Science! with Jean

And now an episode of Science! with Jean that addresses a serious health issue for dogs and people, so read the whole thing please and then spread the word…

This is Bristol, who is currently looking for her home. I will get into her details for those interested shortly. Aside from being pretty and perfect, Bristol is going to serve as our subject for this episode of Science!

I doubt there is a person on the planet who has not heard of Lyme disease. Lyme is a tick-borne illness that causes a host of problems and can kill people and dogs in extreme cases. However, there is another tick borne disease that is far more prevalent that no one seems to know about and you all are about to get a primer.

Ticks also carry a disease known as ehrlichiosis sometimes referred to as just “ehrlichia”. Ehrlichia is a rickettsial tick-borne disease that is in the same family with fun things like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and babesiosis which are diseases that dogs and people get and can be fatal.

Ehrlichia comes from the bite of either the lone star tick or a brown dog tick. 1 to 3 weeks after a bite, symptoms may set in. These symptoms could be lethargy and weakness, swelling in a leg, swollen lymph nodes and not wanting to eat. Or they may have no symptoms in the early stages at all and that makes this a stealthy disease.

Once the bacteria really get going, bad things happen, most notably, bleeding, anemia, joint pain and lameness, fever, and when really bad, seizures, head tilting, kidney failure and death and a host of other bad things.

You are probably wondering why I am making a big deal of this. Of the 2000+ dogs we took in during 2015, 90% of the dogs we took in tested positive for exposure for ehrlichia. Some dogs get bitten and don’t develop the disease, but some do. Very few rescues and shelters test for this disease because the test is not cheap. This test, the “4DX” test, tests for heartworms, lyme disease, ehrlichia and anaplasma. Most places do a simple heartworm snap test. If your vet doesn’t carry the test, go someplace that does or ask them to order the test. If a dog in our rescue tests positive, we then check their blood panels for signs of platelet destruction and anemia and if those tests show problems, we treat with 30 days of the antibiotic doxycycline. Most cases clear quickly and their blood counts improve rapidly. A more sensitive test called a PCR test can be done and that will give even more information to you and your vet. Not every dog that shows a positive reaction to the 4DX test necessarily has ehrlichia but it shows exposure and you need to do further testing.

People do get this disease from ticks and it can be catastrophic in people. A local lawyer I know ended up in the ICU from complications of ehrlichiosis* and it would be a good idea if people began to realize their many more tick diseases out there that can cause you harm. If you feel bad, sore, achy, or generally down and you had a tick bite, you need to tell your doctor to run a panel for the rickettsial diseases. I am amazed at how little physicians recognize the threat given its prevalence in the eastern half of the US. If we have more than 1600 dogs out of 2000 a year testing positive for exposure, that is your canary in the mine. In contrast, we see less than 50 dogs a year with lyme disease exposure.

We highly recommend Advantix or Seresto collars for dogs with exposure to ticks. Use it religiously and be watchful.

And now you know. Share and spread the word.

And for those interested, Bristol the little 3 year old 33 pound dog of completely indeterminate origin is looking for a home now. She is one of the dogs who tested positive for ehrlichia who had active symptoms and she is healthy and happy now. She is great with people, with dogs and cats. She is not so fond of ticks. If you are interested in adopting Bristol, please email

*So much for the theory that ticks won’t bite their fellow bloodsuckers out of professional courtesy.