The deadly canine disease ehrlichiosis has reached Victoria with a positive case detected in Horsham in a dog that had come from the Northern Territory, where the disease is now rife.

Key points:

  • The fatal canine disease ehrlichiosis has reached Victoria
  • It was first detected in Australia a year ago
  • It’s now in most states and territories

It is understood to be the first time the disease has been detected in Victoria outside of quarantine facilities. 

Ehrlichiosis, a disease caused by tick-borne bacteria, had never been seen in Australia before May 2020, when it was detected in Western Australia’s Kimberley region.

In December, it was estimated that nearly 1000 dogs had died from the disease in the Northern Territory as it rapidly spread through remote Indigenous communities.

Since then, it has spread to most states and territories.

It can be fatal, and there’s no vaccine

Veterinarians are warning dog owners to be on the lookout for the disease, which has no vaccine.

Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Cooke said common signs of ehrlichiosis could include fever, lethargy, eye changes such as conjunctivitis, cloudy or red eyes; abnormal bleeding and swellings, small spots or bruising; and swellings on the body and limbs.

Dr Cooke said dogs could be saved using antibiotics if they were treated early. 

“Protect your dogs from ehrlichiosis by regularly checking them for ticks, using effective tick control and seeking veterinary advice promptly if they become unwell,” he said. 

“You should regularly check your dog for ticks by running your fingers through their coat, on the skin, paying attention to the head, neck, ears, chest, between their toes and around their mouth and gums.”

Dr Debbie Delahunty, a veterinarian in Horsham, said because the symptoms of ehrlichiosis were so varied, it could be difficult to detect.

“For vets in Victoria, where we aren’t used to seeing this disease, it can present looking similar to a number of other diseases, so owners letting us know they’ve been travelling would be an important piece of information,” she said.

“As opposed to a flea that is running around on a dog, a tick will attach in, so once it starts to feed, it’s fairly stationary, so it might look like a brown to greyish bump.

Ehrlichiosis is a notifiable disease, which means it must be reported to the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

For more information on ehrlichiosis, visit the Agriculture Victoria website or call 136 186.

Deadly tick-borne dog disease reaches Victoria from the northern states
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