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New warnings about ticks transmitting deadly disease to dogs in Australia



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.

Dogs become infected with Ehrlichiosis after being bitten by an infected tick, usually the brown dog tick
(Credit: 
Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, WA)

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. 

Credit: Christian Lambert (Unsplash)
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


Nala's Story from SAFE WA

Nala came from North West Australia. She was left to fend for herself when her owner left over Christmas. With the searing heat, she took herself the best spot possible, next to the ice machine in the local pub, becoming a welcomed part of the Public Bar.

The Publican, knowing they couldn’t keep Nala, contacted the local ranger Hamish to collect her. Hamish found someone who knew the owner who said they would take Nala while she was away. Nala escaped and returned to the pub. “She was a beautiful gentle dog,” said Hamish.

Hamish contacted the owner who agreed to have Nala rehomed. He took her directly to SAFE in Karratha where she was checked by the vet team. She was skin and bone and very lethargic.

Following her vet check she was found to be anaemic, covered in ticks and was suffering from the E. canis virus. Following isolation, treatment and wonderful care by her foster carers, Nala recovered fully. She has now been re-homed to an amazing couple who are spoiling Nala and she is loving them.

About Companion Animal Network Australia (CAN)

Companion Animal Network Australia (CAN) is a registered charity representing the companion animal welfare work of our six member agencies. We rally support to develop and promote programs that deliver high welfare standards for companion animals.

Together, our members provide rescue, shelter, re-homing, fostering, health care and enrichment services to more than 50,000 animals every year. Through national campaigns, partnerships and initiatives, we celebrate the human-animal bond and promote responsible pet ownership.

We use our national voice to campaign for the humane treatment of all companion animals and we rally support for programmes that deliver high welfare standards.

To discover more, visit www.australiacan.org.au


MEDIA RELEASE, 26th March 2021

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