^^That^^ is what we’ve been dealing with around here for the past several weeks.
Oliver contracted a very unfortunate case of this tick-borne blood parasite while we were docked in Puerto Rico.
How it all went down.
We knew something was up when Oliver began experiencing the following symptoms — zero appetite, lethargy, and high fever. He literally did not want to move. Let alone go outside for a potty break. After a day or two of the first two symptoms, I realized Oliver was also beginning to feel unusually warm, so I immediately took his temperature and called our vet back in Naples after the thermometer reached an alarming 104.1 (normal temps for dogs are around 101). I was told to get Oliver to a local veterinary clinic asap.
So I did.
^^that sad poodle face just breaks my heart.^^
Unfortunately, this was at the same time Jereme was away in Las Vegas, so I just did what I had to do.
I grabbed Oliver off the v-berth bed where he hadn’t really moved for a few days and carried him to the car (we were so SO lucky to still have a rental car at the time), drove to a random vet’s office in downtown Cabo Rojo, and carried him into the clinic without an appointment hoping they would be willing to see him (it was almost closing time when we walked in).
It’s weird how as you travel from island to island you begin to make mental notes of various things you just may need down the road. Like a vet. Because here in Puerto Rico (like many of the islands we’ve visited thus far) it can be surprisingly difficult to locate critical info like this online. It’s oftentimes much easier to get a personal recommendation by speaking to the locals. In our case, it was late in the day, none of our usual local marina friends were around, and I knew I had seen a vet in passing a week or two prior.
The Cabo Rojo Veterinary Clinic was amazing. I cannot say enough about how wonderful they were to us.
Oliver was seen almost immediately (even with a waiting room full of patients). After an examination and conversation regarding Oliver’s symptoms, Dr. Pagan quickly surmised it was most likely Oliver was suffering from the dreaded Ehrlichia parasite (what we have now learned is such a common occurrence here in the tropics). After running a complete blood count (CBC) and antibody test right in the office, the doctor’s suspicions were confirmed.
Erchlichiosis indeed. (More on the disease below.)
The vet was very open and honest with me about the illness, treatment, costs, recovery, etc. And even worse, Oliver’s blood counts (platelets to be exact) were SO extremely low on his initial CBC that he was on the verge of something much more critical and it is a blessing we brought him in when we did.
After that first visit, the vet sent us home with three medications — Doxycycline, Prednisone, and Famotidine (all three in pill form) with firm instructions to do whatever I could to get Oliver to eat (the meds are strong and harsh on an empty tummy) and then take all three pills immediately that evening, and to call her first thing in the morning with an update on his condition.
On our way back to the marina after leaving the vet’s office that evening, Oliver and I stopped in at Walgreens for what I thought would be the best thing to get a dog who hadn’t eaten in days to eat. …Baby food!
Years ago, I remember my mom using baby food to get one of our sick cats back on the road to recovery after a horrible illness. It worked like a charm, so I figured I’d give it a try with Oliver.
I carried sad, depressed, sickly little Oliver through Walgreens like a baby (because hell, I wasn’t leaving him alone in the hot car now or ever) and we purchased a few jars of turkey and chicken baby food. Let me just tell ya, I got quite the questionable looks on that little shopping spree. ;))
As soon as we were back at the marina, I spoon-fed Oliver a jar of turkey baby food — his first meal in days. I was thrilled he was willing and honestly very interested in the pureed meat. Soon after, I began what would be a daily chore for the next 45 days (twice a day for the first few days) of popping pills down Oliver’s throat.
^^the last of our Doxycycline pill stash.^^
Within six hours of the first set of pills, I saw a vast improvement in Oliver!!! His fever dropped to a normal level and he finally wanted to go outside. The next two days were spent tending to Oliver. Mostly finding things we wanted to eat — plain cooked chicken and scrambled eggs were hits, along with more of the baby food we picked up at Walgreens. I loved on him like crazy and tried not to freak out by the idea of ticks on board…of which we would find plenty of those gross critters over the next several days and weeks. Brown dog ticks are dis.gus.ting. But more on that below.
