Many dog owners around Australia are concerned about reports of a new disease spread by ticks.
The disease, ehrlichiosis, is caused by a bacteria, Erhlichia canis, which can be transmitted to dogs, if they are bitten by an infected tick.
It has been reported occasionally in cats.
So far, there have been reports of ehrlichiosis, also known as canine monocytic ehrlichiosis (CME), in dogs in Western Australia (WA) and the Northern Territory (NT).
One dog was diagnosed with CME in New South Wales, but it is believed that dog acquired the disease before travelling to NSW from the NT.
Signs of CME include lethargy, reduced appetite, bleeding from the nose, haemorrhages or bruising appearing on the gums, enlarged lymph nodes, generalised pain or stiffness, difficulty in balancing, weight loss and seizures.
Some infected dogs do not show any signs, some develop severe illness, and some may go on to develop a chronic form of the disease, which is often terminal.
The disease is diagnosed on the basis of a veterinary examination and blood tests.
The earlier infected animals are treated, the better the outcome.
Treatment usually involves antibiotics and occasionally a short course of steroids.
Any dog with CME should also be treated with a registered tick preventative, as they may be carrying more ticks.
The tick implicated is the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus, to be precise), which is very common in the northern and north-western regions of Australia.
The tick that people on the East Coast of Australia are more familiar with is the paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus).
... prevention is better than cure
According to my colleague Professor Jan Slapeta, a veterinary parasitologist, the risk of a dog contracting CME on the East Coast of Australia is currently very low.
Jan spends a lot of his time researching pet parasites in Australia, particularly the diseases they cause and bugs they carry.
He recommends some form of tick prevention for all dogs to avoid tick-related diseases, because they can be life-threatening.
But he adds that pet owners should be talking to their local vets to find out which tick species occur in their area, and what the best preventatives are.
It is important to read the label carefully, as some products are active against different tick species for different periods of time.
As with many diseases that veterinarians treat, prevention is better than cure.
Tick products fall into two major categories: those that require a tick to feed on a dog prior to killing the tick, and those that repel ticks before they can bite. In high-risk areas in the NT and WA, owners are encouraged to use both products.
"If you are travelling to WA or the NT, make sure your dog is on the right prevention to repel brown dog ticks," Professor Slapeta said.
In areas where the brown dog tick does not occur, Jan recommends a single product such as a collar, tablet, spot-on or chew, that is registered to kill paralysis ticks.
"The risk of tick paralysis on the eastern coast of Australia is very high," he said.
If you are not sure which types of tick occur in your local area, contact your veterinarian.
If you find a tick attached to your dog, it can be removed using a "tick twister" (available over the counter from vets and pet stores).
Once removed, ticks can be placed in an airtight, sealed container so that your vet can identify them, or squashed to ensure they don't attach to another animal.
Remember if you squash a tick, it will be impossible for your vet to tell you which species of tick it was.
Dr Anne Quain BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL) is a lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practising veterinarian.