The Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

The Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, commonly abbreviated to RMSF, is a tick-borne disease found in dogs across America. It causes symptoms ranging from the mild to the possibly life-threatening. Here, our West Chester vets share some of the symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) In Dogs

RMSF (or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever), is a tick-borne disease which can be found in dogs of all breeds and ages across the United States. 

It is a condition in dogs which is caused by an intracellular parasite called rickettsia rickettsii, which is transmitted through infected tick bites. The American dogs tick, Rock Mountain wood tick and the brown dog tick are all known to be possible carriers of this parasite.

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

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever's symptoms commonly appear in dogs within 2 weeks of being bitten by an infected tick. Symptoms can be vague. Many RMSF symptoms in dogs are also shared with other common conditions or illnesses, so knowing if your pet has potentially been in contact with ticks in the last few weeks can be key for your vet to identify this condition. 

RMSF can affect nearly every organ of your dog's body and its symptoms can run the range from mild to life-threatening. Some of the most common signs of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs include:

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

Another symptom of Rock Mountain Spotted Fever can be small hemorrhages in your dog's skin. About one third of dogs will experience nervous system issues like seizure, spinal pain, weakness, balance issues and lack of coordination. 

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 may indicate  RMSF can include a low number of red blood cells (anemia), platelets, and an abnormal white blood cell count. Testing may also reveal low levels, abnormal liver or kidney activity and abnormal calcium or electrolyte levels. 

Treatment for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Most often, antibiotics are prescribed for treating Rock Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs, Most dogs respond well to this course of treatment, with noticeable improvements occurring within the next two days after beginning treatment. 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

The prognosis for dogs diagnosed and treated for RMSF is generally good. Few complications are associated with the disease and your pup may even have lifelong immunity. 

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

It is key to limit your dog's exposure to RMSF by avoiding ticks and tick-infested areas. This is especially the case during peak tick months: any time between March and 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.

When removing ticks from your dog, it is a good idea to wear gloves in order to prevent infection through cuts and scratches on your hands. 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.

Do you suspect that your dog is showing symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever? Our West Chester Veterinary Medical Center vets have extensive experience with diagnosing and treating a wide range of internal conditions in dogs, including RMSF. Contact us to book an appointment today

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