New warnings about ticks transmitting deadly disease to dogs in Australia

Lort Smith understands there are currently no cases in Victoria, however we are aware there are cases in other parts of Australia. This is a warning for people travelling interstate to take note and be aware of the risks.

Ehrlichiosis is a deadly disease in dogs caused by the bite of a brown tick infected with an exotic pathogen Ehrlichia Canis (E.canis) and animal health authorities are on alert for it spreading to other parts of the country.

In May 2020, E.canis was detected in a small number of dogs in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. This is the first detection of E.canis in dogs in Australia that had not been imported from overseas and is a notifiable disease, according to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Animal health authorities are concerned that the tick-borne disease will soon hit other parts of the country.

Companion Animal Network Australia (CAN) National Executive Trish Ennis warned, “We have reports of confirmed cases of infected dogs in various parts of Australia, including Broome in Western Australia and the APY Lands in South Australia.”

Although infected dogs do not directly transmit the disease to other dogs, the transmission occurs through infected ticks, particularly the brown dog tick which is widespread in mainland Australia.

“Investigations into the origin of the infection in both northern WA and the Northern Territory are ongoing with no obvious leads at this time, which means it’s possible the disease has been present in some regions for some time,” said Ms Ennis.

In early 2021, ticks infected with the bacteria that causes ehrlichiosis were also found in South Australia’s far north.

Veterinarian Dr Julie Bellamy, CEO Animal Welfare League SA, said, “Ehrlichiosis is a very serious disease with a high mortality rate in chronically infected dogs. Infected animals require veterinary treatment and supportive care.

“Dog owners must be vigilant. There are a number of things you can do to help prevent this disease in your dogs, including placing your dog on a tick control program. Dog owners should consult with their veterinarians on the risk and preventative measures appropriate for their geographical area,” she said.

The National Pest and Disease Outbreak website advises pet owners to inspect their dog daily for ticks, especially if they have been in a tick-infested area. Run your fingers through your dog’s coat over their skin and feel for abnormal bumps, paying particular attention to the head and neck, inside their ears, on their chest, between their toes and around their mouths and gums.

The initial clinical signs of E.canis infection can include: fever, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes, loss of appetite, discharge from the eyes and nose, weight loss and bleeding disorders. If your dog is showing any of the above clinical signs, please contact a vet immediately.

“We recommend you contact your veterinarian if you have a dog that is unwell because early treatment provides the best chance for them to recover,” Dr Bellamy added.

A spokesperson from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, WA advised, “In areas where brown dog ticks are present or dogs to be rehomed are sick, rehoming agencies are encouraged have dogs tested for E. canis before moving them to ensure they are not spreading the disease to another area. In Western Australia, movement conditions apply to dogs being moved out of the Kimberley, where the disease is established.”

For more information, visit www.agric.wa.gov.au/ehrlichiosis.

Ehrlichiosis is predominantly a disease of dogs but there have been rare cases of human infection. The Department of Health has information on their website about ticks and human health precautions.

For more information on the disease visit: www.outbreak.gov.au/current-responses-to-outbreaks/ehrlichiosis-dogs

Pic: Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, WA