Friday, September 07, 2012

Gracie's bout with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme!

One morning we all woke up and took our usual trip out to do our business.

Gracie went around the back of the cabin and did the good deed, but Mum noticed she looked really tired. As Gracie made her way back around the cabin to come back inside, she limped a little and then just collapsed in the yard. She was alert and breathing, but just couldn't walk.

Mum carried her inside and as she was carrying Gracie, she noticed she seemed very warm. Mum immediately took her temperature. It was a dangerous 106°. A dog's normal temperature should be anywhere from 98° to 102°. Mum knew right at that moment, Gracie was in danger, probably from a tick disease.

We immediately got in the car and made our way to take Gracie to the vet. Even though we didn't have an appointment, they took Gracie into the back room right away to draw some blood, take a chest x-ray and urinalysis to check her kidney function, and then began running tests.

It would be five days before we would get the final test results back. But the vet, just like Mum, knew that Gracie was battling a dangerous tick disease - most probably Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, as the symptoms came on so quickly and so severely.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is one of the most dangerous diseases from a tick bite from the American Dog and Lone Star tick; dangerous because it can be so immediately severe in acute cases. Quick and immediate veterinary attention is imperative.

Even without knowing exactly what Gracie had because of the delay in getting all the test results, she was immediately given Doxycycline (an antibiotic, preferably prescribed for dogs for any of the major tick diseases).

We finally got home at about 2 PM. Throughout that day, Gracie was in a lot of pain and we gave her pain meds in addition to the antibiotics. She began to improve hourly - from not walking at all, to starting to walk again. But when she walked she would wobble, veer to one side and seem disoriented. Those neurological (which are common with RMSF) symptoms began to subside as the days progressed.

It was five days later that we received the blood test results, and like many tests for tick diseases they were not completely conclusive. But they did believe she had both Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, from other indicators, like red and white blood cell counts.

So how does a dog get Lyme and RMSF? Many of you may know, but I'll share the info for those who don't. Dogs (and humans) get these tick diseases from bites of infected ticks.

For RMSF, the RMSF infected tick only has to be attached for a minimum of 2-5 hours to infect and
transmit R. rickettsii. And it's usually only about 2-14 days after the infected bite that symptoms may begin to show.

Lyme transmission occurs a bit differently. Lyme is transmitted from the infected deer and western black-legged tick and is only transmitted when a tick is attached to the dog for a minimum of 18 hours (according to our vet and many trusted sites on the Internet). The initial and ongoing symptoms are very different as well, as the dog usually presents intermittent lameness. The kicker is that once a dog gets Lyme, and their immune system is affected, they may very well have symptoms off and on throughout the rest of their lives.

Doxycycline is also utilized to treat dogs with Lyme, just like it is with RMSF. But because of the potential of recurrence of the Lyme, we will need to keep Doxy on hand throughout the rest of Gracie's life, in case symptoms begin to present themselves.

None of the tick preventatives for dogs on the market would have been effective in preventing Gracie from getting RMSF, because it's transmitted within just a few hours of biting and the tick preventatives don't kill the ticks that quickly.

We never found a tick on Gracie, and surmised that she may have been bitten and the tick quickly fell off. Gracie getting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was just bad luck, pure and simple.

It's been three weeks since Gracie came down with those severe symptoms, and she is doing very, very well. Almost back to her normal wacky, sweet, BC self. And definitely back on Squirrel Patrol!

We go back next week for more tests to determine if the medication has rid her system of the disease.

