Lyme disease is a very serious concern for you and your pets – especially in the fall. Prevention is simple and inexpensive.
If you’ve ever seen a tick – especially if it is on you or your pet friend – you’ll never forget it. They are a member of the spider family and can cause people and pets endless hours of suffering and potentially life-threatening disease.
Unfortunately, the tick is a little disease carrying expert, and this is further complicated by the fact that there are many different kinds of ticks. Some are so small they are hard to see whereas others are easily seen. They emerge in the spring, remain pretty active during the summer months and then go through a burst of activity in the fall. While ticks are responsible for transmitting many diseases, there is one disease in particular that we veterinarians are most concerned with – Lyme disease.
Lyme disease received its name from an outbreak of a rash in people followed by arthritis in Lyme, Connecticut 30 years ago. Lyme disease is now the most commonly reported tick transmitted disease in people in the country. It is found in all states except Montana. Although the incidence of Lyme disease in people and animals is similar, animals – especially dogs – are at higher risk because their exposure is greater outdoors, in the woods or grasslands and at the beach – all places we want to take our pets for enjoyment.
Most of the time a dog is taken to the veterinarian for Lyme disease, the complaint is limping or lameness. This means the Lyme disease organism has already made it to the joints and is setting up inflammation there. An astute dog owner may also notice painful joints, a lack of appetite, fatigue and fever.
In the early stages, a diagnosis is difficult to make in a dog. The diagnosis is easier to do in people than dogs. After about a month of ongoing symptoms a blood test may be needed to make an accurate diagnosis. You may not want to wait for clinical signs in a dog to drive getting a test for your dog.
Treatment within the first few weeks is very effective and almost always results in a full cure. Treatment of late Lyme disease is a bit more difficult. Progress may be seen after long term antibiotic use resulting in slow improvement in a few months to years.
Now for the good news; it takes a tick 48 hours of attachment to transmit this disease to you or your dogs. So one of the best ways to steer clear is to check yourself and your pets over very carefully after outdoor activity, and remove any ticks before they become swollen with blood.
Use gloves and tweezers to remove the tick and treat the spot with alcohol or antibiotic ointment.
When you enter a potentially tick infested area, plan on tick prevention. Ticks cannot jump or fly. They only attach to you after direct contact. Ticks often attach at protected or creased areas like the back of the knee, groin, navel, armpit, ears or neck.
Consequently it helps to wear light colored clothing so you can spot ticks easily. Scan your clothing frequently while outdoors, and try to stay in cleared, well-traveled areas. Use insect repellant containing DEET on your skin and on your clothes. Do not use DEET on your dog. Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls. Do a final full-body tick check on yourself and on your dogs at the end of the day.
One way to reduce the number of ticks on your dogs is to treat them with a topical flea and tick treatment that lasts for 30 days. These compounds will kill ticks before they have had time to remain attached for 48 hours. Use only a product from your veterinarian that is labeled to kill ticks and that will not wash off when your dog takes a swim or gets a bath. This is very important.
Also, for dog owners who frequently take their companions into potential tick areas, we now have highly effective vaccines that will prevent Lyme disease in dogs. The Lyme vaccines actually block the transmission of the disease from the tick to the dog. They are recommended for all dogs exposed to ticks.