We headed back to the vet two days after our first visit for another round of blood work where we saw a jump in Oliver’s platelet count (thank god!), but still some other low levels that we needed to watch, and a bit of weight loss too. We continued the rounds of pill popping and headed back to the vet (once again) three days later for our third round of blood work. The girls in the office were becoming good friends at this point. ;))
One of the hardest parts of Oliver’s treatment + recovery (at the beginning) was watching his reaction to Prednisone, a cortico steroid. Oliver drank water like it was going out of style, had the appetite of a competitive hot dog eating champion, had to “go” pretty much every hour on the hour, experienced extremely heavy labored breathing, and panted like crazy around the clock. The persistent heavy breathing and panting are what really caused us concern! We worried our heads off throughout this “roid rage,” if you will. Luckily, the vet eased my worries every time I phoned in with concern about these side effects.
At Oliver’s third vet visit, we saw most of his levels reach the preferred mid-range area (not too high or too low), he gained a whopping 1.6 pounds, his spirits were much higher, and the vet was content that Oliver was, in fact, on the road to recovery. She sent us home with a month’s worth of Doxycycline (the main antibiotic to treat Ehrlichia) and instructions to come back in a few weeks for more blood work.
After two more subsequent visits to the vet (that would be a total of 5 visits for those of you keeping score) and an extra prescription of liquid iron for a low-ish red blood cell count after his third trip to the doctor, we are just now finally feeling like Oliver is once again totally healthy. At his most recent appointment, his blood levels were all in check and completely normal. We will, however, continue to monitor Oliver’s every move for at least a few more months until we are downright convinced he has fully recovered.
^^finally feeling like his cute self again!^^
More on the disease.
While most people have heard of lyme disease caused from a deer tick bite, not as many know about Ehrlichiosis.
Ehrlichiosis is transmitted to dogs through the bite of an infected tick. The brown dog tick is the main carrier of the Ehrlichia organism in nature. Although people can get ehrlichiosis, dogs do not transmit the bacteria to humans; rather, ticks pass on the ehrlichia organism. Jereme nor I ever found a tick on ourselves. Thank.you.god.
We had never heard of Ehrlichiosis prior to Oliver’s diagnosis. And hell, I had only ever seen one tick prior to this in my entire lifetime.
The thing with Ehrlichiosis is even if your dog does not have any symptoms, he or she could easily be infected. The acute stage of the disease causes very mild symptoms that are often undetected and can last for one to three weeks. The subclinical stage, which does not cause any symptoms, can last up to five years. Symptoms often wax and wane in the final chronic stage. Ehrlichia is prevalent throughout the Caribbean (with cases occurring also in every state of U.S.). The importance of early testing cannot be stressed enough; dogs do not act like they are in the terminal stage of the disease until their final hour.
Treatment for Ehrlichiosis usually involves a three to four week cycle of antibiotics, typically doxycycline or tetracycline. In Oliver’s case, we opted for a more aggressive six-week treatment.
I wish we had known about this (very common) tick borne disease earlier in our travels. I’m sure we would have taken Oliver to the vet immediately when we found that first tick or the first day he stopped eating. Ehrlichiosis presents such subtle symptoms that can go unnoticed or can easily be attributed to another disease, stress, anxiety, minor illness, or even aging.
Ehrlichiosis is a serious condition that can prove to be fatal or have long-term effects on your dog’s health if left untreated. If you discover a tick on your pet’s body or if you suspect that he may be suffering from this disease for any other reason, take him to a vet immediately.
If you or anyone you know is traveling with dogs, please share this information with them. You can find out more about Ehrlichiosis by visiting the CDC here.
Dealing with the tick infestation.
