As we approach the warmer months of the year, new threats for our pets begin to emerge. Some of these come in the forms of mosquitos carrying Heartworm disease, fleas that bite and irritate, and ticks the can transmit disease. Lyme disease is one of a few diseases that can be carried by ticks and is prevalent in our area. Lyme disease is actually caused by a form of bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacterium is transmitted to our dogs through the bite of a tick. Many common species of ticks can carry this bacterium, although the Deer tick is the most common.
Lyme disease can also affect people, but not directly through your pets. People acquire Lyme disease in the same fashion as dogs, through tick bites. In people, a characteristic “bull’s-eye” skin rash tends to develop at the bite location and occurs three to thirty days following the bite. If diagnosed at this stage, it is often easy to treat in humans. Our pets do not tend to develop the characteristic rash but have other symptoms instead.
Once the bacterium enters the body, the organism is carried to many parts of the body and often localizes in the joints. Since the bacterium travels to many parts of the body, symptoms of Lyme disease in our pets are often more vague. Many times, we must rule out other diseases with similar symptoms before reaching a diagnosis of Lyme disease.
Most often dogs with Lyme disease are taken to the vet experiencing generalized pain or have stopped eating. Affected dogs can develop a gait abnormality that is described as “walking on eggshells.” These pets often come in with high fevers, limping, and lameness that shifts from one leg to another. If left untreated, the symptoms of Lyme disease may disappear but can recur weeks to months later.
Diagnosis of Lyme disease can be made by a couple of diagnostic blood tests. Once diagnosed, Lyme disease is treated with a lengthy course of antibiotics. Since the bacterium locates in many sites in the body, antibiotics must be given for an extended period of time to penetrate all locations.
The key to prevention of Lyme disease is by keeping your pets from being exposed to ticks. Ticks are commonly found in tall grasses, wooded areas, and sandy areas. Ticks can hide in these habitats, waiting to detect an approaching animal that they can crawl on or drop on to. Keeping your dog on walking trails and out of dense brush can reduce their exposure. Applying a monthly flea/tick preventative can also keep the ticks from attaching and feeding on your pets.
There is also a safe and effective vaccine available to protect your dog from Lyme disease. The vaccine is initially given twice, 2-3 weeks apart. Your dog must be revaccinated annually to maintain immunity to Lyme disease. Stop in and talk with us about your pet’s lifestyle, and we can develop an individualized plan for your pet!