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Q Fever in Dogs (Coxiellosis)

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Q fever is caused by a rickettsial organism called Coxiella burnetii. This organism has been known to cause illness in dogs, cats and even people and is transmitted by several different species of ticks. Cats are more commonly infected.

Infection can occur by inhalation, ingestion of infected tissue or fluid or tick bites. After being infected, the organism affects the urinary tract, liver and nervous system. Despite affecting various body systems, Q fever does not often cause noticeable illness but has been implicated in abortion. Q fever is considered a zoonotic disease and can be transmitted from dogs to people, especially during delivery of puppies.

Infected animals that contract the illness usually show vague signs. Many pets may be asymptomatic. The most important aspect of Q fever is the potential to spread infection to people.

What to Watch For

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Abortion

    Diagnosis

    Q fever can be difficult to diagnose. The best method of diagnosis is by use of special tests that isolate the organism from blood by using chicken embryos or mouse cell culture. The organism may also be isolated from urine of infected animals. Routine blood tests do not indicate infection by coxiella.

    Treatment

    Infected animals can be treated but the coxiella organism will not be eliminated. The organism likes the urinary tract and will remain there for a long time without causing illness.

    Treatment has been attempted with antibiotics such as tetracycline, chloramphenicol and enrofloxacin, but complete elimination of the organism has not been reported.

    Home Care and Prevention

    There is no home care for Q fever. Due to the potential contagious nature of the organism from infected dogs to people, extreme care should be used when handling a dog while delivering or aborting puppies. Preventing illness lies in preventing tick bites.

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