Lyme disease is a zoonotic (infections that can be spread between animals and humans or vice versa), tick borne disease that affects people, dogs, and some large animals. It is caused by a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by Ixodes ticks. The adult ticks and the immature, nymph stage of the tick, can transmit disease. The nymph stage is the size of a poppy seed! Something this small could be missed on your pet or on yourself for that matter. Signs in dogs are typically seen in 2 to 5 months after infection. Common signs in dogs include fever and painful/swollen joints. Dogs can also have vomiting, anorexia, uveitis, pulmonary hemorrhage, and abortion. There is also an association with Lyme disease and renal (kidney) failure (Lyme nephritis). Dogs can be tested for Lyme disease. This can be done as a screening test or can be done if a dog is showing any signs of the disease. Infected dogs that are showing signs or have other abnormal lab results can be treated with certain antibiotics.
According to the CDC, there has been a massive increase in both the tick population and tick related disease. The number of reported tick diseases has more than doubled in the past 13 years. With tick borne diseases on the rise, prevention should be on everyone’s mind. Ticks that can transmit Lyme disease have expanded their geographic range and are now being found in places where they weren’t seen 20 years ago. Counties with high risk for Lyme have increased 320% since the 1990’s. Other national data shows that dogs are being exposed to Lyme disease outside of traditionally endemic area (ex. the Northeast). Approximately 75% of unvaccinated dogs in endemic areas will eventually test positive for Lyme disease.
Prevention includes checking your pets and yourself daily for ticks, keeping your pets on year round tick control, and vaccinating dogs for Lyme disease that visit or live in endemic areas. North Carolina has now been classified as an endemic Lyme disease area.
Ticks populate lawns and shrubs as well as wooded areas. Keeping grass mowed, removing brush and leaves along stone walls and wood piles, and keeping bird feeders and wood piles away from areas that pets and people frequent also prevents tick attachment.
There are topical and oral tick medications available as well as tick control collars. Unfortunately, there are other tick borne diseases that dogs and cats can get including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Cytauxzoonosis, and Hepatozoonosis.
An initial Lyme vaccination is followed by a booster in 2 to 4 weeks and then annual boosters.
Please call your veterinarian with any questions about tick borne diseases or Lyme testing and vaccination.
Karen Miller, DVM
Lincolnton Animal Hospital