Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a tick-borne disease. In this post, our Greensboro vets describe causes, symptoms and treatments for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in dogs. 


What is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

The acute, tick-borne disease Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is caused by an intracellular parasite known as rickettsia rickettsii. An American dog tick, wood tick or brown dog tick infected with the disease may transmit it to dogs.

Though an unfed tick must attach to your pup for more than 10 hours, if a tick has already fed the disease can be transmitted in as little as 10 minutes after attaching.

Cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever have been most commonly reported in western central states, southern New England coastal states, southern Atlantic states and areas of the mid-Atlantic.

Signs & Symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs

Signs will start to appear between 2 and 14 days after an infected flea has bit your dog, though these symptoms may vary.

Since many of these are also symptoms of other conditions, knowing if and when your dog may have been exposed to potentially infected ticks can help your veterinarian diagnose your dog’s condition.

Here are some common symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever:

  • Discharge from the eyes or nose
  • Reduced appetite
  • Poor appetite
  • Pain in abdomen or joints
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Nosebleed
  • Vomiting
  • Cough
  • Lameness
  • Swelling in the legs or face

Some dogs (up to ⅓) will experience symptoms related to central nervous system function, such as balance problems, spinal pain, weakness, seizures and lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements. Tiny hemorrhages in the skin may affect about 20 percent of these cases.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can impact any organ in the body. Your dog may display symptoms ranging from mild to severe, or even life-threatening.

How is Rocky Mountain Fever diagnosed?

Your veterinarian can diagnose Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever by noting any symptoms listed above. He or she may also perform a series of diagnostic tests, including basic blood tests, urinalysis and x-rays.

Low numbers of red blood cells (anemia) and platelets, or abnormal complete blood count (CBC) results, or white blood cell counts may point to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever as the cause.

Other diagnostic tests may detect abnormal liver or kidney values, low protein muscles, abnormal calcium levels or electrolyte abnormalities, which may raise the probability of being diagnosed with the condition.

What will treatment entail?

The most prescribed treatment for dogs diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is antibiotics. Most will respond to antibiotic treatment within 24 to 48 hours, but dogs with severe cases of the disease may not respond to treatment at all.

What is the prognosis for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

The prognosis is generally good and few complications tend to make recovery more difficult if the disease is diagnosed and treated early. A bonus is that a dog will have lifelong immunity after the infection has cleared, in many cases.

However, if your dog has a more advanced case of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, he or she will be at higher risk for complications such as kidney disease, neurological diseases, vasculitis and coagulopathies. In these cases, complications may be severe and prognosis is less clear - it will depend on the individual case.

How can I prevent my dog from getting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever?

Using parasite prevention medications year-round is another way to protect your dog against this and many other tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis and canine babesiosis. 

Limiting your dog’s exposure to areas where ticks gather (and to ticks themselves) will help reduce your dog’s risk of contracting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This is especially true from March through October - peak months for picks.

Closely inspect your dog upon returning home if he has been in areas known to have ticks. The sooner you can remove a tick after it’s attached to your dog, the better your chances that the external parasite will not have had the time or opportunity to transmit the infection to your pet.

When removing ticks, always wear gloves to avoid being infected through scratches or open cuts on your hand. Keep a tick removal tool close by, as these can make removing ticks safer and faster for you and your dog. The tools are inexpensive and can be found in pet stores and at vet’s offices.

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.

Concerned about your pet's recovery from recent surgery? Contact our Greensboro vets for advice or answers to your questions. Our veterinarians are here to help your pet feel better.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Dogs, Greensboro Vet

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