their diseases. Let’s discuss a few:

  • Prevention- in the veterinary world, we’re super lucky that we have monthly preventives that our dogs can take to help keep the creepy crawlers away. Most of these preventatives do multiple things as well. Find the one that works best for your pet and stick with it. Preventatives come in chewable, wearable, and topical applications.
  • Shampoos- if a preventative listed above is unobtainable, then shampoos to kill ticks can be applied to your dogs every 2 weeks or so. 
  • Dips – an old school method of getting rid of ticks is using a concentrated toxin to kill any ticks that are on your dog. This is not safe for puppies, pregnant, or nursing dogs. 
  • Spray – if you can swing it, spraying your yard with an environmentally and pet safe tick repellant will help keep them out of your yard. Also, keep your grass and bushes trimmed shorter to avoid ticks from hosting parties. 
  • Avoid tall grass- You ever hear “stay out of the tall grass” to avoid ticks? The reason is that ticks will hold onto long blades or grass with their hind legs and reach outwards with their front. This is so they can attach onto a host as it passes by, allowing them a blood meal. 

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  • Check your dog – if you’re outdoorsy and like to take your pup along with you, make sure you check them afterward. It’s super important to comb through their coat to make sure there aren’t any ticks on their body. Make sure to check everywhere, especially in areas such as the ears, the rear, the paw pads, and the neck. Ticks like to go to places where your dog can’t reach it to ensure their safety. 
  • Educate yourself – Knowing tick whereabouts, hotspots, and when they strike is important in the fight against them. For instance, ticks are only out in the spring and warm weather, right? Wrong! Ticks can live in temperatures all the way down to -2 to 14 degrees celsius. It’s essential to keep spraying and using preventatives to avoid any lapse in weather judgment where they can increase in numbers. 

Why Should My Vet Not Just Treat My Asymptomatic Dog?

Many dogs that have had the infection prior may still show a positive result. This is why history is so important. If your veterinarian is aware of that, they will often perform a more sensitive test to see if an active infection is present. 

If this is the case, they will most likely put your dog on a round of antibiotics to clear the infection. If the infection is not active, then putting your dog on antibiotics will just put them at risk for antibiotic resistance and make them more vulnerable in the future. 

Also, you may ask if the infection does become active and will not allow for your veterinarian to make a well-rounded plan of action. Unlike Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis is not known to have a chronic infection and will not need medication for asymptomatic cases. 

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What is the Prognosis For an Infected Pet?

The prognosis for an infected pet is usually good. Dogs treated with antibiotics (in this case, it is usually Doxycycline or medication within the Tetracycline class) usually feel much better within 1-2 days. 

Usually, one round of antibiotics is enough to treat Anaplasmosis in most dogs. Your veterinarian can perform a follow-up exam, and blood draw after the round of antibiotics is done. 

It’s essential to make sure your dog finishes its entire course of antibiotics and adheres closely to the directions given. Sometimes a more prolonged course is needed for concurrent tick-borne diseases. Even dogs with cyclic thrombocytopenia have a good prognosis because they commonly show mild signs. 

Summary

Anaplasmosis can be treated and has a good- excellent prognosis. However, it should not be taken lightly. The appearance of this disease means your dog was exposed to ticks and that your current preventative regime needs to be improved. Combining preventive measures and education, your dog should be well on its way to staying protected.

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