Lyme disease is on the rise in the eastern United States. This is not only a concern for pets, but for humans too. Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia that is transmitted via the bite of the Deer tick. This disease can cause long term illness in pets and human. Symptoms vary widely from a target shaped rash (Predominantly in humans) to joint pain, to kidney disease. Lyme disease requires long term treatment in pets and is never truly cured in humans. The easiest thing to do is simply prevent it.
I know what you’re thinking: “Ticks are so small, how I am supposed to prevent them from biting my pet or myself?” Try the following techniques – doing them all provides the best protection!
1) The first step is to use a bug repellent that is safe for both pets and humans.
Check yourself and your pets for ticks. Pets should be checked daily for ticks because it can take less than 24 hours for a tick to transmit disease after attaching. Checking you pet daily is not foolproof. Because pets have dense fur, it is easy to miss a tick or two. One missed tick could be all it takes!
2) Use a monthly flea and tick preventative. This is for pets only! Your veterinarian carries preventatives that are reliable, efficacious and safe. We even have a product that will last for 3 whole months! It is called Bravecto. Some over the counter preventatives may not perform as well. Of note, always make sure that your pet is getting a species specific product (i.e. your cat gets cat specific medication) – dosing is different for cats and dogs and switching products can be dangerous to their health.
3)Vaccinate your dog for lyme disease. Though humans do not have a vaccination against Lyme Disease, we do have it available for dogs. The vaccine is first administered by your veterinarian and then boostered by a technician 3-4 weeks after that. We will follow up by re-vaccinating against Lyme disease annually thereafter. The vaccine is very effective and safe. I have not seen reaction to this vaccine to date! (Knock on wood!)
Lyme Disease in Dogs
Lyme disease is very prevalent in dogs. Even indoor dogs can develop Lyme disease should a tick come into your home. Just as easily as spiders come into your house, fleas and ticks can too. Lyme vaccines are available, as are, good prevention products. Checking your dog for ticks is, also, important. Again, I preach a daily check for ticks when exposed to areas where ticks are prevalent.
Symptoms widely vary in dogs. Though dogs can get the characteristic target rash, it is rare. Mainly owners notice that their dog is limping on different legs; this is called shifting leg lameness. Dogs’ joints can become swollen, as well as the lymph nodes closest to the bite. Dogs may be lethargic and have a fever. Some dogs may even be asymptomatic; meaning they have no symptoms.
Testing is easy and can be done in most vet hospitals. The test takes about 10 minutes to run and is fairly accurate. The test involves a simple blood draw and is the same test we use annually to check for heartworm disease. Therefore, your pet is annually checked for tick borne diseases.
Treatment involves long term antibiotics and rest for one month. Your dog should be retested in 6 months to ensure we have treated the infection fully. If your pet tests positive after the 6 months and is still having symptoms, we will need to repeat antibiotics. If your pet tests positive and is not showing symptoms, your pet may have been re-exposed or may have become a transient carrier. This means your pet will not show symptoms but can still spread the bacteria via ticks that feed on your pet.
Lyme Disease in Humans
Luckily, humans cannot get Lyme disease from pets. You must be bitten by a tick with Lyme disease. Symptoms include target shaped rashes, joint swelling, lymph node swelling, painful joints, fever and lethargy. Lyme disease never goes away in humans and you can continue to experience symptoms off and on for life. Your doctor may put you on a course of antibiotics to help when you have a flare up. Please contact your physician if you have any concerns or questions about your health.
Lyme Disease In Cats
Lyme Disease is rarely diagnosed in cats. Whether this can be attributed to a lack of testing in cats or because Lyme disease is not transmitted to cats, is unknown. Some cats may not show symptoms of Lyme disease. Symptoms include lameness (Typically changing legs in which they are limping, AKA shifting leg lameness), joint swelling, swollen lymph nodes, neurologic changes, cardiac changes, and fever. Lyme disease may be diagnosed after ruling out other health issues and sending off bloodwork to an outside laboratory. Treatment requires extensive antibiotic therapy and rest for at least 1 month. Prevention includes using a reliable flea/tick product and removing ticks as they appear on the cat. Lyme disease cannot be given to humans from the cat. It is likely that ticks in your area are carrying Lyme disease if you have a pet whom is infected and these ticks could give lyme disease to you. I strongly recommend a good bug repellant and self-checks when exposed to areas where ticks commonly reside.
Overall, Lyme disease is pretty devastating for most species. It is painful and easily preventable in dogs and cats. We recommend flea and tick prevention monthly. There is no season in Ohio that is flea and tick free. Additionally, just as easily as spiders and flies get into your house, fleas and ticks can too. These parasites can reproduce and thrive within your home, spreading debilitating infections to you & your pet. Use prevention products and ask your veterinarian how you can prevent Lyme disease in your pets.
Thank you for reading!
Your Friendly Neighborhood Vet Tech, RVT, CVJ