April is Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs Month. As the weather gets warmer and our canine friends spend more time in beachy and wooded areas, we wanted to answer a few frequently asked questions about Lyme disease. For more information, please contact our office.
What is Lyme disease? Lyme disease is a bacterial disease spread by ticks. It is most prevalent in the Northeast, but it has been discovered in almost all parts of the United States. Lyme disease affects dogs and humans and is rare in other domestic animals.
How is it spread? A bite from a tick, most commonly the black-legged deer tick, transmits the bacteria to dogs. Wooded, dense areas are common locations for these ticks. When it’s attached to a host (you or your dog), ticks can spread Lyme disease through their saliva. It is not spread from person to person or from dog to human.
What are the symptoms? A rash may appear around the tick bite soon after infection; however, it may not be noticeable if your dog has a lot of fur. Other symptoms include fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, and limping. Some infected dogs don’t show any symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose. The disease can cause kidney inflammation, and it can damage the heart and nervous system in its later stages. Blood tests are most commonly used to diagnose the disease.
How is it treated? Antibiotics like doxycycline can help treat dogs. Additional medications can help with pain and inflammation. Treatment can take months or longer, and it’s most successful when it’s started within a few weeks of infection. It’s possible for the bacteria to remain in the body long-term, leading to periodic flare-ups.
How is it prevented? It’s best to avoid areas infested with ticks. Tick repellants are beneficial for people and pets, but be sure to read ALL labels carefully and follow safety precautions. We recommend using a monthly topical product year-round, and when your dog is going to a tick endemic area, try adding a collar also. The collar is put on your dog 24 hours before visiting a tick infested area such as the beach or woods. You can remove the collar from your dog 24 hours after returning to the city. The collar is reusable for 3 months, and can be stored in an airtight bag in the freezer in between uses. After leaving a tick endemic area, check your dog – and yourself – thoroughly. You can remove attached ticks with tweezers or inexpensive tick removal tools, or visit our office to have one of our medical professionals remove the tick. After the tick is removed, clean the area with antiseptic soap and wash your hands.
How likely is it that my dog will get Lyme disease if I find a tick on him? Studies suggest that while more than 75% of dogs in tick endemic areas will be exposed to infected ticks, only about 5% of of those exposed to infected ticks actually develop clinical signs that might be attributable to Lyme disease.
As always, feel free to call our office. We are able to answer any questions that you might have prior to going to a tick-infested area or after finding a tick on your dog.