Lyme disease can be a devastating illness in people, and our pets are at risk too. If your pets go outside, or you take your dogs hiking, the risk is even greater for both of you. Ticks bite humans, dogs, cats and horses alike!
Lyme Disease Summary
The spread of the disease is accomplished by tiny ticks, so you might not realize you or your pet received a bite! Sometimes, symptoms do not occur for weeks or even months. Dogs might experience fever, joint pain, lethargy, and/or loss of appetite. Treatment involves antibiotics, and pain-killers to ease discomfort when necessary. There is always the possibility of symptoms relapsing so it is recommended to pay close attention to dogs for the remainder of their lives. Lyme disease has been linked to complications that affect the heart, kidneys, and nervous system on a long-term basis; though full recovery is common, relapse is not uncommon.
The bacteria that causes Lyme disease is called Borrelia burgdorferi, and is found primarily in ticks commonly known as deer ticks or black-legged ticks. They live in both grassy and wooded areas, all over the United States. Not all ticks are infected, and studies vary in results as to just how many carry the bacteria. Most of the time, infected immature ticks are the ones who infect people and pets. These young ticks, called nymph ticks, are super tiny and hard to see. Their bite is painless and easy to miss, especially in our furry friends. Ticks can feed on one host for several days, and the longer an infected tick stays attached to a body, the more likely it is they will pass on the bacteria. Adult ticks can transfer the disease to animals, but because they are easier to see they are easier to remove right away. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that in most cases, ticks must be latched on to the host for over 36 hours to pass on the bacteria. Some studies have shown that nymph ticks can transmit the bacteria in less than 24 hours, so even if you pull the tick off the same day you will want to monitor yourself or your pet for symptoms. Improper tick removal can also cause regurgitation which can transfer the bacteria, so it is good practice to save the tick, dead or alive, in a plastic bag or jar for testing. There is even an organization that performs free tick testing to all US residents, called Bay Area Lyme Foundation!
Symptoms & Treatment
Dogs all over the country have been infected by the Lyme-causing bacteria, though dogs who venture outdoors frequently, especially in tall grass, are at higher risk. They may suffer from tiredness or stiffness, and a reluctance to exercise or eat. Swelling of joints might occur, and they may favor one leg one day, and a different leg the next; this type of limping is referred to as shifting-leg lameness. A fever is a common symptom, and any other changes in behavior should be discussed with your veterinarian as well. Your veterinarian will use the clinical signs as well as blood tests to diagnose your dog, and if positive for Lyme disease they will be prescribed antibiotic treatment. A typical treatment plan will last 30 days but if there has been damage to the kidneys it could be longer. There is not a guarantee of a full recovery, as Lyme disease will often stay with you, but you or your pet can successfully be in a state of remission. With relapse not being uncommon, it is important to be observant of your pet’s behavior in the years to come! Leaving infected dogs untreated can lead to lasting damage to their organs, and can even lead to an early death.
Using a form of tick control is a critical line of defense against tick bites. If you use something topical, be careful to reapply per product instructions if your pet goes swimming or receives a bath. They make effective chewable tablets for dogs now that make flea and tick prevention a breeze, and they’re tasty so your dog will probably enjoy them! When used correctly, these chewables are great choices for active dogs since it cannot be washed off during a nice swim on a hot day. Talk to you vet about which medication is best for your animals.
Avoiding areas where ticks are likely to be residing is also recommended, such as fields of tall grass or brush-filled wooded areas. Check your pets (and yourself) for ticks daily, and remove them as quickly as possible. Using tweezers, you can grip the tick as close to the skin as possible and firmly pull straight out. Twisting or other forms of removing the tick can cause the tick to vomit its gut contents into you or your pet, which could transfer the bacteria from an infected tick. Save the tick in a plastic bag or jar for testing in case symptoms arise, or send the tick in for testing right away to get the best results. Bay Area Lyme Foundation does free testing, so there is no reason not to send it in!