If a dog is suspected of being infected with Rickettsia rickettsii, especially if ticks are found attached to its body, the veterinarian probably will prescribe oral antibiotics based on a presumptive diagnosis of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF). Most authorities feel that clinical suspicion of RMSF justifies treatment. Current antibiotics that are effective against the microorganisms that cause RMSF include tetracycline, oxytetracycline, doxycycline, chloramphenicol and enrofloxacin, among others. Each of these drugs has potential side effects, which should be discussed with the attending veterinarian before they are used. For example, tetracycline can cause permanent tooth discoloration in puppies less than 6 months of age, and can also lead to kidney damage. Enrofloxacin should be avoided in young puppies, because it can cause damage to developing cartilage. Discuss any treatment protocols with your dog’s veterinarian.
Authorities recommend starting antibiotic treatment for suspected cases of RMSF, even if the diagnosis is not 100% confirmed, because delaying treatment greatly increases the risk of death. Most dogs with RMSF respond quickly to antibiotic treatment – often in as little as one or two days. Steroids, such as prednisone or prednisolone, may be prescribed to reduce the inflammation that commonly accompanies RMSF. The initial treatment is usually done on an inpatient basis at the hospital, until the dog has stabilized. This is especially true if the animal is dehydrated. If the dog is severely anemic from blood loss, it may require a blood transfusion.
Supportive care and anti-tick preventative treatments can greatly improve the dog’s comfort and reduce its risk of becoming reinfected. Of course, any attached ticks must be removed, and the areas of tick bite wounds should be cleaned and disinfected. Supportive care for infected dogs may include aggressive administration of intravenous fluids to correct dehydration.
The prognosis for dogs with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is good, as long as the infection is caught and treated in a timely fashion. Most dogs respond to treatment within a matter of hours. Unfortunately, dogs whose disease has progressed to include central nervous system signs, such as seizures, disorientation, behavioral changes and/or gait abnormalities, have a guarded to grave prognosis and may die suddenly within hours of the onset of their neurological symptoms.