Deadly dog disease is spreading quickly

There is no stopping spread of deadly dog disease

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QUICK SPREADING: In little more than six months, the common brown dog tick has become infected with the deadly dog disease ehrlichiosis to kill many hundreds of dogs across northern Australia. Picture: Hillcrest Animal Hospital.

QUICK SPREADING: In little more than six months, the common brown dog tick has become infected with the deadly dog disease ehrlichiosis to kill many hundreds of dogs across northern Australia. Picture: Hillcrest Animal Hospital.

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Some have already likened the spread of canine ehrlichiosis as akin to Covid-19 for dogs, a deadly disease which experts say places every dog in Australia at risk.

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A deadly dog disease is spreading fast across northern Australia and experts say it is only a matter of time before every dog in Australia is at risk.

In just six months many hundreds of dogs have already died in Western Australia and the Northern Territory from the tick-borne disease canine ehrlichiosis.

Professor Peter Irwin, principal of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Perth's Murdoch University, said it is unlikely COVID-style border restrictions can work.

Western Australia has movement conditions on dogs moving out of the Kimberley region and conditions on dogs entering southern WA from the Northern Territory. Owners of infected dogs in the NT have been advised not to move them out of the area.

Working dogs, wild dogs, domestic dogs can all fall victim to this highly infectious disease.

"This is a disaster which is happening right now, it has got in and there's no way to get it out again," Prof. Irwin said.

"It is not breed specific, the most vulnerable would be those dogs with no tick control, but even that is no guarantee."

The bacteria ehrlichia canis was first detected at Halls Creek and Kununurra in the WA back in May and was then found in Katherine NT in June.

Along with rabies, the ehrilichia bacteria was the main target for Australia's long established quarantine restrictions on overseas dog arrivals which won international attention during the then Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Hollywood actor Johnny Depp's dog fight back in 2015.

Veterinarian Bonny Cumming who works in remote communities throughout northern Australia with Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities said it was not sure how long the disease had been in Australia, likely months before it was first detected.

"It is a really horrible disease which can strike down the healthiest and youngest dogs," Dr Cumming said.

"Even those treated for ticks can get it with just one bite ... some seem to recover and then crash."

Ehrlichiosis is now a nationally notifiable disease and Queensland biosecurity officials have again urged veterinarians, local government officials and dog owners to keep on the look out as the tick is already well established there.

Queensland's chief veterinary officer Dr Allison Crook again asked veterinarians to submit samples for testing from dogs showing signs consistent with ehrlichiosis to help Biosecurity Queensland's surveillance program.

"Although they can vary considerably among dogs, symptoms typically include fever, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes, loss of appetite, discharge from the eyes and nose, weight loss, and anaemia and bleeding disorders," Dr Crook said.

"To help prevent disease in dogs, dog owners should maintain an effective tick control program, avoid taking dogs into tick-infested areas where possible."

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