Katherine dog owners are being warned about an outbreak of the deadly tick-borne disease Ehrlichia.
Northern Territory Veterinary Services and the Katherine Veterinary Clinic has now diagnosed more than 50 cases of the new disease, which was only discovered by the clinic in June.
Ehrlichiosis occurs worldwide but it is an unwelcome new arrival first confirmed in a small number of dogs in Katherine and also in a remote settlement west of Alice Springs.
It was first detected and confirmed in Western Australia's Kimberly region in May.
"This disease is different and far more deadly than anything we have seen before," Katherine vet Dr Alexander Burleigh said.
"I just had to put down another dog tonight due to a nose bleed that would not stop," he said.
"The dog was only three years old and had his entire immune system wiped out by this organism.
"The owners don't want others to go through the same thing."
Dr Burleigh said Katherine has not even hit the peak period of the ticks yet.
"I fear we are going to see lots of sick dogs throughout Katherine and soon throughout Australia," he said.
"We know that Ehrlichia now extends through most of the Territory and when we hit peak warmth, wet and ticks, we will see a surge of Ehrlichia cases in dogs."
He said the disease used to only exist overseas "and now we have it here".
"We don't know how it came in. In communities where we have seen it, the populations of dogs have dropped by up to 30 per cent."
He warned Katherine dog owners to get their dog tested if they are sick, off colour, has sore eyes, nose bleeds, joint pain, or is not quite right.
"Use good tick prevention. Using something that kills ticks when they bite might be too late. Use a repellent."
Once the disease is in the brown dog tick population it's very difficult to control, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions.
Ehrlichiosis is the result of the Ehrlichia canis bacteria being transmitted to dogs by the brown dog tick, which is widespread in northern Australia.
Ehrlichiosis in dogs requires immediate veterinary treatment for the best chance of recovery.
Symptoms of ehrlichiosis infection in dogs can include:
- enlarged lymph nodes
- loss of appetite
- discharge from the eyes and nose
- weight loss
- bleeding disorders.
The disease is only passed from infected dogs to humans in very rare cases.
The NT Health Department says infections in people are usually easy to treat.
"Prevention is the best protection for dogs as vaccinations are not presently available" said Dr Susanne Fitzpatrick, chief veterinary officer in the Biosecurity and Animal Welfare Division of the Department of Primary Industry and Resources.
"All dog owners are strongly encouraged to have their dogs on a tick control program, regularly check their dogs for ticks, and be on the lookout for signs of the disease," said Dr Fitzpatrick.
Signs of infection in dogs can include fever, lethargy, anorexia, weight loss, bleeding disorders, and, if not properly treated, death.
"The disease can resemble other conditions in dogs with similar signs, including tick-borne diseases such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis, which are already present in the Northern Territory, so it's vital to seek veterinary advice and treatment if you suspect your dog is showing signs of ehrlichiosis," Dr Fitzpatrick said.
All NT veterinarians are being provided with information to ensure any dogs showing clinical signs consistent with the disease are sampled and tested as a precautionary measure.
The NT Government has launched a community awareness campaign and is coordinating surveillance with veterinarians.
Peak tick season in the Top End is generally during the wet season.
For information on human health implications associated with ticks, as well as prevention, removal and first aid advice visit the Department of Health website.
Ehrlichiosis is a nationally notifiable disease. If you suspect your dog is showing signs of the disease, you must report it to your local veterinarian or the national Emergency Animal Disease Watch hotline on 1800 675 888.
For more information, visit nt.gov.au/ehrlichiosis
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