Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a potentially serious tick-transmitted disease found in dogs across America. Here, our Northeast Veterinary team share some symptoms of this disease in dogs and detail its possible treatments.
What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is caused by a parasite called rickettsia rickettsii. This parasite is transmitted through the bite of tick which is carrying it. The American dog tick, the brown dog tick, and the Rocky Mountain wood tick can all carry RMSF.
An unfed tick must be attached to your dog for at least 10 hours for there to be a danger of transmitting the parasite to your dog. However, if the tick has already been fed, this time shortens to a mere 10 minutes after attaching to your dog.
What are the symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs?
Symptoms of this disease commonly manifest between 2 and 14 days after a dog has been bitten by an infected tick. RMSF can be difficult to spot because many of its symptoms are found in other conditions common to dogs. Because of this, it is important to know whether or not your pet has been exposed to ticks recently in order to help your vet make an accurate diagnosis.
RMSF's symptoms can range from mild all the way to life-threatening! It can also affect any of the organs in your pet's body. Some of its most commons symptoms are:
- Swelling of the face or legs
- Loss of appetite
- Non-specific muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Abdominal pain
About one in three affected dogs will experience spinal pain, seizures, balance problems, and lack of coordination among other central nervous system problems. Small hemorrhages in the skin can also be a symptom of RMSF.
How is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever diagnosed in dogs?
Initially, your vet will determine whether your pup is experiencing any of the above symptoms. After that, they will perform a series of physical tests like blood tests and urinalyses.
Results such as anemia and abnormal white blood cell count can indicate RMSF, as can low protein and calcium levels alongside liver or kidney abnormalities.
How is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs treated?
Most often, RMSF is treated with a round of antibiotics which will be prescribed to them by your vet. While most dogs express notable improvements in their condition after beginning the course of antibiotics, some dogs with more severe cases may not respond at all.
Some examples of antibiotics used to treat Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are minocycline, tetracycline, and doxycycline. In severe cases, your dog may require a blood transfusion or other treatments to support their recovery.
What is the prognosis for dogs with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?
The prognosis for MSF is good if it has been identified in your dog and treated early. There tend to be few complications caused by the disease and often a case will result in lifelong immunity for a given dog.
However, Rock Mountain Spotted Fever that has gone undetected and untreated poses significant long-term health risks to your dog. A severe case of this disease can result in long-term bleeding disorders, kidney disease, or vasculitis.
How can I prevent my dog from getting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?
The best way to protect your dog against this disease is to limit their activity in tick-friendly and tick-infested areas. This is doubly true through the warmer months of the year.
If your dog has been outside in areas with high tick activity, make sure you inspect their body for these parasites very thoroughly and as soon as possible. The more quickly you are able to remove a tick from your companion, the better the chance that you have avoided infection.
Make sure you are protecting yourself as well. Avoid removing ticks barehanded to prevent your own infection. You can also use a special tool to remove the ticks safely for both you and your dog.
You can also administer preventative medication to your dog year-round. Not only will these medications help prevent Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but they will also target a whole host of other tick-borne illnesses.