First dingoes believed to be hit with killer dog disease

FAST SPREADER: A deadly disease which was first detected among domestic dogs in Australia last year is now believed to have spread to pet dingoes.
FAST SPREADER: A deadly disease which was first detected among domestic dogs in Australia last year is now believed to have spread to pet dingoes.

The first dingoes are believed to have been infected with the killer disease which has already struck down hundreds of pet dogs across northern Australia.

Government animal disease experts are working to confirm anecdotal reports of pet dingoes being infected, the same as domestic dogs.

There are many people who are interested to learn whether the unwanted arrival of ehrlichiosis to Australia might also devastate wild dog populations.

But experts already believe this is unlikely.

Ehrlichiosis was first found in Australia only last year and has already killed hundreds of dogs across the top of Western Australia and more recently, the Northern Territory.

Infected ticks have since been found in South Australia, and infected dogs transported from the Territory found in NSW and Queensland.

Ehrlichiosis causes fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, abnormal bleeding, pain and weight loss and, if not quickly treated, death.

Dog owners across Australia have been alerted to the expected spread of the disease across the continent.

Dingoes are the same species, or very closely related to domestic dogs, and experts say it is highly likely dingoes will be affected by ehrlichiosis (Ehrlichia canis) in a similar way domestic dogs are affected.

Anecdotal reports have been received by the Federal government of dingoes, kept as pets in the NT, suffering "significant disease" as a result of ehrlichiosis infection.

These reports are currently being verified.

A federal Agriculture Department spokeswoman said work is also underway "to comprehensively assess the risk of ehrlichiosis to dingo populations, including a disease risk assessment led by Wildlife Health Australia".

Australia's Chief Veterinary Officer and Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer late last year alerted conservation managers across Australia to the presence of ehrlichiosisand the possible risks to wild dogs and dingoes.

The letter included a request for reports of any suspect cases or changes to populations in dingoes and wild dogs.

Departmental experts said the "possible difference" between the impact on domestic and wild dogs was the way the disease is transmitted, through the common brown tick.

It is not passed from dog to dog.

This tick has adapted to living and reproducing in and around homes.

Dingoes in the wild are in small groups and on the move which reduces the chances of the brown dog tick finding and feeding on the them.

Wild dogs are calculated to cost $89.3 million per year in lost agricultural activity.

They are also know to be a threat to many endangered or vulnerable native animals, reptiles and birds.