Bartonellosis in Dogs… Yes it infects them too

By Dr. Ed Mapes

We have discussed Bartonellosis – diseases caused by the organism known as Bartonella – as it affects cats, and mentioned that this organism is transmissible to humans. This article describes the infection in dogs.
Canines are also infected via the bite of fleas or ticks. Coyotes are considered to be one of the chief reservoirs of the ticks that transmit the Bartonella organisms. Infection rates among canines is not as high as the approximately 65% of cats in this state, but the organism does present a threat to dogs as well.
Dogs that spend more time outdoors, Herding and hunting breeds for example, seem to have an increased risk of developing Bartonellosis; probably due more to flea/tick exposure than breed predisposition. Dogs with weakened immune systems – from a number of causes -have an increased chance of infection.
Along with the general symptoms of a sick dog – anorexia, lethargy, weight loss, weakness, diarrhea, and depression – dogs show signs according to the system(s) affected by the organisms. This may include any combination of the following:

  • Eye redness and discharge
  • Inflamed eye membranes
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing/cough
  • Bloody nose
  • Rapid breathing
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Joint Pain
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Seizures
  • Collapse and sudden death

We diagnose Bartonella by blood testing after examination of the patient and gaining an understanding of the various problems presented. Patients that test positive for the organisms are treated with antibiotics for several weeks to overcome the infection. Therapy often includes other measures to address the illnesses caused; various medications for affected eyes or for joint pain are examples. The infections can be come persistent, though, and require prolonged therapy.
Dogs that test positive for Bartonella – and that have compatible symptoms of clinical illness for which other possible causes have been ruled out – may be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotic therapy must continue for quite a prolonged period of time, usually 4 to 6 weeks at a minimum. The attending veterinarian will select an antibiotic or combination of antibiotics with the ability to reach high concentrations inside cells. Even with appropriate antibiotic therapy, owners should recognize that their dogs may have recurring or persistent infections. In some cases, the signs of illness resolve spontaneously over the course of weeks to months, without any treatment.

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