Domestic dogs exposed to new disease outbreak

canine ehrlichiosis
Photo: Kamil Macniak – 123rf

Dog owners in the north west of Western Australia, and throughout Australia’s north, are being warned to keep a look out for a disease inflicting their four-legged friends. 

This disease—canine ehrlichiosis—is caused by a bacterium called Ehrlichia canis (E. canis) transmitted specifically via a bite of the brown dog tick, an arthropod parasite which is widespread in warm and humid areas of Australia.

Canine ehrlichiosis is a life-threatening disease for dogs,” said Professor Peter Irwin from the School of Veterinary Medicine at Murdoch University

“Until the first cases were discovered, the Australian continent was considered free of the disease.

“Every pet owner who has travelled into Australia with their dogs would know about the stringent testing procedures in place to ensure their canine companions do not bring canine ehrlichiosis, or other diseases, into the country.  

“It is one of only a few diseases dogs are screened for prior to their arrival from other countries,” Professor Erwin added.

Dr Charlotte Oskam, senior lecturer and team leader of the Vector and Water-Borne Pathogens Research group at Murdoch University said in addition to the border controls, Australia’s island status has provided a further, physical barrier to the establishment of canine ehrlichiosis.  

“As with other serious animal diseases such as African swine fever and screw worm fly, for which there is constant surveillance by biosecurity authorities, E. canis is highly prevalent in tropical regions, including our closest northern neighbours,” Dr Oskam said.

“However, research we have previously conducted has shown a southwards expansion of the brown dog tick’s geographical range.  

Worse, it is also adapted to indoor living and readily establishes within kennels or homes, and even in cooler climates. 

“The conditions are favourable in Australia for E. canis to spread to most parts of the country.”

Professor Irwin said the response by the state and commonwealth veterinary authorities to the outbreak of canine ehrlichiosis has been swift.  

“It is a notifiable disease in Australia so all new cases must be reported immediately—though it is not notifiable in other countries,” Professor Irwin said.

The disease, which is diagnosed using blood tests conducted by state and federal veterinary laboratories, is treated with antibiotics and other supportive measures, and most dogs will improve, however some may develop a chronic infection that usually has a terminal outcome.

This article was sourced from the News page on the Murdoch University website.


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