Lyme disease is all too familiar to pet owners here in the North Country. Many families, whether they live in a town or in the country, have had the unpleasant task of pulling a tick off of either themselves or their pet. But not everyone realizes that each of those ticks poses the threat of infectious disease.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterial spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi and is spread by the deer tick Ixodes scapularis. In humans, those infected frequently develop a rash at the site of the tick bite and/or flu-like symptoms and have the potential to develop long term illness from the infection. However, it can take weeks, months or even longer for your pet to develop any signs of the disease. Dogs frequently develop pain in their joints that can be seen as limping or difficulty moving and walking. Those with more severe infections can develop fevers, decreased appetite or even vomiting and diarrhea. Infrequently, the infection can spread to the kidneys and result in renal failure. The spirochete does this by causing inflammation in the areas it is infecting. (click on Read more…)
As a pet owner, the first concern should be to prevent the infection. There are many good tick control products on the market that can be obtained through your veterinarian. There are some that can be purchased over the counter, but those brands can sometimes contain active ingredients that can cause adverse reactions. Ticks are seen year round and not just in the “country,” so we recommend that you use these products year round, even if you live in town. There are also Lyme disease vaccines on the market and you should speak with your veterinarian to determine if this preventative measure is appropriate for your pet.
Fortunately, in veterinary medicine, we have a very quick test that can be done to screen your pet for exposure to Lyme disease. A positive result on this test does not mean that your dog is actively infected and your veterinarian may recommend that additional blood work be done to accurately determine your dog’s status. For those dogs that are infected, treatment is initiated and typically consists of a 30 day course of antibiotics. The majority of dogs with active infections and clinical disease will respond very well to antibiotics and feel significantly improved within 48-72 hours of starting the antibiotics. However, while rare, dogs with kidney involvement may sustain irreversible damage. Your veterinarian may recommend further testing of the blood or urine to evaluate kidney function at the time of diagnosis in order to diagnose any kidney damage while creating a treatment plan. Catching kidney damage early will help your veterinarian determine if there are additional medications that might be helpful in supporting the kidneys.
Lyme disease is very prevalent in the Northeast and Michigan/Wisconsin regions of the country. We should be aware of the risk to ourselves and to our pets. Our rural location makes ticks a common problem, so prevention for yourself and your pet is paramount!
Jessica Scillieri Smith, DVM
Director of the Quality Milk Production Services for Cornell University, Canton, NY 13617
Written for the Potsdam Humane Society.