Is Lyme disease increasing in dogs too?

Continuing our theme of springtime pet concerns we will discuss Lyme disease today.

Along with the arrival of warm weather, Mother Nature annually re-introduces large populations of bugs. Spring is an active period for many pests, including the pesky blood-sucking tick.

Ticks are the carrier for Lyme Borreliosis, more commonly known as Lyme disease. This illness, transmitted by tick-borne bacteria, affects dogs, horses and humans. Recent reports reflect an increase of diagnosed human Lyme disease in certain areas of North America, as well as its spread to other areas of the United States.

Are Lyme disease numbers for dogs on the rise as well?

Lyme disease is named after the town of Lyme, Conn., where it was reported in epidemic proportions in the mid-1970s. This disease has been diagnosed in people since 1975 and in dogs since 1984. Although the disease is more prevalent in Lyme vectors along the Eastern coastline, it has been diagnosed in all 50 states.

Certain tick species transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The most common species in North America are the black-legged (deer) tick and the western black- legged tick. 

Lyme disease affects animals differently, with some showing no signs of being affected. Others manifest symptoms such as lethargy, joint pain, limping, swollen lymph nodes and fever. Lyme disease symptoms typically do not show up in dogs until two to five months after infection. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, states, “Lyme disease is the most prevalent tick-borne disease among humans and dogs in the United States, with more than 28,921 new human cases in 48 states reported in 2008.”

While both people and dogs can be infected with Lyme disease, it can only be transmitted by the tick. This disease is not contagious among individuals and cannot be cross-transmitted from humans to dogs or vice versa.

All dog types are at risk of contracting this quiet illness. New studies by CDC reflect that “probable” cases are higher than confirmed cases. Because so many dogs go untested for tick-borne diseases, the actual number of infected dogs may be many times higher than the confirmed statistics indicate. Veterinarians are beginning to use combination tests which test for Lyme disease, heartworm, and ehrlichia on an annual basis.

The recent increase of Lyme disease is partially attributed to the spread of tick-infected deer and mice. Even birds can bring infected tick “passengers” into your backyard. Because dogs spend more time outside and in wooded areas where they can easily come into contact with ticks, the disease may be even more prevalent in dogs than in humans.

Even though documented Lyme disease cases are on the rise, there are several good-news messages. Only 1 percent of all tick bites result in Lyme disease, and the disease is treatable with antibiotics if caught early.  Antibiotics help stop, but don’t prevent it. Experts agree that prevention is the best method of protection for your pet.

Prevention of Lyme disease

• Use tick control products such as Vectra 3-D, Frontline®, Advantix®, Revolution® and Preventic®. These easy-to-use collars and topical medications cause a disruption of feeding and ticks fall off before the 48-hour infection period. Year-round tick prevention is recommended for dogs in known infestation areas. These products, however, are not to be used in cats due to toxicity.

• Brush your dog regularly during tick season. Daily grooming helps keep pets safe from ticks and can eliminate the pest before the disease takes hold.  Experts agree the disease takes about 48 hours to be transmitted to your pet. Early and thorough grooming after an outing is a good preventive program.

• Conduct tick checks. Look for ticks thoroughly following outings in tall grassy, wooded or brushy areas.  Remove any ticks found on your dog immediately.

• Consult your veterinarian for the best preventive treatment in your area. Be wary of over-the-counter medications for tick control. Many of these medications are not safe for all pets.

• Vaccines are also available, but because only five to ten percent of dogs infected with Lyme disease ever get sick, most experts believe this method should be recommended by your veterinarian only for dogs at risk or in Lyme-endemic areas.

April is “Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs” month. As spring arrives, be on active lookout for those pesky ticks ready to attack your dog.  Eliminate this “ticking” time bomb by protecting your four-footed friend from Lyme disease with effective tick products and/or appropriate vaccinations.

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