April is designated as Prevent Lyme Disease Month.
As we *finally* begin to enjoy some spring weather, many people, and their dogs, head to parks and begin to clean up the yard after winter. Ticks are becoming more active as well. We have been seeing a large increase in tick activity in Western New York, and that also means an increase in tick-transmitted diseases, such as Lyme Disease.
Lyme Disease is a bacterial disease transmitted by Ticks of the Ixodes species which are known as deer ticks or black-legged ticks. Usually the tick needs to be attached for 36-48 hours before the bacteria can spread. The testing of individual ticks is not typically useful, but it does help to have ticks identified so health care providers can track where populations of disease-carrying species of ticks are moving.
For dogs, there is a vaccination against Lyme disease. The first vaccine is given at or over 12 weeks of age, again in 2-4 weeks, and then yearly. If the interval between boosters exceeds 12 months, two vaccines, given 2-4 weeks apart need to be given, and then the yearly vaccination schedule can resume. If there is no history of a Lyme vaccine in an older dog, a test should be performed prior to vaccination to check for Lyme Disease exposure.
The blood test, called a 4DX test, targets an antibody that only occurs in actual Lyme Disease infections, so previous vaccination does not affect the test. The test is very sensitive, so false positives are unlikely, and in addition to screening for Lyme Disease, this test also checks for two other tick transmitted diseases and Heartworm.
A positive Lyme test does not mean the dog has Lyme disease. It just means that the dog has been exposed. 94% of exposed dogs never develop disease symptoms.
The symptoms of Lyme disease include: limping, often with shifting leg lameness, joint swelling and pain, fever, decreased appetite, decreased energy level, and enlarged lymph nodes. Most dogs who get Lyme disease go on to develop arthritis. Treatment is imperative when signs and symptoms are present, and usually involves 3-4 weeks of antibiotics. Symptoms usually improve in 24 hours and resolve in 3-4 days, but it is important to finish the entire course of antibiotics. Sometimes longer treatment may be advised. Treatment resolves the symptoms but does not clear the infection. Dogs that test positive for Lyme exposure will stay positive for years and possibly forever.
However, Lyme disease can be a silent killer.
The Lyme Disease organism and antibodies produced can damage the kidneys, and often the effect on the kidneys can go unnoticed until it is too late. Dogs that test positive should have kidney function evaluated with both urine and bloodwork. This way, if changes to the kidneys are detected, treatment can begin right away. Often, yearly urine tests are recommended to monitor kidney function.
There is a debate about treatment. Some sources advise treating all positive dogs to prevent future symptoms but, since only 5% of exposed animals get sick, treating asymptomatic dogs is overuse of antibiotics and causes resistance.
Lyme Disease CANNOT be transmitted from a dog to a person. However, if your dog is positive, you are probably exposed to the same ticks. You should always check for ticks after spending time outdoors.
In addition to vaccinating your dog for Lyme disease, remove tall grass and brush from around your home, and prevent ticks from attaching by using medications like Bravecto, Simparica or Parastar. We will be happy to explain how they work and suggest which one would be best for your dog and your lifestyle.
Use extreme caution when using over the counter tick preventives on cats. They are extremely sensitive to pyrethrin and permethrin, the active ingredients in many older and over the counter tick medications. NEVER use a dog flea and tick product on a cat—it can be deadly.
Please contact us at the hospital if you have questions about which tick preventive would be best for your pet.