Q: My dog Candy died last year from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Is this that common in Oklahoma and how can I be sure neither one of my other dogs get it?
A: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a disease that can affect any of our pets as well as us. It is caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii and is transmitted by a variety of ticks. Three ticks can be found in Oklahoma that carry it. They include the Lone Star Tick, The Gulf Coast tick (more common in the southeast U.S.) and the American Dog Tick.
Oklahoma is a major center for both human and canine RMSF. Other states that commonly have it are Virginia and North Carolina.
A tick has to attach to the dog or person to feed on blood. It must be attached for somewhere between four or five hours to as long as 24 hours to transmit the disease and all breeds of dogs are susceptible. Because your dog was diagnosed with RMSF last year, you know it is present in your area. You should be ultra-cautious about checking for ticks on you and your family and should use a collar or other very good tick repellent/killer on your dogs. If a female tick is carrying the bacterium then all of the eggs and her offspring also will be carrying it and can infect the unknowing person/dog.
Ticks are more at home in overgrown grassy areas, brush piles, leaf piles, tall grass and weeds and also are spread by wildlife hosts such as rodents and deer.
There is no one clinical sign to watch for in an infected animal. The signs of RMSF infection are similar to many other diseases and consequently the infection can be missed or confused with something else.
The most common sign is a fever that develops a few days after the tick bite. Other signs can include lethargy, depression, vomiting and diarrhea, abdominal pain, occasional neurologic signs, sore muscles, coughing, weight loss, nasal discharge, red eyes and loss of appetite.
The disease itself is a fairly short-term disease and symptoms show up within days of the bite. There are several tests specific for RMSF and if there is a high risk for this infection a test would be warranted. Ticks are not as seasonal in Oklahoma anymore and can be found year round. They are more common from the end of March through September and into October, but can be seen even in December and January.
It is crucial to start the correct antibiotic as soon as possible. Many antibiotics are not effective against tick-borne diseases. Your veterinarian can run appropriate tests and prescribe the best antibiotic for your pets. Some dogs can get RMSF and get well on their own while others get it and die so it is better to get them on treatment as soon as possible. Most will survive and do fine on the proper treatment.
As always, prevention is the best scenario. Check daily for ticks, visit with your veterinarian about the best collar, a Preventic® Collar, which is a six-month or an eight-month collar also are available. Keep brush, leaves and wood piles away from their area of living to prevent an infestation.
DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, email them to email@example.com.