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All About Lyme Disease

April 09, 2020

“Important fact number one, there is no place in the country that a dog can’t contract Lyme disease.”

Five Important Facts About Lyme Disease

Lyme disease  has become a well-known disease in the United States. Let’s start with a quick overview of the facts about this disease. It’s transmitted by ticks, most commonly the deer tick. It can be contracted by both people and dogs from a tick but not between dogs and people directly.

Fact #1:  There is No Place in the Country that a Dog can’t Contract Lyme Disease.

An important aspect that is often misunderstood is the pervasiveness of ticks. There is a very high density of Lyme disease cases reported in the Northeast and Great Lakes area, but there are cases across the entire country. So important fact number one is that there is no place in the country that a dog can’t contract Lyme disease.

Fact #2: Dogs Suffer from Tick Bites Far More than Most People Think

Important fact number two is that dogs suffer from tick bites far more than most people think. Ticks are tiny and very easy to miss even when petting and grooming your dog regularly. One of the forms of proof has come from the 4DX heartworm test. In addition to heartworm it tests for disease carried only through ticks and huge numbers of dogs have been turning up positive.

This means that dogs in areas where owners don’t think there are ever ticks are positive for tick transmitted disease. Another reason ticks get missed is they feed and leave. Fleas live their entire adult life on the dog, so if they have fleas then they can be found. Ticks head back out to the environment after feeding and you will never know they had been there. Also ticks do not often cause any form of irritation so the dog will not be letting you know the ticks are present.

Fact #3: Dogs Do Not Get the Classic Red Circle

Another useful note is that dogs do not get the classic red circle otherwise known as the bullseye rash on the skin that is seen in humans when they contract Lyme disease.

Fact #4: Ticks Can Be Active Year Round

Keep in mind as well that ticks overwinter, meaning the cold won’t kill them. So if there is a warming spell mid-winter the ticks will immediately become active again, so be careful thinking there is a “tick season”. Year-round management is wise.

Fact #5: Ticks Are Most Likely to Be Found in Wooded Areas & Tall Grass

The areas that tick contact is most likely to be made are wooded areas and tall grass. Ticks feed by questing which means they hang out on a tall piece of grass and wait for the right signal then jump on the animal to feed. When they are done they simply fall off where they are and move on.

It is common for recommendations to be made to avoid tick areas, but if you are an outdoors person that shares that time with a canine companion then that is impossible.

How to Protect Your Dog From Tick Transmitted Diseases

What can be done to protect your dog from tick transmitted disease?

First use tick preventatives/repellants. If biting/feeding is reduced, then disease transmission is reduced. There are a wide range of products available including those that use synthetic pesticides and those based on natural ingredients.

Regardless of which treatment you choose, be sure to review the information available on safety and efficacy of the product. If you find the information hard to understand your veterinarian should be happy to review it and discuss it with you.

Diagnosis & The Initial Symptoms of Lyme Disease

The second major factor is early diagnosis and treatment. Having regular health examinations and prompt evaluation of illness will increase the chances the diagnosing and treatment will start before significant joint damage occurs. The initial signs usually recognized are limping, joint pain and swelling and fever.

Lyme Disease Treatment

Treatment generally consists of one or two stage antibiotic therapy and an anti- inflammatory for the pain. Treatment usually provides a very rapid response, generally within 24 hours, to decrease pain.

There is still some debate if the organism can be cleared 100% from the body. The two stage antibiotic regime is to try and eliminate the residual stages in the bacteria. Chronic Lyme can occur in dogs but fortunately for them each recurring episode tends to get milder and often goes unnoticed.

The most severe disease associated with Lyme is Nephritis (kidney inflammation). This disease has overlap with the immune system response as part of the disease process. This is believed to occur in less than 2% of patients infected with Lyme disease. It has not been possible to model the disease in research yet so it is very poorly understood.

Wrap Up

So here’s a wrap up of what to do for your dog. If you are an outside, gardening, nature loving, walking, hiking kind of person, avoidance of ticks is impossible. Use a reliable treatment that you trust and learn the true safety and efficacy of the product you employ. No tick feeding means no disease.

Get regular physical exams for your dog and treat illness promptly. This will minimize joint damage risk from active disease. It’s always a good idea to discuss your concerns and your dog’s lifestyle with your veterinarian for a comprehensive health care plan.

Dr. Jennifer Peters
Veterinarian, DABVP



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