Tick-borne Diseases of Importance to the Greyhound

By Dr. Cynthia J. Holland

An educated Greyhound owner is the single most critical factor in insuring the long-term health of these beautiful canine athletes and friends.

Has your Greyhound ever experienced any of the following:

  • High fever
  • Depression or lethargy
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Loss of appetite or loss of body weight
  • Vomiting
  • Nose bleeds, skin hemorrhage or any other unusual bleeding
  • Swollen legs or lymph nodes
  • Nervous system disorders, such as stiff gait, head tile, seizures or twitching
  • Pale gums and/or inner eye membranes

If any of these symptoms or conditions apply to your dog, it is important that you know about recent findings of tick-borne diseases affecting Greyhounds all over the U.S. ProtaTek Reference Laboratory has performed serologic testing for tick-borne diseases on over 10,000 Greyhounds since March, 1995. Findings revealed that some 40% of these animals are silent, asymptomatic carriers of at least one or more tick-borne disease agents.

Your dog may have been infected with, or exposed to, a number of tick-borne disease agents which may be uncommon in your area. In many cases, Greyhounds may actually appear perfectly healthy, with virtually no symptoms of disease, but be in a carrier state.

Two similar and potentially serious tick-borne diseases are Canine Ehrlichiosis, also known as Tick Fever, and Canine Babesiosis. Both agents travel through the dog’s bloodstream and are typically transmitted by ticks; sometimes by the same tick bite. Greyhounds seem to be unique in their susceptibility to these diseases primarily because of travel to and residency in a variety of states and the potential widespread infestation of ticks at Greyhound breeding, training and racing kennels. Because Greyhounds are transported across state lines for racing purposes and to adoptive homes, and the fact that they are used as blood donors, there is a much greater possibility for widespread transmission of these diseases. Moreover, the Greyhound breed is known to be very sensitive and easily stressed, increasing their susceptibility to disease.

The symptoms listed above are typical of what dogs may experience in the acute phase of each of the diseases. With Ehrlichiosis, affected dogs may later enter a chronic carrier phase which may last several years. During this stage dogs appear clinically healthy, but red blood cell, white blood cell and platelet counts remain below normal levels.

These carrier animals may be a source of infection for other dogs. Of equal concern, these carrier dogs can develop a more severe phase of Ehrlichiosis if they suddenly become stressed or immunosuppressed due to other illnesses, harsh environments or the use of certain immunosuppressive drugs.

Once the dog goes beyond the carrier state and reaches the severe chronic phase, the disease becomes very difficult and costly to treat and life threatening.

Treatment for Canine Ehrlichiosis consists of tetracycline drugs or their derivatives. Usually dogs in the early acute phase require only two to three weeks of treatment, whereas chronically affected dogs require treatment for six weeks or longer. In some cases, supportive therapy in the form of IV fluids and blood transfusions are also required.

In addition to tick bites, Babesiosis can be transmitted through blood transfusions as well as transplacentally if the blood donors or dams are chronic carriers.

Serology provides a highly accurate and reliable method for the detection of all states of Canine Babesiosis. The IFA test is the most specific and sensitive method available.

Two drugs have been determined to be effective against B. canis infections: Diminazene aceturate (Berenil) and Imidocarb dipropionate (Imizol). Berenil is not available in the U.S. due to lack of FDA approval, but the FDA has approved Imizol for use against canine Babesiosis in the U.S.

Two additional tick-borne diseases which Greyhound owners should be aware of are Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) and Lyme disease. Symptoms of RMSF are similar to those listed above for Ehrlichiosis. Likewise, the disease is treated with tetracyclines.

Lyme disease also is characterized by many of the same symptoms listed above. Signs of chronic Lyme disease consist of recurrent, intermittent arthritis. Neurological symptoms and kidney disorders may also develop. Amoxicillin or doxycycline are the drugs of choice for treatment of this disease.

For more information about diagnosing these diseases and their treatment, consult your veterinarian. It is also imperative that Greyhounds be consistently treated with a flea and tick preventative.