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Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

RMSF - Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is an acute tick borne disease seen in dogs across the US with symptoms ranging in severity from mild to potentially life-threatening. Here our Orange County vets share some of the symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) In Dogs

Rocky Mountain spotted fever (or RMSF for short) is an acute, tick-borne disease which can be seen in dogs of all ages and breeds across the United States.

RMSF is a condition in dogs that is caused by an intracellular parasite called rickettsia rickettsii, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. The Rocky Mountain wood tick, American dog tick, and brown dog tick are all known to be potential carriers of the disease.

Transmission of the parasite can occur in as little as 10 minutes if the tick has already fed, however, an unfed tick needs to be attached to your dog for a minimum of 10 hours in order to transmit the disease.

Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever commonly appear in dogs between 2 - 14 days after being bitten by an infected tick, and can be vague. Many symptoms of RMSF in dogs are also indications of other more common conditions, so knowing if your pooch may have been exposed to infected ticks can help your vet to diagnose your pet's condition. 

RMSF can affect any of the organs in your pup's body and the symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening. Some of the most common signs of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Generalized muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • High fever
  • Lethargy
  • Eye/nose discharge
  • Nosebleed
  • Cough
  • Lameness
  • Swelling of the face or legs

Small hemorrhages in the skin can also be a symptom of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs, and about 1/3 of infected dogs will experience central nervous system issues such as spinal pain, seizures, lack of coordination, weakness, or balance issues. 

Diagnosing Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Your veterinarian will begin by examining your dog for the symptoms listed above, then they may recommend a series of diagnostic tests such as blood tests, x-rays, and urinalysis.

Some of the diagnostic test results that can indicate RMSF include low numbers of platelets, red blood cells (anemia), and abnormal white blood cell counts seen in complete blood count (CBC). Further testing may reveal low protein levels, abnormal calcium levels, electrolyte abnormalities, and abnormal liver or kidney values which can all be signs of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs.

Treatment for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Antibiotics are typically prescribed to treat dogs with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Most dogs respond well to this treatment, with a noticeable improvement in as little as 24 to 48 hours. Nonetheless, dogs suffering from more severe cases of the disease may not respond to treatment at all.

Antibiotics commonly used to treat Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are tetracycline, doxycycline, and minocycline. In severe cases of the disease, your vet may also recommend that your dog have a blood transfusion to treat anemia, or other supportive therapies to address symptoms.

Prognosis for Dogs with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

In dogs that are treated early for RMSF, the prognosis is good with few complications associated with the disease. Lifelong immunity may even occur after the infection has been cleared up.

Dogs suffering from advanced RMSF that has gone untreated in the early stages, face an increased risk for severe complications from the disease such as kidney disease, neurological disease, vasculitis, and bleeding disorders.

Preventing Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

To help protect your dog against RMSF, it is essential to limit your dog's exposure to ticks and tick-infested areas, especially during peak tick months from March through October.

If your dog has been out in areas known to have ticks, inspect your dog's skin closely for ticks that may have latched onto your pup. The sooner you can remove a tick after it attaches, the better your chances that the parasite will not have had time to infect your pet.

It is a good idea to wear gloves when removing ticks from your dog to help avoid being infected through cuts and scratches on your hand, alternatively, you could use an inexpensive tick removal tool available from your vet's office or local pet supply store.

Keep your dog on tick prevention medications year-round to help protect your dog against a variety of tick borne diseases including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Canine Ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, tularemia, and Canine Babesiosis.

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 dog displaying symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? Our Board Certified Internal Medicine Specialist has experience in the diagnosis and treatment of tick borne diseases including RMSF in dogs. Contact us to find out how to make an appointment.

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