Ehrlichiosis is a disease of dogs that occurs when a species of tick called the 'brown dog tick' (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) infected with the bacteria Ehrlichia canis, bites a dog.
Brown dog tick (female & male).
Infection with E. canis was confirmed for the first time in Australian dogs in May 2020, in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, and then again in June 2020 in the Northern Territory. Further surveillance work on mainland Australia is ongoing.
E. canis occurs around the world, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions, however these recent detections represent the first time ehrlichiosis infection has been detected in dogs in Australia that were not imported.
The disease cannot be passed directly from infected dogs to humans. In extremely rare cases, ticks infected with E.canis may infect people. However human ehrlichiosis is almost always caused by species other than E. canis and these species have not yet been found in Australia.
The Australian Government Department of Health has information on their website about ticks and human health precautions.
What does this mean for Tasmania?
The brown dog tick is a species not found in Tasmania and therefore it is highly unlikely that there will be any transmission of E. canis in the State, as it is primarily a tropical and sub-tropical disease.
However, Tasmanian dogs may become infected if they have travelled to the mainland and been bitten by an infected brown dog tick in 2019 or 2020. The disease appearance and incubation period can be quite variable.
Advice for dog owners
Ehrlichiosis is a serious disease of dogs, however it can be successfully treated if diagnosed early. Ehrlichiosis can also resemble other conditions of dogs with similar signs, including tick-borne diseases such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis, which are already present in Australia.
Confirmatory testing is required for a diagnosis and reliable tests for ehrlichiosis are available through your private veterinarian. Further confirmatory testing can be performed at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (Geelong) if samples are submitted through the DPIPWE Animal Health Laboratory (Mount Pleasant) by your veterinarian.
Contact your veterinarian if your dog is showing any signs of the disease; which include:
- enlarged lymph nodes
- loss of appetite
- discharge from the eyes and nose
- weight loss
- anaemia and bleeding disorders such as nosebleeds or bleeding under the skin that looks like small spots, patches or bruising.
In states where the brown dog tick occurs, dog owners can do a number of things to help prevent this disease in their dogs:
- Have your dog on a tick control program.
- Where possible, avoid taking dogs into tick-infested areas.
- Inspect your dog daily for ticks, especially if they have been in a tick-infested area.
- Run your fingers through your dog’s coat over their skin and feel for abnormal bumps. Pay particular attention to the head and neck, inside ears, on the chest, between the toes and around mouths and gums.
Animals imported to Australia must meet strict import conditions to prevent exotic pests and diseases arriving. Dogs must test negative to E. canis prior to being imported, and all dogs must undergo a mandatory 10 day quarantine period when they arrive. While in quarantine they are inspected for ticks and may undergo further testing if ticks or signs of ehrlichiosis are detected.
Tasmania does not currently have any specific entry conditions related to ehrlichiosis for dogs imported from mainland Australia. But other import conditions do apply and can be found on the Biosecurity Tasmania webpage:
Entry Requirements for Dogs into Tasmania
See it. Secure it. Report It.
Ehrlichiosis is a nationally notifiable disease. This means, if you suspect your dog is showing signs of this disease, you must report it by calling the national Emergency Animal Disease Watch hotline on 1800 675 888. This can also be done by your veterinarian who must report any confirmed test results.
Further information on ehrlichiosis and any updates on the infections detected in Western Australia and the Northern Territory can be found on the national pest and disease oubreaks website Ehrlichiosis in dogs.
Useful links about dogs
Related DPIPWE webpages about dogs include:
Entry Requirements for Dogs into Tasmania
General Authority for the Importation of Dogs
Hydatid Disease in Tasmania
Animal Welfare Standards & Guidelines for Dogs
Animal Welfare (Dogs) Regulations 2016
Amendments to the Dog Control Act 2000
Greyhound Racing (Office of Racing Integrity)
Wild Dogs (in Tasmania)