Lyme Disease

512px-Adult_deer_tick(cropped)As the weather gets nice and more of us are out with our pets, we realize that we are not alone. There are sometimes hundreds of ticks just waiting in the brush and grasses to join us. For many, there is great concern about diseases that can be transmitted by ticks. Lyme disease is one of those diseases. Although there is a lot of public awareness of Lyme disease, there are some misconceptions that occur.

There is also a lot more for us to learn about the spirochete organisms that can cause Lyme disease. The Lyme organism, borrelia burgdorferi is the spirochete that can cause Lyme Disease.

The first misconception about Lyme disease in the dog is that every dog that gets bit by an infected tick becomes ill from it. The fact is that the pet can have the borrelia organism in it’s body yet NEVER become ill from it. The overwhelming number of dogs that have been infected do NOT get Lyme disease.

These asymptomatic dogs (>85%) may remain asymptomatic for years. Some will become symptomatic but many do not. It is possible for the pet’s immune system to prevent those organisms from causing the inflammatory response that causes the disease.

When a dog becomes symptomatic from the borrelia organism, the most classical presentation is fever, depression and joint swelling. These symptoms tend to occur weeks, not days after a tick bite. On average, it can take 60 to 150 days between a tick bite and signs of lameness.

Deer_Tick_-_geograph.org.uk_-_105508There are a few different blood tests available to determine if the borrelia organism is present in the patient’s blood. The problem is that the tests cannot definitively determine that the dog is sick from those organisms and not something else such as trauma or immune mediated disease. If it is suspected that the dog is ill from Lyme disease, it is best to treat for it with the appropriate antibiotic and monitor the patient closely. Other tests such as radiographs, joint taps and other blood tests may be performed to acquire more information.

At this time, we do not recommend treatment with antibiotics for asymptomatic dogs for a number of reasons. Studies done show that even after multiple rounds of antibiotics, the borrelia organism can still be detected in the blood making it questionable to treat as one cannot get a “negative”test after treatment.

Doxycycline, the antibiotic of choice can cause vomiting and diarrhea; not something any one of us want our pet to have to deal with if not necessary. And lastly, there is a serious concern with over use of antibiotics. If thousands of dogs are treated with antibiotics when not indicated, drug resistance could then develop making it very difficult to treat those in need.

To decrease your dogs risk of Lyme disease, we need to decrease the chance of allowing a tick to have a blood meal on your dog. Some suggestions:

  • Stay away from heavy grass/brush areas. If in large wooded parks, try to stay on the dirt roads or paths.
  • Some may think it’s goofy, but have your dog wear a t-shirt to cover the large trunk that can be exposed. Make sure you wear long pants, socks and long sleeves too when hiking!
  • Check your dog after every “woods” exposure. The ticks tend to take 36-72 hours to have a blood meal and the borrelia organism tends to be transmitted after 36 hours.
  • Use chemical pesticides CAUTIOUSLY and always follow package instructions. SAVE all packaging and inserts in event of any reactions. Natural products can also be helpful such as Bug N’ Out Spray.

How to remove a tick from your petTo remove a tick, use tweezers or small forceps to pull the tick straight upward. Alcohol, matches and other methods should not be used. The tick does NOT have a separate “head” so that cannot be left in the dog. If anything, there may be a small hook like appendage but the dog will work that out as if it were a splinter. Some animals may have a red area at the site of the bite. This does not mean that they will develop Lyme disease. It just means that their skin is more sensitive.

There are vaccines available to try to decrease the risk of your pet getting Lyme disease. They are not fool proof and there is some controversy between the effectiveness of the vaccines. Any questions, please contact your veterinarian.