UPDATES: Since Gracie's bout with RMSF, we've learned several things we wanted to share:
  • Even though Mum knew about RMSF, she is very glad  that at the time she didn't know just how close Gracie was to death. RMSF is a very, very serious condition that demands quick veterinary action and assistance. Because Mum took her temperature, she knew Gracie was in trouble and rushed her to the vet. Investigating in that manner saved Gracie's life. 
  • It took Gracie about a week to get back to her normal self. After three days on the Doxy, and pain medications (as she was in a lot of pain), she began to plateau in her recovery and was still very lethargic and wobbly. But on the the fourth/fifth day is when she really hit her recovery stride, and never looked back. She ended up taking the Dozy for six weeks.
  • As we mentioned tick preventatives would not have helped Gracie and prevented her from getting the disease, because an RMSF infected tick transmits the disease so very quickly, within hours. We've learned that they only way to keep the ticks at bay is through repellents; and both our vet and others agree that sprays/powders that contain Neem are the best course of action for repelling ticks.
  • Follow up tests that we implemented many weeks after Gracie was off the Doxy were again very inconclusive as is very common with tick tests for dogs. Gracie tested both for Lyme and RMSF, however the numbers were lower than the previous test. 
  • Since Gracie's bout we've worked diligently to build her immune system through vitamins, omega 3's and herbs, and it's worked very well in keeping the Lyme disease symptoms at bay. She's not had any ill effects since the initial occurrence. And thankfully now she is immune to RMSF.
  • RMSF presents differently and in severity with different dogs. Purebred, GSD's and some Spaniels may show more severe cases. Learn more about the range of symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
  • According to the CDC, RMSF can be found in nearly every state.
Tick image provided by


  1. I have Lyme disease and about 6 weeks ago, I had a flare-up, Gracie. Not being able to walk is horrible, isn't it! Thank goodness your mom got you to the vet asap! Doxy is a wonderful drug. We're glad that it made you feel better. It made me feel better too.

    Love ya lots,

  2. gosh, Johann! how scary! all of us here are sure glad that Gracie is doing better. Ticks are the one bug that really gives my mom the willies! the pictures you had posted of a bunch of them made her skin crawl, bol! we'll keep Gracie in our prayers. take care,


  3. I has to take a round of Doxy efurry year becoz I always come up positive with Lyme from hiking so much. We has used Frontline, K9 Advantix and Spectra 3D and it do not make a difference. We nefur seened the tick wot furst gived me Lyme either. K9 Advantix seems to work the best so we stick with that fur wot it's worth. Icky tickies! So glad Gracie be better. I checked out your hiking bloggie and fur sure, I would love to share some of my hikes. We is going to the Catskills in October fur leaf peeping - that would be a great one!

  4. Oh, what a scary story! I live in an area that doesn't have ticks (southern Australia), but with the changing climate they are making their way south, further each year.
    I'm scared of them.
    Thanks for sharing your story, because information is power and now I have a bit of an idea of what to look for.

  5. I'm so glad that mum acted quickly with Gracie and that she's doing better. I'm curious why it seemed so certain from the beginning that it was a tick disease and not one of a zillion other things that it could be with a dog?

  6. Thanks all!!! was the symptoms, the quickness of their appearance, and the combination of them - fever and lameness. Mum knew in her gut it was ticks right away. And the vet sees a lot of RMSF, she knew quickly too from experience. Being around ticks a lot we've read a lot about them and the symptoms.

  7. Good call, then. We've got ticks all over the hills and look for them as a matter of course after we've been hiking--usually don't find any, sometimes one or two, and rarely a bunch at one time. Lyme is well-known, but I've known only one dog out of all those I've met who was diagnosed with Lyme. There are a few other, less common, tick-borne diseases, too. I thought we didn't have RMSF out here until just now, when I checked following your comment, and sure enough there have been a few isolated cases now in California as well. Drat! Thanks for posting about this.

  8. The interesting thing is that a dog my have Lyme, but not any symptoms. And the symptoms may only show up if they have some compromising of their immune system.

    Also, I've read and heard that if a dog gets RMSF, they are then immune to it after, which is good.

    But we think that it's possible that Gracie had Lyme, and then got RMSF, and even though she had never had Lyme symptoms it was all magnified with she got the RMSF.

    And since it's all auto-immune, it manifests differently for different dogs. Fascinating, but dangerous stuff. And sad that there really isn't anything you can do about it.

  9. That must have been scary! I'm so glad she is getting better .


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