Last updated on July 20, 2015
Medical screening tests are an important part of keeping your dog healthy. No doubt, your dog’s veterinarian suggests routine blood work to assess anything that might be happening or brewing in your dog’s hematologic chemistry. Is your vet, however, screening with the 4DX test made available by IDEXX? This is the big blood blood test dogs should have, so ask your pet’s veterinarian about it.
I consider myself to have a better than average knowledge of pet parenting, so when my vet told me that my dog tested positive for anaplasmosis on the 4DX plus screen blood panel, my heart sunk. I know a positive test in blood work cannot be good. Is your vet screening your dog for heartworm, Lyme, Ehrlichia canis and anaplasmosis? He should be, and here’s why PLUS what these nasty diseases are.
The “4” in the test name refers to the four diseases this particular blood panel tests for; as stated: heartworm, Lyme, Ehrlichia canis and anaplasmosis.
Heartworm is nasty, can be lethal if left untreated, and is spread by mosquitoes.
The other three, Lyme, Ehrlichia canis and anaplasmosis, are spread via ticks.
Pet Parents Beware
Prior to any sort of blood testing, keep in mind that there can be false positives, just like in people. There is a factor called PPV, or Positive Predictive Value. PPV simply means measurement depends on how common a disease is in the real world. Sadly, many veterinarian will treat a disease based on what might be happening and not always what is brewing in a dog. They may also order additional tests because the 4DX comes back positive.
What is Lyme, Ehrlichia canis and anaplasmosis?
Lyme disease: Probably the most commonly known and talked about disease from a tick bite. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted by a deer tick. Sadly, Lyme disease symptoms don’t always appear rapidly and they may not manifest for several months. In other circumstances, the symptoms are so sudden, it is alarming.
Christina Lee, founder of Deaf Dogs Rock, knows all too well about the ramifications of a tick bite. Her dog, Nitro, woke up recently one morning without the usage of his hind end/rear legs. This healthy deaf dog was fine one day and unable to walk the next. She did notice this image on her sweet boy:
See the red “bulls eye-like” circle around the black dot? That is a tick bite.
After seeing the vet, a few days later, Lee wrote, “Nitro has improved ever so slightly. He still cannot walk but when we put his left leg under him he can bear weight for about 20 seconds. Chris got him up from 3:30 – 4:30 to finally get him to do his business. The biggest challenge is getting him to go potty because he holds it for 12 hours. Chris said this morning “how in the hell do new parents do what they do with a new baby?” I told him they are exhausted for the first six months and hopefully their marriage makes it! We are blessed because we get along so well and are a very strong team when $Hit hits the fan. The only thing keeping us from freaking out is all the encouraging words and testimonials of others who have experienced the exact same thing with their dogs so THANK YOU!”
Nitro continues to make progress, slowly but steadily, and with treatment. He was diagnosed with tick-borne paralysis. Yes, a tick bite can do that.
Ehrlichia (E. canis): Again, a tick bite is responsible for this disease, but this time it is the brown dog tick. Signs may not be easily noticeable, much like Lyme disease. Ehrlichia is not easily detectable, which makes this disease even harder to find. Early on, blood tests may show slight anemia. ELISA testing or IFA testing are often done, but a positive test demonstrates that the dog has been exposed to Ehrlichia, but not that he necessarily is currently infected. Frustrating, right? Antibiotics for three to four weeks are generally used. Severe cases of ehrlichiosis that go undiagnosed and untreated can end in death.
Anaplasmosis: “Dexter’s blood tests came back positive for anaplasmosis,” my dog’s veterinarian wrote me. This simply means he was exposed. It is sometimes called dog fever, or dog tick fever, and deer tick (or the black-legged tick)—the same tick that transmits Lyme disease. Crap!
Infection from anaplasmosis can cause infection, joint pain, fever, lethargy, and lack of appetite. Dexter had none of these symptoms. The treatment for canine anaplasmosis is the same as that for other closely related tickborne infections and usually the antibiotic, doxycycline. Many infected dogs are treated for 30 days. In the majority of cases, symptoms improve rapidly.
What About Dogs Who Show No Symptoms?
Though a positive result in a clinically healthy dog should not be dismissed or ignored, treating clinically healthy, seropositive animals is of questionable benefit and not generally recommended at this time.
Our vet felt that though our dog tested anaplasma positive, his platelet count was normal and he felt Dexter’s immune system already took care of the exposure. He may or may not test positive as time goes on. It is worth mentioning that this test was positive several years ago, and Dexter tested negative every year thereafter and symptoms never manifested.
Our veterinarian felt that the test showed my dog was indeed exposed to a tick ad that the tick(s) he was exposed to carried anaplasma. As with Lyme disease, current infection does not convey immunity to future infection.
- Mosquitoes transmit heartworm in all 50 states.
- Ticks carry anaplasmosis, a serious threat to a dog’s health and endemic in the Northeast and northern Plains states. Our very own dog has been affected by this problem.
- Fleas can produce iron-deficiency anemia due to their blood consumption and even death.
- “Just one flea bite can result in an allergic response in some pets, and even a handful of bites may lead to major issues,” pet journalist Steve Dale says. “Those bites also itch and become an annoyance for the pet. Their scratching impacts their quality of life.”
How to Reduce a Pet’s Exposure to Parasites
- No matter what method(s) you use to repel fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes, always do so under the supervision of your dog’s veterinarian to ensure there is no chance for side effects or toxicity. There are things, however, we all need to be doing to reduce the likelihood of parasites biting their dogs:
- Since smaller animals like mice, chipmunks, and rabbits need moisture, a place to hide, and a spot out of direct sunlight, the cleaner you keep the area around your house, the less likely your dog will be bitten by a tick.
- Use plantings that do not attract deer in tick-prone area.
- Keep standing water off your property since this is a prime place for mosquitoes to breed. Even simple things like old barrels or tires can be breeding grounds.
- Cover outdoor sandboxes and screen outdoor kennels.
- Since ticks like to climb up on vegetation that is 10 to 12 inches off the ground, keeping the grass cut low where the dog runs, is helpful.
There is no vaccine for ehrlichia nor anaplasmosis, so prevention is key. There is a vaccine for Lyme disease, but its efficacy and side effects should be discussed with your pet’s veterinarian.
Heartworms are parasites that live in the heart and as stated, are spread by mosquitoes. Heartworms cause lung and heart damage and can lead to heart failure. Prevention is key.
Here’s what we use to prevent fleas and ticks in a more safe, natural way.
Talk to your dog’s veterinarian and discuss having blood panels done that do indeed screen for heartworm, Lyme, Ehrlichia canis and anaplasmosis. Your dog’s life depends on it.
QUESTION: What are you using to prevent fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes?