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My Dog Had a Positive Anaplasma Test: Now What?

This spring, dog owners may have noticed that we have started using a different heartworm test. The test is called a 4DX and it detects antibodies to heartworm plus the tick borne diseases Lyme, Erlichia, and Anaplasma.

It can be scary and confusing to get positive results, so I’d like to take a few posts to go over what positive results on theses tests mean and what we recommend doing about them. This post will focus on Anaplasma.

First: Don’t panic! A positive Anaplasma test does not necessarily mean your dog has an active infection right now requiring treatment. It means that at some point your dog has been exposed to the Anaplasma organism and produced antibodies. The test does not tell us if the exposure was recent or in the past or whether your dog needs treatment.

How do we tell the difference? We use a combination of symptoms and additional blood testing. Most dogs exposed to Anaplasma show very mild clinical signs or none at all, but symptoms may include lethargy, high fever, loss of appetite, lameness/stiffness, pale or bleeding gums, nosebleeds, and enlarged lymph nodes. Blood tests will show low numbers of platelets (cells that clot the blood) in a dog who needs treatment.

If most dogs don’t get sick from exposure to Anaplasma and a positive test doesn’t necessarily mean a dog needs treatment, why do we do it or care about a positive test? There are a few reasons:

  1. Anaplasma attacks and damages platelets. Even if a dog does not feel or act sick, they may have dangerously low numbers of platelets that can cause bleeding and inflammation in many organ systems including the brain, eyes, and body cavities.
  2. Evidence of exposure to Anaplasma tells us whether preventative measures such as tick control products have been effective.
  3. Your dog’s exposure to Anaplasma reminds you that you need to be careful, too! Since most of us are spending time in the same places our dogs are, they can be an important sentinel for our own risks of exposure to tick-borne diseases.

Soooo… after all of that, what do we actually DO if a dog tests positive?

For a dog with a positive test but no current symptoms of Anaplasma, we recommend a test called a complete blood count or CBC, which looks at the numbers of red and white blood cells and cells that clot the blood called platelets. If the CBC is normal, no further action is needed. If platelets are low, we treat your dog with an antibiotic called doxycycline for 30 days and then recheck the CBC. Once the CBC is normal, no further action is needed although reassess and ensure diligent tick control measures moving forward. There is currently no vaccine available for Anaplasma.

For a dog with symptoms of Anaplasma and a positive test, we treat with doxycycline for 30 days plus pain relievers as needed. Typically we see an improvement in symptoms within 1-3 days once starting treatment. We also recommend monitoring CBCs as noted above.

I hope this post has demystified a positive Anaplasma test and explained why we have added them to your dog’s yearly heartworm test. We want you to enjoy the great outdoors with your dog but keep them safe and healthy, too! As always, if you have additional questions please feel free to speak to one of our doctors!

Karen Christopherson DVM CVA