When it comes to tick-born threats to your dog, Lyme disease usually gets all the attention. But anaplasmosis is another tick-borne disease that can cause bruising, lameness, and even uncontrolled bleeding in your pet. That’s why you should learn the signs of anaplasmosis and what to do if your pet contracts the disease.
What is Anaplasmosis?
Anaplasmosis is a tick-borne disease caused by the infectious bacterial organism Anaplasma phagocytophilum. It is transmitted through bites of the deer tick (also known as the black-legged tick) and western black-legged tick. A lesser form of anaplasmosis is caused by Anaplasma platys and is transmitted by the brown dog tick. Anaplasmosis has been reported worldwide in a wide variety of animals.
Anaplasmosis, which also infects humans, is common throughout the World wherever transmitting ticks thrive.
What are the Symptoms of Anaplasmosis?
Infection with the more common form of anaplasmosis, A. phagocytophilum, often causes lameness, joint pain, fever, lethargy, and anorexia (lack of appetite). Most infected dogs will have symptoms for 1 to 7 days; however, some will have no or only minor symptoms. Less common clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, and labored breathing. Anaplasmosis is less common in cats; but similar clinical signs can be seen if they do get this disease. Rarely, neurological signs such as seizures have been reported.
Symptoms could include:
- Lack of appetite
- Joint pain and lameness
- Labored breathing
- Ataxia (lack of muscle and movement control)
Dogs with anaplasmosis often have many of the same symptoms as those with Lyme disease, and infection with both agents (co-infection) is not uncommon. Both Lyme disease and anaplasmosis are commonly found in the same geographic location and are transmitted by the same tick species.
How is anaplasmosis diagnosed?
Doctors often have a hard time distinguishing between anaplasmosis and Lyme disease, which have some of the same symptoms, especially widespread joint inflammation. Sometimes a dog may have both diseases at once, because the same tick species transmit both illnesses.
Several types of tests to diagnose exposure or an infection are available. Exposure to Anaplasma can be detected in your veterinary clinic with your veterinarian doing a Snap4Dx or AccuPlex antibody test. Other tests, including enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA), and polymerase chain reaction (PCR), are available to help your veterinarian determine if active infection is present. These tests are sent to an outside lab. In addition, the organism can sometimes be seen through a microscope during peak phases of infection.
Your veterinarian will discuss the various test options and determine which diagnostic protocol is best for your dog’s condition.
How is it treated, and what is the prognosis?
The treatment for canine anaplasmosis is the same as that for other closely related tick-borne infections, including ehrlichiosis and Lyme disease, the antibiotic doxycycline. Many infected dogs are treated for 2-4 weeks (the longer course more often if co-infected with Lyme disease). In most cases, symptoms improve rapidly. Dogs are often markedly better 24 to 48 hours after therapy is begun, and the prognosis for clinical recovery is excellent.
Although most dogs clinically improve, it may be difficult to determine whether or not a dog is no longer infected. If a dog stops producing antibodies to the organism, this may indicate that the organism has been cleared from the body. Even if a dog that has been infected with anaplasmosis, is treated, and returns to normal, the dog may continue to test positive for the infection on subsequent blood tests. However, this does not mean that the dog has an active infection, and a second round of antibiotic therapy to try to obtain a negative blood test is generally not recommended.
What if my dog tested positive but isn't sick?
Dogs from areas where anaplasmosis or Lyme disease are common have often been exposed to A. phagocytophilum and have a positive antibody test result. It appears that many dogs may have antibodies to A. phagocytophilum without having any evidence of clinical disease. It has been shown that clinically healthy dogs may have persistent infection with A. phagocytophilum and are chronically infected carriers of the organism. We do not know if these dogs will eventually become ill or not.
Current research suggests that canine anaplasmosis is an acute disease that occurs in dogs a week or two after infection through a tick bite. Because chronic infection has not been directly related to clinical disease and because a therapeutic regimen effective in clearing the organism from an infected animal has not been established, treating clinically healthy, positive testing animals is of questionable benefit and not generally recommended at this time.
However, a positive test result in a clinically healthy dog should not be disregarded. At a minimum, positive dogs should have an aggressive tick control program implemented to minimize exposure to ticks. It is clear that co-infection with two or more tick-borne agents is common and that dogs co-infected with Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), A. phagocytophilum, and Anaplasma are nearly two times more likely to develop clinical disease than dogs infected with either agent alone. Your veterinarian will recommend a tick preventive that is best suited for your dog.
There is also some concern that chronically infected carrier dogs could be adversely affected by medications that compromise the immune system (such as steroids), or by an illness that might reduce a dog’s immune status.
Can I get anaplasmosis from my dog?
Anaplasmosis is considered a zoonotic pathogen. This means it has the potential to infect humans. However, direct transmission from animals to people, or animal to animal is highly unlikely and has not been documented.
If a dog is diagnosed with anaplasmosis, strict tick control measures should be taken as this indicates there are infected ticks in the environment that could transmit the disease to humans.
Thanks to Ryan Llera, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM