Ana-Who? Anaplasmosis … and Your Pet

Anaplasmosis is a tick-borne disease that can affect dogs, cats and people. White-tailed deer are thought to be the primary reservoir. The disease is caused by a bacteria called Anaplasma phagocytophilum. It is transmitted when an infected deer tick bites its host (dogs, cats or people) and remains attached for at least 24 hours.

Anaplasmosis was previously considered to be endemic only in areas with warmer climates. However, as with Lyme disease, veterinarians are seeing more and more dogs and cats who are testing positive for Anaplasmosis. It is believed that this is due to alterations in the geographic range of the tick vectors due changes of flight patterns of migratory birds as a result of climate change.

All dogs and cats who have potential exposure to deer ticks are at risk. Year-round tick prevention is recommended to prevent tick-borne disease such as Anaplasmosis and Lyme disease. Ticks are active and looking for hosts to attach to when the temperatures rise at or above 4 degrees Celsius. It means that ticks might not be active 356 days of the year, but they are active 12 months of the year. Home remedies (such as essential oils, diatomaceous earth, apple cider vinegar or garlic), department store or pet store products don’t work and can be dangerous for your pet. Prescription tick prevention medications are reliable with fast tick-kill times and are safe.

Frequent tick checks, especially after spending any time in wooded or grassy areas, will help limit the transmission of tick-borne diseases. There is no vaccine available for Anaplasmosis, so tick control is the only method of prevention for ourselves as well as our animals.

Clinical signs and implications of this disease are lethargy (being more tired than normal), anorexia (not eating), stiffness or painful limbs, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, anemia or unexplained bleeding. Most animals infected with Anaplasma have low numbers of platelets in their bloodstream which puts animals at risks of bleeding disorders.

If you have found a tick on your dog or cat then it is recommended to have your veterinarian do a 4DX test on their blood after 6 weeks (3 weeks for Anaplasmosis, 6 weeks for Lyme disease). If positive and clinical signs are present (eg. painful limbs) then a 28-day course of antibiotics with pain and anti-inflammatory medications is indicated. It is also recommended that additional blood tests are done to evaluate your pet for platelet abnormalities, anemia (low red blood cells) and kidney or liver disease. In some cases, despite appropriate antibiotic therapy, some animals remain in a chronic carrier state. This means, that even with treatment some animals may perpetually continue to carry the Anaplasma bacteria.

If you notice your dog or cat suddenly limping, bruising easily, having nose bleeds or blood spots on their gums, then they should immediately be evaluated by your veterinarian. If your pet is currently not on any type of tick prevention, please speak with your pet’s veterinarian to discuss options of prevention.

Addendum: A random Google search brought me to a pet page recommending owners to feed their dog’s garlic to deter ticks from biting. It is both ineffective and very dangerous, as garlic is toxic to dogs and destroys their red blood cells. Please seek proper veterinary recommendations for safe and effective flea and tick preventative.

Written by: Dr. Krista Simonson, Veterinarian