Our beloved golden retriever Millie suddenly and unexpectedly died due to the tick-borne infection ehrlichia. Known as the "AIDS of the Canine World," Ehrlichia attacks the dog's immune system for years before it presents itself in the chronic stage when the onset of symptoms is very sudden and severe. If diagnosed, the dog can be treated with antibiotics and fully recover. The country should be informed about this deadly disease so that pet owners can have their dogs tested and so that veterinarians will recognize the symptoms. Ehrlichiosis afflicts humans, horses, cats, and other animals as well.
Ehrlichiosis presents subtle symptoms that can go unnoticed or can easily be attributed to another disease or to aging. Millie's case history is included because other animals may present a similar course of symptoms. Intermittent excessive drinking and mild reactions to annual vaccinations (24 hour mild lethargy and possible fever) were the only symptoms that afflicted Millie prior to a few weeks ago. The cause of her excessive drinking was undiagnosed after systemic disease tests were negative, but we now know that this subtle sign was an early symptom of ehrlichiosis. Two weeks before Millie's death, she presented with a loss of appetite, a high fever (ranging from 104.5 to 106 degrees), photophobia, red and glassy, reflective eyes. She went through a battery of tests and x-rays that revealed that she had Lyme Disease (despite the Lyme vaccination), an enlarged spleen, slightly alkaline urine, a low urine specific gravity, and a low platelet count. Her mysterious symptoms were attributed to Lyme Disease, and though she was treated with amoxicillin, this medication does not affect the ehrlichiosis bacteria. Ehrlichia can only be treated by doxycycline or other tetracycline antibiotics, which are common medications that also treat Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses. The amoxicillin helped her immune system control the ehrlichiosis, lowering her temperature to the normal 101.5 +/- 1 degree, and her other symptoms disappeared as well. Several days later, however, the onset of her final, sudden symptoms of high fever and other internal havoc caused her sudden death within a few hours.
Ehrlichiosis may cause any (or none) of the following symptoms: weakness; lethargy; cough; fatigue; pneumonia; intermittent fever; arthritis; muscle wasting; slightly increased urine alkalinity; mild reactions to vaccinations; low red blood cell, low white blood cell, and/or low platelet count; discharge from nose or eyes; reflective, glassy eye appearance; retinal hemorrhages; red eyes; depression; loss of appetite; increased thirst and urination; head tremors; disorientation; seizures; neck or back pain; bleeding; anemia; bleeding into the skin; rash; nose bleeds; spontaneous bleeding; abdominal tenderness; swelling of the legs; swollen lymph nodes; enlarged liver; enlarged spleen.
Even if your dog does not have any of these symptoms, please have your dog tested for this deadly disease. The acute stage causes very mild symptoms that are often undetected and can last for one to three weeks. The subclinical stage, which does not cause any symptoms, can last up to five years. Symptoms often wax and wane in the final chronic stage. Please share this information with family and friends in all states, as ehrlichia is prevalent throughout the country. The importance of early testing cannot be stressed enough; dogs do not act like they are in the terminal stage of the disease until their final hour.
Millie will become immortalized in the memories and hearts of those whom she touched, and she will continue to bless those whom this new knowledge will save. We dedicate this article in loving memory to Millie Staple; if her story saves lives, her death will not have been in vain.