May is National Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and with ticks already out in full force we thought we’d sit down with ARLGP veterinarian, Dr. Beth Sperry, to chat about what you can do to protect your pets. Read all about Lyme below, and steps you can take to prevent infection from a tick bite.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. It is transmitted to dogs through the bite of a tick. The most common tick that carries Lyme disease is the deer tick, but other species of ticks can be involved. Lyme disease is a systemic infection that can cause multiple problems but often localizes in joints, causing fever and lameness. Dogs cannot directly infect people, but the same ticks that cause infections in dogs can cause Lyme disease in people.
What are the most important things to do to prevent tick-borne illnesses like Lyme?
Ticks are found in grassy, wooded, and sandy areas. If you or your dog walk in such places, check your dog and yourself daily for ticks. We see tick “blooms” in early spring and late fall, so be particularly careful during these seasons. There are also many veterinary-approved monthly tick preventatives that can prevent ticks from attaching to your dog and transmitting the Lyme bacterium. Some products even repel ticks from your dog. There is also a very effective annual vaccine for Lyme disease that your dog can receive from your veterinarian. A combination of vaccination, topical tick prevention, and daily checking is the most effective way to prevent Lyme disease.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
While people develop a characteristic “bull’s eye” rash at the site of infection, dogs do not get a rash, so often we do not know they are infected until they become ill or test positive by your veterinarian. Most commonly, dogs with Lyme disease develop fever, general malaise, and a shifting leg lameness a few weeks after becoming infected. Less commonly, dogs can develop cardiac and renal disease from Lyme disease. Dogs can be infected for over a year before any of these systemic signs appear.
Diagnosis and treatment for pets
Your veterinarian will suggest an annual blood test called a 4DX that tests for heartworm disease, Lyme disease, and a few other common tick-borne illnesses. If a dog is positive for Lyme disease, there are further tests available to stage the disease and degree of infection. If you suspect that your dog has Lyme disease, call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment.
A dog infected with Lyme can be treated with a lengthy course of antibiotics. The antibiotics used to treat Lyme disease control the infection and usually clear up signs of illness, but occasionally infections can recur or cause chronic issues. The most important thing you can do to protect your dog is prevention.
For more information:
Speak with your pet’s veterinarian for more information on Lyme disease, prevention methods and treatment. If you suspect your dog may have Lyme, make an appointment to get tested.
Read up! Learn about the different types of ticks in your area, and what your pet is at risk for. This handy guide to ticks is a good place to start!
And don’t forget- healthy pets are happy pets!