Anaplasmosis In Dogs – What Is It, Is It Dangerous, And How To Treat It?

Anaplasmosis In Dogs – What Is It, Is It Dangerous, And How To Treat It?

With the constant climate change and the absence of pronounced tick seasons worldwide, it is paramount to raise awareness of tick-borne diseases. One widespread tick-borne disease in dogs is anaplasmosis. In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about the anaplasmosis in dogs – from causes through clinical manifestation to treatment.

We will also provide tips on recognizing the condition during its early phases and seeking prompt veterinary attention. Finally, we will tell you how to protect your dog and prevent the infection in the first place.

What Is Anaplasmosis In Dogs?

Canine anaplasmosis is a tick-borne disease caused by them gram-negative bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Anaplasma platys. Both microorganisms are obligate intracellular bacteria from the Anaplasmataceae family.

A. phagocytophilum favors white blood cells (granulocytes) thus causing granulocytic anaplasmosis, while A. platys has a pronounced tropism for platelets thus causing cyclic thrombocytopenia. A. phagocytophilum is infectious for people too.

1. Anaplasmosis – Vectors, Transmission, And Reservoirs

A. phagocytophilum (the more common form) uses deer ticks (Ixodes ricinus, Isodes scapularis) as vectors while A. platys uses brown dog ticks (Rhipicephalus sanguineus). Ruminants (wild and domestic), rodents, and birds serve as natural reservoirs.

What is anaplasmosis in dogs

Basically, the infection is spread when the tick feeds on an infected animal and then transfer to a non-infected animal. Luckily, dog to dog transmission is not possible – the tick plays a vital role in the transmission process.

The transmission in the tick is trans-stadial meaning all life stages of the tick can be infected and they can all transmit the infection to other animals.

2. Canine Anaplasmosis – Risk Factors And Breed Predispositions

Considering ticks do not favor certain dog breeds virtually all dogs can become infected and develop anaplasmosis. Although there are no known risk factors and breed-predispositions, most reports involving canine anaplasmosis are in Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.

Canine anaplasmosis risk factors and breed predispositions

It remains a mystery whether these two breeds exhibit true breed susceptibility or they are more frequently exposed to ticks because of their outdoorsy lifestyle. Plus, Labrador and Golden Retrievers are among the most popular dog breeds in the world thus making it likely to be featured in many anaplasmosis reports.

3. Anaplasmosis Symptoms In Dogs

The clinical manifestations of Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Anaplasma platys differ significantly.

Basically, dogs infected with A. phagocytophilum will exhibit the following signs and symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Joint swelling and pain
  • Lameness
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Labored breathing
  • Ataxia (lack of coordination)
  • Seizures.
Anaplasmosis symptoms in dogs

On the other hand, dogs with A. platys infections will manifest:

  • Cyclic fever
  • Unexplained bruising
  • Nosebleeds

More often than not, dogs can be infected but lack clinical signs and symptoms. However, even asymptomatic dogs experience pathological changes on blood levels.

Namely, the complete blood count and biochemistry profiles reveal:

  • Leukopenia (decreased number of white blood cells)
  • Thrombocytopenia (decreased number of platelets)
  • Mild anemia
  • Moderately elevated liver enzymes

Diagnosing Anaplasmosis In Dogs

Diagnosing anaplasmosis can be challenging. Vets find it hard to distinguish between anaplasmosis and Lyme disease because both conditions manifest with similar clinical signs and symptoms.

To make things even more complicated, some dogs can have both diseases simultaneously because both illnesses are transmitted through the same tick species (the deer tick transmits both A. phagocytophilum and Lyme disease).

The vet will start the diagnostic procedure with a complete physical examination but rely on the apparent symptoms only as guidance, not a factor for definitive diagnosis. If the symptoms are indicative of tick-borne disease, the vet will order specific blood tests.

There are several reliable diagnostic blood tests.

1. Blood Smears

During the peak infection phases, the microorganism can be seen on a blood smear under a microscope. More accurately, there will be visible intracytoplasmic bacteria clusters (called morulae) inside granulocytes (A. phagocytophilum) or inside platelets (A. platys).

Diagnosing anaplasmosis in dogs

The blood smear is a quick and inexpensive diagnostic option. However, it lacks sensitivity, and its accuracy depends on the person examining the smear.

It can be used as an initial test, but it should be noted that a negative smear does not rule out the anaplasmosis diagnosis.

2. Serology Tests – ELISA And IFA

Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA) test are highly sensitive tests that prove the exposure to the microorganism but do indicate current active infections. They work by detecting antibodies, and usually, the antibodies start forming 3 to 4 weeks after the initial infection. Cross-reactivity between A. phagosytophilum and A. platys is possible.

3. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)

PCR allows early detection (between 4 and 10 days after the infection). The test is highly sensitive and allows differentiation between A. phagosytophilum and A. platys infections. Logically, this test comes with a higher price tag.

Dog anaplasmosis blood test

Anaplasmosis Treatment In Dogs

Anaplasmosis is efficiently treated with antibiotics. The antibiotic of choice is oral doxycycline. It is administered at a dose of 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight every 12 hours or 10 milligrams per kilogram every 24 hours.

Despite the risk of teeth discoloration and enamel hypoplasia in young dogs, doxycycline remains the number one choice for canine anaplasmosis treatment. Other possible antibiotics include tetracycline, minocycline, and chloramphenicol.

Usually, the dog shows significant improvement between 24 and 48 hours of the antibiotic treatment. However, even if the condition improves rapidly, the antibiotic treatment should last for about 30 days. Dogs that developed specific complications require symptomatic treatments. One of the most common accompanying issues is joint pain. Dogs with joint pain due to anaplasmosis infection require pain killers and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

It is vital to stick to the prescription drugs the vet gave you. Using human painkillers and NSAIDs in dogs can have lethal consequences because dogs metabolize these medications differently. Another common complication (usually associated with A. platys infections) is excessive bleeding. In such cases, platelet or plasma transfusion and one-time administration of vincristine are recommended.

1. The Cost Of The Treatment

If the condition is caught early, the diagnosis is much more expensive than the actual treatment. Namely, the blood tests necessary for confirming the diagnosis can cost between $150 and $500. On the other hand, doxycycline is a reasonably cheap antibiotic.

Anaplasmosis treatment in dogs

However, complicated anaplasmosis cases (which are relatively rare) increase the vet costs. For example, one anaplasmosis complication is meningitis. A dog with meningitis will require hospitalization and intensive care, resulting in bills of as much as several thousands of dollars.

2. Prognosis For Dogs With Anaplasmosis

For dogs with non-complicated anaplasmosis (early detection and prompt treatment) the prognosis is excellent. In case of complications, the prognosis depends on their type and severity. For example, the prognosis is guarded to poor for dogs with meningitis or kidney disease.

3. Preventing Anaplasmosis In Dogs

The good news is anaplamosis in dogs is 100% preventable disease. All you need to go is keep our dog on external parasites prevention medications preferably all year round.

Preventing anaplasmosis in dogs

It is also advisable to avoid walking your dog in places where ticks are likely to hide, such as thick bushes and tall grass.

Finally, you can check your dog for ticks after each walking session (since ticks need to stay attached for at least 24 hours to transit infectious agents, early removal is vital).


Canine anaplasmosis might not be the most common tick-borne disease in dogs, but it definitely deserves careful evaluation and attention. Sometimes it is self-limiting and asymptomatic, and other times, it requires prolonged treatment.

Anyway, it is better to stay on the safe side and ensure your dog is up to date on its anti-tick preventive products. Depending on where you live, it might be advisable to use such products all year round and thoroughly check your dog after each walk.

FAQs About The Anaplasmosis

Can A Tick Bite Cause Diarrhea?

Yes, a tick bite can cause diarrhea. Certain ticks can transmit various diseases, and some of those diseases can cause diarrhea in dogs. You should not take cases of severe diarrhea lightly as they can culminate in dehydration. As a general rule of thumb, if the diarrhea persists for more than two days, it is advisable to make a vet visit.

Can A Tick Kill My Dog?

Yes, ticks can kill dogs via the diseases they transmit (canine anaplasmosis, canine babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, canine ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease) or via their saliva. Ticks have a specific neurotoxin in their saliva which can cause paralysis.

Can a tick kill my dog

Can My Dog Infect Me With Anaplasmosis?

Theoretically, anaplasmosis is classifed as a zoonotic disease. Zoonotic means it has the potential to infect both animals and humans. However, in practice, there are no recorded cases of direct anaplasmosis transmission from animals to people.

This doesn’t mean you should be relieved. Namely, if your dog is positive to anaplasmosis, there are infected ticks in the near environment and those ticks can easily transmit the disease to you.

Does Anaplasmosis Go Away In Dogs?

Sometimes the anaplasmosis can go away (self-limiting form). However, other times, if left untreated, the condition may take a chronic turn or trigger rare but life-threatening complications.

Can My Dog Die From Anaplasmosis?

Yes, if left untreated, anaplasmosis can trigger severe complications with potentially fatal consequences. For example, anaplasmosis can cause meningitis followed by seizures or kidney disease followed by failure.