What is Lyme Disease and How is It Spread?
Lyme disease is carried and transmitted by infected ticks, commonly the eastern black-legged tick (deer tick) or western black-legged tick.
A tiny bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi lives in the stomach of ticks and is transmitted to pets or humans when we are bitten by one of these infected ticks.
Lyme disease is more likely to be transmitted to dogs who spend a lot of time outside where there are a lot of ticks. This makes common sense. I guess we need to make sure we know where those areas are as responsible pet parents!
The most likely places to find Lyme disease carrying ticks include: areas where there is moist ground cover or grass, areas with shrubs and low hanging tree branches at the edge of wooded areas, or areas where there are a lot of deer and mice.
Lessons in Lyme Disease:
Did you know these facts about Lyme disease?
- Lyme disease has been found in each and every US state and some areas of Canada.
- Dogs are more likely to be exposed to infected ticks than humans, but less likely to show symptoms of Lyme disease than humans.
- The ticks that carry Lyme disease are generally tiny, the size of a sesame seed or smaller.
- Their size makes the ticks difficult to see, especially if we are looking through the thick fur of our dog or cat.
- When bitten by one of these tiny ticks, only 5-10% of infected dogs will show symptoms.
- Symptoms of Lyme disease may not appear until months after the infection from a tick bite occurs (or there may be no symptoms at all).
Signs and Symptoms
So, what are the sometimes present symptoms of Lyme disease that are so concerning?
One of the first things you may notice is inflammation and swelling of one or more joints as well as lameness that seems to come and go.
You may also notice a change in your dog’s gait or increased stiffness or pain throughout his body.
Your pet’s lymph nodes could also become inflamed and his breathing may become more labored.
Change in mood or behavior and change in appetite are other potential symptoms of Lyme disease.
Some of these changes in mood and behavior, like sleeping more, may be occurring due to what’s happening inside an infected pet’s body, such as damage to kidneys, heart issues, or possibly nervous system distress.
Kidney damage can lead to vomiting, fever, diarrhea, weight loss, drinking more water, urinating more often, and potentially death.
This is some scary stuff of which we need to be aware. Remember that not all dogs who contract Lyme disease show symptoms. Symptoms may come and go and can mimic other conditions. Also, one dog may display a lot of joint pain and stiffness while another dog’s symptoms manifest as loss of appetite and lethargy. Lyme disease is complicated and difficult to diagnose!
If your dog is showing any symptoms of Lyme disease and has recently been in an area with ticks, then it is the smart move to get in to see your vet and let him know of your suspicions.
Your vet can then run some tests which may include: blood work, urinalysis, fecal exams, x-rays, and specific tests developed recently that can diagnose Lyme disease.
If you found and removed a tick from your dog and saved it (in a plastic bag in the freezer), then your vet may be able to run some tests on it as well.
If you and your veterinarian decide your dog has Lyme disease, it may be difficult to figure out exactly when and where he encountered the infected tick to prevent further exposure.
Usually Lyme disease can be treated with an antibiotic like Doxycycline. If this course of treatment is effective at the time, it does not mean that Lyme disease cannot come back in the future or cause kidney damage in the future.
Sometimes dogs will need more intense treatment than an antibiotic if kidney disease is present and has progressed.
Avoid areas where ticks are prevalent!
Research the prevalence of Lyme disease carrying ticks in your city or county so you know what you’re up against.
Use prevention like Advantix II or Seresto collars. Read more about why I like Seresto collars.
After spending time outdoors, check your dog’s coat (and your head!) for ticks.
Remove any ticks you find immediately. Trying to avoid crushing the tick, grasp it tightly with tweezers next to the skin/site of the bite. Pull the tick away from the skin steadily. Clean the area of your dog’s skin afterward.
Watch your dog for symptoms of Lyme disease, especially after spending a lot of time outdoors.
The earlier your pet is diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease, then better it will be. Take any symptoms seriously and remember to get a Seresto collar or Advantix II topical here today!