New warnings about ticks transmitting deadly disease to dogs in Australia

Photo: Christian Lambert on Unsplash

Ehrlichiosis is a deadly disease in dogs caused by the bite of a brown tick infected with an exotic pathogen Ehrlichia canis (E.canis)—and animal health authorities are on alert for it spreading to other parts of the country. 

In May 2020, E.canis was detected in a small number of dogs in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. This is the first detection of E.canis in dogs in Australia that had not been imported from overseas and is a notifiable disease, according to the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Animal health authorities are concerned that the tick-borne disease will soon hit other parts of the country. 

“We have reports of confirmed cases of infected dogs in various parts of Australia, including Broome in Western Australia and the APY Lands in South Australia,” Companion Animal Network Australia national executive Trish Ennis said.

Although infected dogs do not directly transmit the disease to other dogs, the transmission occurs through infected ticks, particularly the brown dog tick which is widespread in mainland Australia. 

“Investigations into the origin of the infection in both northern WA and the Northern Territory are ongoing with no obvious leads at this time, which means it’s possible the disease has been present in some regions for some time,” Ennis said.

In early 2021, ticks infected with the bacteria that causes ehrlichiosis were also found in South Australia’s far north. 

“Ehrlichiosis is a very serious disease with a high mortality rate in chronically infected dogs. Infected animals require veterinary treatment and supportive care,” veterinarian Dr Julie Bellamy, CEO Animal Welfare League SA, said.

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