Anthrax

Introduction | Causes & Prevention | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Test | Treatment Options

Anthrax

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Introduction

Anthrax is one of the oldest diseases known to humankind. It is caused by a bacterium, Bacillus anthracis. The disease in livestock is usually fatal in cattle, sheep, goats and horses. While swine and dogs are more resistant to the acute disease causing death, they are known to develop extensive swelling in the neck area. Disease outbreaks have occurred in specific wildlife groups such as bison in Wood Buffalo National Park.

Causes & Prevention

How is Anthrax Spread?
Anthrax bacteria grow in anaerobic conditions (lack of oxygen) and have the ability to form spores when exposed to air and warm temperatures. The opening of a carcass or discharges from infected animals can induce spore formation. The spores are very resistant to destruction and may survive for extremely long periods of time. Depending on local conditions, anthrax spores can survive for years in soil and water. They can also be transported by the wool, hides, or other products from infected animals. Once anthrax has occurred in an area, the possibility that it will recur under the right environmental conditions remains. While it is possible to transmit anthrax from animal to animal, most cases of anthrax are related to exposure to spores from previous outbreaks reverting to the bacterial phase through environmental changes, such as erosion or flooding.

Preventing Anthrax
Under federal legislation, all suspected cases of anthrax must be reported. If you suspect an animal has died of anthrax, immediately contact a government health official. Do not handle or move the carcass. The most important step in controlling anthrax is the proper disposal of infected carcasses in accordance with official disease control measures.

Symptoms & Signs

Introduction
Anthrax is a disease that is caused by exposure to the Bacillus anthracis bacterial spore. This type of spore lives naturally in the soil where it comes into contact with wild and domestic grazing animals. If a dog happens to eat the meat of an animal that has anthrax, it is possible for the dog to become infected with the disease. Anthrax can be fatal, but if it is treated in time a successful recovery is possible.

Anthrax Symptoms
Anthrax symptoms are generally focused on the mouth, throat, and stomach; this type of anthrax is known as gastrointestinal anthrax. Symptoms normally begin to appear within 3-7 days after the dog has ingested the contaminated meat. The symptoms can appear gradually and then slowly progressively worsen, or the symptoms can appear suddenly with life threatening effects. The most common symptoms of anthrax include: swelling of the throat, tongue, and tonsils, lesions or ulcers on the tonsils, swollen lymph nodes, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. In severe cases the swelling of the throat and tongue can occur so suddenly that the airways are closed off and suffocation occurs. In other cases a condition called acute septicemia develops; this type of condition occurs when the infection causes a response through the whole body, and in many cases it is fatal.

Anthrax is not a commonly occurring disease in dogs. It is believed that dogs have a natural immunity to the disease, and only in rare cases does exposure to the bacterial spore lead to anthrax. When these cases do occur, they are most often seen in states that are in the West and Midwest areas.

If your dog has eaten meat from a wild or domestic animal, and the dog begins showing gastrointestinal upset symptoms, take your dog to a veterinarian immediately. While anthrax cases in dogs are rare, they do occur, and early medication intervention will increase the chances of recovery.

Treatment Options

Overview
The anthrax disease occurs as a result of exposure to the spore-forming bacterium named Bacillus anthracis. The spore naturally occurs in soil, and the anthrax disease is most commonly seen in animals such as cows, sheep, and goats. Dogs are believed to be highly resistant to anthrax infection, but there have been cases where dogs were infected with anthrax. These cases occurred when the dog ate contaminated meat from an animal that had an anthrax infection.

There are three forms of anthrax disease which can occur: cutaneous, inhalational, or gastrointestinal. Cutaneous and inhalational anthrax infection develops as a result of anthrax coming into contact with the skin or direct inhalation of the spores; gastrointestinal anthrax occurs from ingesting the spores. To date, there are no recorded cases of cutaneous or inhalational anthrax in dogs; only the gastrointestinal form has been recorded.

Treating Anthrax
While anthrax is a serious and sometimes fatal disease, it can be cured if treatment is begun in time. The primary treatment of anthrax in dogs is a course of penicillin antibiotics, such as amoxicillin, or the tetracycline antibiotic doxycycline. Supportive care may also be given in instances where the dog is suffering from severe diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. In these cases the dog is given anti-diarrheal and vomiting medications, a protectant for the lining of the stomach and esophagus, and electrolytic fluids to combat dehydration and shock.

Anthrax is not a contagious disease, and pet owners can treat their dogs at home if the symptoms have not affected the dog severely.

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