Katherine Vet Dr Alex Burleigh says dog owners to be wary of ehrlichiosis

DEADLY DISEASE: Ehrlichiosis is ripping through the Northern Territory, and since June last year, 150 dogs in Katherine have been diagnosed with the deadly disease. Photo: Dr Alex Burleigh
DEADLY DISEASE: Ehrlichiosis is ripping through the Northern Territory, and since June last year, 150 dogs in Katherine have been diagnosed with the deadly disease. Photo: Dr Alex Burleigh

Cases of ehrlichiosis - the deadly dog disease that has spread across the country - are growing in Katherine, Northern Territory.

The 'devastating' disease was first detected in May last year in Western Australia, and since then, hundreds of dogs have fallen victim.

Dr Alex Burleigh of Katherine Veterinary Clinic has diagnosed approximately 150 cases of ehrlichiosis in Katherine since it was first discovered in June, 2020.

"We're diagnosing a case every day to every second day in Katherine, and it's a disease we're very concerned about," Dr Burleigh said.

"It's one of the most dangerous diseases we've experienced that has come into this country. Right now in the community, we estimate half the dogs who have died in the last six months to have been found with this disease.

"This is absolutely devastating our population of dogs, we're going to see a lot worse in the months to come."

Ehrlichiosis is spread by the brown dog tick, and has been found to take as little as three hours of feeding for the infection to spread to a canine, with the disease also found to pass onto eggs.

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"The other tick diseases we've had in Australia for several hundreds of years take one to two days of tick feeding for ticks to transmit to dogs," Dr Burleigh said.

"It [ehrlichiosis] is easily treated with antibiotics if caught early. Dogs can go through the carrier stage where they carry this disease but don't show any symptoms meaning they could carry it for a long time.

"Then what can happen in a few months or several years later is their kidneys shut down or their immune systems shut down."

SYMPTOMS: Cloudy eyes are a symptom of ehrlichiosis. Photo: Dr Alex Burleigh

SYMPTOMS: Cloudy eyes are a symptom of ehrlichiosis. Photo: Dr Alex Burleigh

Dr Burleigh is sounding the alarm for dog owners nationwide, and is encouraging early deployment of tick repellents to limit chances of catching the disease.

"Where there are brown dog ticks this disease is going to be, and we're not going to be able to get rid of it," he said.

"It's already over in Western Australia, it's all through the Territory and it's making its way into Queensland.

"There is evidence to say the Seresto collars do repel ticks so this is your primary mode of prevention. The other things you can use are the chews as a backup, but studies have shown that one in four dogs still get this disease even whilst on the chews so this is purely as a back up.

"The thing is nothing is 100 per cent with prevention, but the more you can do to prevent it, the better.

"There is no vaccine, they've tried it but nothing has worked."

Symptoms of ehrlichiosis include:

  • Fever
  • Sore eyes
  • Bleeding nose
  • Slight cough
  • Swollen joints
  • Upset tummy/sore belly
  • Off colour
  • Weight loss
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bleeding under the skin
  • Sudden death

Advice for dog owners, as suggested by the National Pest and Disease Outbreaks website:

  • Put your dog on a tick control program if you live or are travelling
  • Check your dog on a daily basis for ticks
  • Avoid taking your dogs into tick-infested areas

If your dog is showing any symptoms of ehrlichiosis, contact your vet immediately.

This story 'We're very concerned': How to limit your dog's chance of an ehrlichiosis diagnosis first appeared on Katherine Times.