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Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

The tick-borne disease Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is found in dogs across the United States. The condition can cause symptoms ranging from mild to potentially life-threatening. Our Greensboro vets offer advice on symptoms, treatment and prevention.

What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs?

The intracellular parasite rickettsia rickettsii causes this acute, tick-borne disease. Dogs can contract RMSF if an infected Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick or brown dog tick attaches itself to your dog for more than 10 hours.

However, a tick can transmit the disease in as little as 10 minutes after attaching if it has already fed. Most cases of RMSF are found in southern Atlantic states, southern New England coastal states, areas of the mid-Atlantic and western central states.

Signs & Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Between 2 and 14 days after your dog has been bitten by an infected tick, he or she will start to experience signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Symptoms can vary drastically and be associated with other conditions, so it’s helpful if you can tell your vet when your pup may have been exposed to infected ticks.

Common signs and symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever include:

  • Lameness
  • Reduced or poor appetite
  • Pain in abdomen or joints
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cough
  • Nosebleed
  • Discharge from nose or eyes
  • Swelling in face or legs
  • Fever

Some dogs (up to one-third) that have contracted the disease will experience symptoms associated with function of their central nervous systems, including weakness, seizures, spinal pain, lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements, and balance problems. Approximately 20 percent may experience tiny hemorrhages in their skin.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can impact any organ in your dog’s body, and symptoms may range from mild to severe. Some cases may be life-threatening.

How do vets diagnose Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Your veterinarian will examine your dog for any of the symptoms listed above and may complete a series of diagnostic tests, including x-rays, urinalysis and basic blood tests.

An abnormal complete blood count (CBC) or white blood cell counts, or low numbers of red blood cells (anemia) and platelets can point to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

At Friendly Animal Clinic, we have advanced diagnostic veterinary technology, an in-house lab and an onsite pharmacy so we can provide efficient care, accurate diagnoses and same-day test results for pets in the Greensboro and Guilford College area.

 Our veterinary team can also recommend internal medicine procedures or treatments based on your pet’s diagnosis and individual requirements.

How do vets treat this condition?

Antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed treatment for dogs diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. While most dogs will respond to treatment within 24 to 48 hours, dogs suffering from severe cases of this condition may not respond to treatment at all.

Common antibiotics include minocycline, doxycycline and tetracycline. In some cases, if a dog is experiencing anemia, a blood transfusion or other supportive therapies may be prescribed.

What is the prognosis for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

As long as RMSF is effectively diagnosed and treated early, prognosis is generally good, with few complications to disrupt recovery. In many cases, a dog will be immune to the disease for life after infection has cleared.

However, dogs suffering from more advanced cases of the disease may be at higher risk for complications such as coagulopathies, neurological diseases, kidney disease and vasculitis. These cases can result in severe complications arising and a less clear prognosis.

How can I prevent my dog from getting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Start by limiting your dog’s exposure to ticks and areas where ticks are popular, especially throughout peak tick season, which runs March through October.

If your dog has visited areas where ticks are known together, closely inspect their fur upon returning home - the sooner a tick is found and removed after it attaches to your dog, the better the chance that the parasite will not have had the chance to infect your pet.

Remember: Wear gloves when removing ticks to avoid being infected via open cuts or scratches on your hand. Keep a tick removal kit handy to make removing ticks faster and safer for you and your dog - these are inexpensive and can be found at vet’s offices and pet stores.

Apply tick prevention medications throughout the year to protect your dog against many tick-borne diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, canine ehrlichiosis, Lyme Disease or canine babesiosis. Contact your vet to learn more about preventing parasites.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your pet displaying symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? Contact our Greensboro animal clinic today to book an examination. Tick prevention is part of our Wellness Plans. Choose the Wellness Plan that's right for your pet.

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