Over the last eight months, there have been a growing number of media reports warning of the spread of tick-borne disease.

Indeed, in January this year, Farm Online reported that the potentially deadly tick-borne disease (AKA canine ehrlichiosis) is spreading quickly across northern parts of Australia. It claims, “it is only a matter of time before every dog in Australia is at risk.”

Furthermore, the article states that in just six months hundreds of dogs in Western Australia and the Northern Territory have already died from the disease.

The latest on tick-borne disease

More recently, cases of tick-borne disease have been identified in South Australia. Experts claim there is no stopping the spread, so what action should pet professionals and owners take?

Firstly, it’s important that everyone is aware that it is not just wild dogs or working dogs that are falling victim to this disease, any dog can become infected. Of course, dogs that receive regular tick control may stand a better chance. However, professor Peter Irwin, principal of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Perth’s Murdoch University says, “It is not breed-specific, the most vulnerable would be those dogs with no tick control, but even that is no guarantee.”

Currently, it is unknown how long tick-borne disease has been present in Australia. What’s is recognised is that it is a very serious and deadly disease and it is spreading.

Signs of the disease 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.

Key points about tick-borne disease

Keeping up-to-date with the latest information and news of canine ehrlichiosis is essential in keeping our pets safe. Here are a few important points to remember and pass on to clients.

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

Australia was previously believed to be free of Ehrlichia Canis. However, in 2020 the organism was detected in Australian dogs for the first time

It is transmitted through infected ticks, typically the brown dog tick.

It is not transmitted from dog to dog

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.

Currently, the following regions are most at risk: remote far northern areas of South Australia, Katherine region (NT), Kimberley (Broome and Derby), Halls Creek and Kununurra regions, as well as South Headland and Port Headland (WA).

Canis (ehrlichiosis) is a nationally notifiable disease in Australia. If you suspect a dog has tick-borne disease it must be reported. Call the Emergency Animal Disease hotline on 1800 675 888

Infected dogs DO NOT directly transmit tick-borne disease to humans. However, in rare cases, infected ticks may transmit the disease to humans.

Advice for clients

As pet professionals, you can help raise awareness of tick-borne disease and the actions owners can take to help prevent the spread. Where appropriate and possible, dog owners can be advised on the following:

Maintain a tick control program, which might incorporate an annual injection, tick collar, spot treatments or tablets.

Avoid taking dogs to tick-infested areas such as high grassy areas, woods and bushland.

Check dogs regularly for ticks. This can be done by running fingers through the dog’s coat, paying attention to the head and neck area, as well as the armpits, ears and belly.

Currently, conditions have been placed on dog movements, particularly out of northern WA. More information on moving dogs can be found here.

By keeping abreast of the latest developments and talking to vets and dog owners we can help heighten the awareness of tick-borne disease. Being aware of the disease and the symptoms may also help to reduce the spread into other parts of the country.

Information sources:

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Liz has a passion for all things cat and dog, and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure for the past 12 years, and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote a better life for all animals.

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