Lyme Disease: Healthy Pet/Happy Pet 8

Article Series for Dunes Living Magazine

Dr. Amanda Thomas

Lyme Disease is a condition we discuss often in the veterinary clinic as part of a pet’s annual vaccination appointment and Heartworm testing. Humans as well as dogs and cats can be afflicted with this disease. You may know someone, or someone’s dog that has been diagnosed with this infection.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi and is spread by ticks. Ticks are infected with this bacteria when they feed on infected mice and other small rodents. When the tick moves on to take a blood meal from you or your pet, they pass along the bacteria into the new host’s bloodstream. Not all types of ticks carry this infection, but many in South Carolina do, and these ticks are everywhere, not just in wooded areas.

Tick season is typically early spring to late fall, and after a very wet winter and hot summer, these parasites are out in full force. This has been an ideal year of weather for ticks, and therefore tick-born disease transmission.

As with humans, when your dog shows signs of infection, the symptoms may be transient and intermittent, which makes it very difficult to diagnose in both species. A tick must be attached to the host for at least 18 hours to transmit the disease, which becomes very important when it comes to monthly Tick Prevention and ticks control in our pets. Cats are less affected by this disease than dogs are unless your cat ventures outdoors. They can become infected, like dogs, but rarely become ill.

Clinical signs of Lyme Disease include:

  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Swollen painful joints – Dogs may be reluctant to move
  • Lameness that appears to shift from one limb to another
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Some dogs will develop kidney disease and kidney failure from this infection.

Several symptoms that occur in humans, like seizures and neurologic signs are rarely seen in dogs. Some dogs exhibit no outward signs of the disease at all.

The diagnosis is based on a number of factors, including clinical signs, known tick exposure (although most owners would never know their pet had ever had a tick), and a positive antibody test.

Your dog should be tested every year for Lyme Disease, at the same time as their Heartworm test. Our clinic uses a combination test that provides information not only on heartworm disease, but also on the tick-born diseases; Lyme disease, Ehrlichia and Anaplasmosis. If your dog tests positive for Lyme Disease, the veterinarian will run other diagnostic tests to assess the severity of the infection.  Antibiotic treatment is usually very successful in mitigating the symptoms and making your pet feel better, but it cannot clear the infection completely. Once the organism has reached the joint spaces, which is very soon after it reaches the bloodstream, medications cannot get to the site of the infection. This is part of what makes Lyme disease so debilitating.

Preventing Lyme disease through Tick prevention is extremely important. When your veterinarian talks to you about Flea and Tick preventatives, given on a monthly basis all year long, it is not to sell you a product. It is to protect your pet from getting a disease that could cause organ failure and death. I have seen dogs as young a 3 and 4 years old die of kidney failure due to Lyme disease, and owners that go through terrible grief because of it.

Keep your pets on a monthly flea and tick preventative like Nexgard, Frontline, Revolution, or even a tick prevention collar. Consider treating your yard and outside areas for ticks.

There are very effective Lyme disease vaccinations for our dogs. We will recommend an initial vaccination and booster for your puppy, then an annual vaccination.  If your dog is vaccinated for this disease he will have protection, and, he won’t be a carrier for other people’s dogs out there.

Here are some common myths about Lyme disease:

  • If you don’t live in a wooded area your pet is not at risk – False!
  • If you don’t see ticks on your pet, he is not at risk – False!
  • If you use tick prevention in the summertime, your pet won’t get Lyme disease – False!
  • If your pet has been treated for Lyme disease, he’s cured – False!
  • If your pet tested positive for Lyme disease, he doesn’t need the vaccination – False!

The bacteria that causes Lyme disease is a tough little organism – it’s smart and travels fast to areas of the body that your immune system (or your dogs) can’t access to fight it. The best treatment, in this case, is prevention. Use some form of Flea and Tick prevention for your pets every month, year-round, and have your dogs vaccinated for this disease.

I should note that Lyme disease is vector-born, meaning it is only transmitted by the vector, which is the tick, and is not transmissible from humans to dogs, dogs to cats, or from one species to another without the tick.

Ask your veterinarian for more information on this and any other disease you might have questions about. We are here to help you and to serve our community.