Lyme Disease and Ticks

Lyme Disease and Ticks

Posted on May 23, 2014 by admin

By Dr. Philippa Richards

This year, 2014, the American Veterinary Medical Association has declared April as “Prevention of Lyme Disease in Dogs Month”, and for many good reasons:

Lyme disease is on the rise and has been for the past several years.  It also remains the most commonly reported vector-borne illness for humans in the United States.  The US government began tracking Lyme disease infection in humans in 2002 and currently has data through 2011.  In 2011 it reported Vermont and New Hampshire as having some of the highest rates of Lyme disease infection in the nation!

Veterinarians have also noticed an increase in the number of dogs testing positive for Lyme disease in the past few years.  This upsurge in dogs testing positive for the disease was first noticed at Kedron Valley Veterinary Clinic in 2008 with about 40 positive cases.  In 2009 we saw this number more than double and it has been climbing steadily ever since. 

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted by the bite of an infected deer tick.  Ticks feed on a variety of hosts including birds, dogs, deer, mice, cats and humans.  Ticks usually attach themselves to blades of grass or low brush and then climb onto their host as it walks by.  Once on a new host the tick will find a location to attach and feed.  In most cases the tick must be attached for 24-48 hours to spread the Lyme bacteria into the blood of the host.  It is extremely important to check your pets and yourself daily, because if ticks are detected early you have a chance of removing them before they can transmit Lyme disease.  Unfortunately some stages of the deer tick are so small that detection and removal within this time period are highly unlikely.

The most common symptoms associated with Lyme disease in dogs include lameness, anorexia, lethargy, swelling in one or more joints and fever.  Less commonly, some dogs go on to develop severe kidney, heart or neurologic problems.  The treatment for dogs with active Lyme disease involves a combination of effective antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drug therapy.    While most dogs do not develop severe infections, especially if treated early in the course of the disease, once your dog has been infected with the bacteria causing Lyme disease, it is unlikely that treatment will completely eliminate all the bacteria from the animal’s system.

What should you do to protect your dog from Lyme disease?

A screening test for Lyme exposure is highly recommended once a year.  Remember, early detection and treatment of symptomatic animals is the key to a favorable outcome.  There is an effective vaccine available for dogs, and ideally puppies should receive this vaccine as early as nine weeks of age, before they are exposed.  Dogs should then be vaccinated yearly to prevent infection.  However, dogs that have previously been exposed to Lyme disease can still receive the vaccine to prevent new infections from occurring.

Place your dog on a year round tick preventative.  Ticks are hardy critters and can survive any time the temperature is above 35 F.  Although we have had cold temperatures and good snow cover this winter, in past years this has not always been the case.  Why take the chance?

Every dog that goes outdoors is at risk for Lyme disease.  We are diagnosing it even in small dogs that spend very little time outdoors.

Although the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, is not currently recognized as causing disease in cats, cat owners should still be concerned about their cats coming in contact with ticks.  Cats can carry infected ticks into our homes where they can easily gain access to our family members and our dogs.  Therefore, topical tick preventatives such as Frontline should also be used on cats in order to help decrease the overall tick population in your area.

Remember that the transmission of Lyme disease requires that a tick be attached to a host for approximately 48 hours. Be sure to check yourself and your pets daily for ticks! 

The effects of Lyme disease can be chronic and devastating for both humans and dogs.  Take action today to protect your dog’s future!

Dr Philippa Richards lives in South Pomfret with her husband and three children, two cats, two dogs and numerous sheep and chickens.  She graduated from the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island in 1994 and currently co- owns Kedron Valley Veterinary Clinic in Woodstock, Vermont.

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