Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs results from a rickettsial infection transmitted by ticks, hence the common name tick fever. Rickettsiae are a type of bacteria that can exist only inside the host cells. Both dogs and humans are susceptible to this disease prevalent in both North America and South America, including Central America. Various types of spotted fevers are found world over, but the name Rocky Mountain spotted fever applies to those found in the above geographical location and resulting from Rickettsia rickettsii.
The Rocky Mountain wood tick and the American dog tick, the two main carriers of this species of rickettsiae, transmit the infection to the dog through their bites. Transmission to humans occur on contact with the body fluids of the ticks, such as blood, lymph or other materials excreted by them, while attempting to pluck them out from the dog’s body or from their own skin. These infective fluids transfer the rickettsiae into the humans through their eyes or broken skin. There has been no evidence of host to host transmission between dogs and humans.
The symptoms of tick fever include high fever, lack of appetite, inflammation of lymph nodes and multiple joints. Respiratory distress accompanied by cough, gastrointestinal disturbances such as vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhea, and edema in the face and limbs are other symptoms. Since most of these are general symptoms associated with many common illnesses, they don’t often lead to diagnosis. If the infection is severe, a typical symptom is the appearance of red or purple spots inside the eyelids and the mouth. Micro capillary bleeding under the skin is what causes these flat, circular spots. The dog may show mood swings and oversensitivity to touch in case of brain and spinal cord involvement.
Antibiotic therapy is the main treatment for Rocky Mountain tick fever. The veterinarian may initiate the treatment even before the disease is confirmed through blood tests as any delay may lead to complications and even death. Mortality rate of Rocky Mountain spotted fever is around 5%. In addition to the antibiotics, the dog may need medications to stem bleeding, and fluid supplementation to prevent dehydration.
As in the case of any vector borne disease, controlling tick population is the best way to prevent this disease. The dogs should be kept away from places that have a high chance of containing any type of ticks. Keeping the dog free of ticks by using medications advised by the veterinarian can keep it safe from not only Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, but from many other infectious diseases spread by these parasites.
When you spot a tick on the dog’s body, it should be removed immediately using a pair of tweezers with fine point. The tick’s head, which is usually buried in the fur of the dog, should be grabbed with the points of the tweezers, and pulled straight off. It should be done without squeezing its body as the body fluids are infective. If the dog is infested with several ticks, the veterinarian’s help should be sought in de-ticking the dog.