Ehrlichiosis in dogs

The disease ehrlichiosis has been confirmed in dogs in the north of Western Australia including:

  • Halls Creek
  • Kununurra
  • the Kimberley regions of Broome and Derby, and
  • South Hedland in the Pilbara.

In June 2020, the disease was also confirmed in dogs in the Northern Territory town of Katherine, and a remote community west of Alice Springs.

The disease is caused by a tick-borne bacteria called Ehrlichia canis.

This is the first time ehrlichiosis infection has been detected in dogs in Australia that were not imported. Investigations into the origin of the infection in both Western Australia and the Northern Territory are ongoing with no obvious leads at this time. It is possible that the disease has been present in some regions for some time.

Infected dogs do not directly transmit the disease to other dogs. Transmission only occurs through infected ticks such as the brown dog tick which is widespread in Australia.

Both the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development in Western Australia and the Department of Primary Industry and Resources in the Northern Territory are working with the private veterinarians to manage the infected dogs.

Surveillance is being undertaken in areas where the brown dog tick is known to occur to determine the distribution of ehrlichiosis, and local community awareness activities are underway. The results of this surveillance will inform containment activities, including the movement conditions in the north of Western Australia, as well as Australia’s policy on dog imports.

There is no evidence of change in the type or distribution of ticks in northern Australia.

Human health

Infected dogs do not transmit ehrlichiosis to people, however, in rare cases, infected ticks may infect people. The Australian Government Department of Health has information on their website about ticks and human health precautions.

Advice for dog owners

Dog owners can do a number of things to help prevent this disease in their dogs:

  • Have your dog on a tick control program.
  • Where possible, avoid taking your dogs into tick-infested areas.
  • Inspect your dog daily for ticks, especially if they have been in a tick-infested area.
    • Run your fingers through your dog’s coat over their skin and feel for abnormal bumps. Pay particular attention to the head and neck, inside their ears, on their chest, between their toes and around their mouths and gums.
  • Contact your vet if your dog is showing any of signs of the disease which include:
    • fever
    • lethargy
    • enlarged lymph nodes
    • loss of appetite
    • discharge from the eyes and nose
    • weight loss
    • anaemia and bleeding disorders such as nosebleeds or bleeding under the skin that looks like small spots, patches or bruising.

Ehrlichiosis requires veterinary treatment and supportive care, and it can also resemble other conditions with similar signs, including tick-borne diseases such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis which are already present.

You should contact your private vet if you have a dog that is unwell because early treatment provides the best chance for them to recover.

Reporting signs of the disease

Ehrlichiosis is a nationally notifiable disease. This means, if you suspect your dog is showing signs of the disease, you must report it to your local vet or the national Emergency Animal Disease Watch hotline on 1800 675 888.

About ehrlichiosis

Ehrlichiosis has three phases: an ‘acute’ phase or early signs of disease, a ‘subclinical phase’ where there are no outward signs of disease and a ‘chronic’ or long-term stage of disease.

Visible signs in the chronic form of the disease are similar to those in the acute phase but are more severe.

Ehrlichiosis occurs worldwide, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Once the disease is in the brown dog tick population it’s very difficult to control, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions.

Response to ehrlichiosis

The Australian Chief Veterinary Officer has been notified and the national Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Disease continues to meet in response to these detections.

The committee has considered response options, including further surveillance to determine the spread of the disease. All jurisdictions are examining whether the extension of movement conditions beyond Western Australia are required to prevent further spread.

Importing dogs into Australia

Animals imported to Australia must meet strict import conditions to prevent exotic pests and diseases arriving.

Dogs must test negative to Ehrlichia canis prior to being imported toAustralia.

All dogs must undergo a mandatory 10 day quarantine period when they arrive. While in quarantine they are inspected for ticks and may undergo further testing if ticks or signs of ehrlichiosis are detected.

Exporting dogs out of Australia

This issue is expected to have a minimal impact on the export of dogs from Australia as very few importing countries require Ehrlichia canis country freedom.

You should check the requirements on the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment website if you wish to export a dog out of Australia.

More information