Right before Oliver began to get sick, we spotted our first tick on him. Oh crap!!!!!! :((((((((
Although Oliver has been treated on the regular with a preventative (topical in the past few months) flea and tick medication, it somehow did not stop him from becoming host to several blood-sucking brown dog ticks. Prior to Frontline, Oliver had been on Comfortis, a prescription strength treatment. However, he refused to take those pills on his own and would routinely vomit them back up after we administered them the hard way. Which is why we switched to the topical variety.
We know now that there really isn’t anything on the market (if you read the fine print) that is 100% effective. Our Puerto Rican vet has informed us that the topical variety of Frontline no longer prevents ticks. It’s basically completely ineffective.
Jereme spotted that first tick while I was still away in Florida (back in August), so I ran to our vet in Naples to pick up a new prescription strength treatment. As soon as I returned, we started Oliver on NexGuard, the latest and greatest, prescription strength oral treatment to hit the market and one that comes in a meaty chewable form (like Heartguard). After a few weeks on NexGuard, it appears to be working. Halle-freaking-luyah.
And even though Oliver’s new treatment is actively killing old ticks and preventing new ones from taking up shop on his little body, we spent a few weeks right off the bat waging an insane war on those disgusting little critters that were hanging around Oliver AND the boat.
^^That^^ little specimen of varying sizes of brown dog ticks is what we found on the boat. I know, disgusting. I hate even showing this on the blog, but that’s life and I’m hopeful that sharing our story will maybe help someone in the future.
We laundered every single piece of fabric that resides on our boat. I literally must’ve done 400 loads of laundry even including things like Oliver’s stash of dog toys (which, btw, I really would’ve loved to see anyone at the marina open the washer/dryer to find a load of dog toys getting laundered. lol). We also cleaned and vacuumed every inch of the boat, every surface, every crevice, and tried our hardest to rid the boat and Oliver of this little tick problem we unfortunately found ourselves face to face with here in Puerto Rico.
But even after cleaning every nook and cranny on the boat (and holy hell are there a TON of them), we were still not totally convinced that we had won the war. I mean, there could be freaking tick eggs lying around the boat! So we called in for some stronger reinforcements. An exterminator spent about 3+ hours on board one afternoon scouring and spraying the boat with the “real chemicals” to rid us of any lingering critters.
Since doing all of ^^that^^ and waiting for everything to kick in, I am happy to report that we have not found any ticks in weeks. On the dog OR on the boat. Phew! Because those first few weeks were NOT fun.
In addition to ridding the boat of any lingering loser ticks, we are also no longer allowing Oliver past the gate to our specific row of concrete docks here at the marina (TMI – he is pooping and peeing on the concrete so he has less chance of picking up any fresh ticks from the dirt/grass/other dogs/whatever as it appears we are in full blown “tick season” around here). And we brush Oliver’s fur after each dock potty break to catch any potential stowaways that may have hopped on for a free ride. We have also given him multiple groomings since the Ehrlichiosis diagnosis to help us visually spot any stowaways and also to make it much harder for those ticks to grab on to Oliver’s fur.
So after all of ^^that^^ nonsense, I think it is safe to say we have officially WON THE WAR! :))))))))))))
For anyone wondering, all of ^^this^^ is the main reason we haven’t moved the boat any further along the Puerto Rico coastline than Puerto Real in the past few weeks. We wanted to stay close to the vet we have come to know and love until we were definitely out of the woods with Oliver’s condition.
Side note, throughout this whole ordeal, Jereme kept asking if I’d rather have a tick infestation or a cockroach one? Lol. Like one is better than the other somehow. Sheesh. And as much as I HATE cockroaches (like worse than anything on this planet), I would let them crawl all over me if it meant Oliver wouldn’t have gotten so ill.
Although this should go without saying, I feel the need to say it anyway…we are by no means board certified veterinarians or infectious disease experts, and are only sharing our experience to inform others. Please consult your veterinarian for advice/questions/recommendations.
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