Ehrlichiosis in dogs

Ehrlichiosis is a disease that effects dogs and is caused by a tick-borne bacteria called Ehrlichia canis. The brown dog tick which is present across northern Australia is the main carrier of this disease, and transmission only occurs through infected ticks. Infected dogs do not directly transmit the disease to other dogs.

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Brown dog tick which is widespread in Australia. Photo courtesy of DPIRD, WA

The first detection of Ehrlichiosis in Australia occurred in May 2020 in the north of Western Australia including:

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

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

In March 2021 results from a national surveillance program confirmed that the disease is also established in the far north of South Australia in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.

Movement conditions

Check requirements before travelling with your dog

Movement conditions are in place for dogs travelling out of the Kimberley in WA (where the disease has established) to southern areas of WA.

Conditions are also in place on dogs entering southern WA from the Northern Territory. 

Under Queensland’s General biosecurity obligation and the NSW General biosecurity duty, people moving dogs into these states must take reasonable and practical steps to prevent the introduction of E canis. These steps could include testing dogs prior to movement and only travelling with healthy dogs that are on an effective tick control program.

Tasmania has recently reviewed dog import requirements and will soon introduce a requirement for dogs to be declared tick free when arriving into the state.

Further information on movement restrictions is available from the state/territory links below:

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

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Image courtesy of DPI&R, NT

You can do a number of things to help prevent this disease in your dogs:

  • Have your dog on a tick control program if living in or travelling to areas where the brown dog tick is present such as northern Australia.
     
  • Use repellent tick collars and spot-ons as the best primary protection, in combination with tablets and chews registered for tick control.
     
  • 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.
  • If you are travelling with your dogs to Australia’s northern regions, be particularly vigilant about tick-infested environments and congregations of dogs which may be carrying ticks. This includes places where you may stop at, like fuel stations and caravan parks.
     
  • Contact your nearest 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.
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Photo courtesy of Dr John Beadle, All Creatures Veterinary Clinic, Broome

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 should seek veterinary advice.  You or your vet can report the disease by calling the national Emergency Animal Disease Watch hotline on 1800 675 888.

About ehrlichiosis

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

The disease 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.

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Photo courtesy of Professor Peter Irwin

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

Government response to ehrlichiosis

The national Consultative Committee on Emergency Animal Diseases met in response to this disease incursion, and in November 2020 the committee considered the surveillance data. It agreed that it was not technically feasible to eradicate the disease because it is established in the NT and north WA.

The state and federal governments will continue to work on ehrlichiosis through the Animal Health Committee which comprises the Chief Veterinary Officers from each jurisdiction. The committee is currently investigating whether it is possible and practical to implement nationally consistent control strategies for the disease.

Most jurisdictions are running awareness campaigns to inform the community and travellers about ehrlichiosis and the actions they can take to prevent the disease in their dogs.