Lyme disease is caused by a corkscrew-shaped microscopic organism, called Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacterium lives in the gut of the black-legged tick, previously referred to as the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the Western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus), and can be transmitted when an infected tick feeds on a dog, person, or other mammal.
These ticks are extremely small, ranging from the size of a grain of sand to the size of a sesame seed. Black-legged ticks prefer to hide in shady, moist ground litter, but they can be found above ground, clinging to tall grass, brush, shrubs, and low tree branches. They also inhabit gardens and lawns, particularly at the edges of woodlands and around old stone walls, where deer and white-footed mice, the ticks’ preferred hosts, thrive.
Lyme disease has been found in every state in the U.S. and some provinces in Canada (Ontario is one of these provinces).
Lyme can affect dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes. The more time a dog spends outside in areas where ticks are prevalent, the greater the risk! In addition to Lyme disease, dogs are at risk for being infected by many other different tick-borne diseases. To learn more about other tick diseases, visit www.dogsandticks.com.
There are several scary things about Lyme disease:
- People can also get Lyme disease from the same ticks that infect our dogs. Lyme disease affects humans and animals differently. About 90% of exposed humans will show symptoms, whereas only 10% of exposed dogs will have signs of the disease. If you are concerned about ticks in your area make sure you talk to your veterinarian about proper protection.
- Ticks are not always easy to spot (picture finding a sesame seed sized object under your pet’s coat), and it is almost impossible to identify a tick bite—especially if your dog has a thick coat.
- Symptoms of Lyme disease vary and can be difficult to detect, with warning signs not appearing until several months after infection.
Lyme disease can affect different organs and systems within the body. The most common symptoms you might spot are:
- Recurrent lameness/arthritis that lasts 3–4 days, sometimes accompanied by loss of appetite and depression
- Reluctance to move, or a stiff, painful gait
- Swollen joints that are warm to the touch
- Leg pain or pain throughout the body
- Fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes
Symptoms of Lyme disease may come and go, vary from mild to severe, and mimic other conditions. In many dogs, the signs may not appear for several months after infection. In severe cases, dogs may also develop heart disease, central nervous system disorders, or fatal kidney disease.
So let’s talk about the good news. Tests are now available to accurately diagnose your dog for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. If your veterinarian suspects your pooch may have Lyme disease, they will take a thorough history of your dog’s symptoms and activities and recommend testing your dog for Lyme disease, as well as other common tick-borne diseases. In some cases, dogs can be co-infected with more than one type of tick-borne disease. These include canine ehrlichiosis and canine anaplasmosis.
Your veterinarian may recommend additional tests based on your dog’s symptoms.
These could include:
- Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
- Blood parasite screening to identify if your pet has been exposed to tick-borne or other infectious diseases
- Fecal tests to rule out intestinal parasites
- A complete blood count (CBC) to rule out blood-related conditions
- Electrolyte tests to ensure your pet isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
- Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infections and other diseases, and to evaluate the kidney’s ability to concentrate urine
- A thyroid test to determine if the thyroid gland is producing too little thyroid hormone
- An ECG to screen for an abnormal heart rhythm, which may indicate underlying heart problems
Successful treatment of Lyme disease is dependent upon early detection and the severity of your dog’s symptoms. Antibiotic therapy with doxycyline is most commonly prescribed, although your veterinarian may prescribe a different antibiotic and other treatments depending on your dog’s clinical signs and circumstances. In general, most dogs respond quickly with appropriate treatment, and symptoms improve in as little as 24–48 hours. Follow-up testing to ensure adequate response to treatment is recommended.
There are several steps you can take to prevent your dog from getting Lyme or other tick-borne diseases:
- Talk to your veterinarian about tick-borne diseases in your area.
- Use a veterinarian-recommended tick preventive on your dog.
- Talk to your veterinarian about vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease.
- Bring your dog in for annual blood parasite screening – this test includes heartworm and tick diseases specific to the area.
- Avoid places where ticks are most likely to live – wooded areas, areas with tall grass.
- Remove tall grass and leaves from your property (anywhere a tick can easily hide).
- Watch your dog closely for changes in behavior or appetite.
- Check for ticks daily & removed promptly if found
If you find a tick on your dog, remove it right away. Here are some tips for safe and effective tick removal:
- A tick can usually be safely removed with tweezers by grasping it carefully at the head (which is attached to the surface of the skin) and applying slow and steady traction. Try not to squeeze the body of the tick, twist or rotate the tick or handle the tick with your bare hands.
- After removing the tick, wash the area with mild soap and water. Monitor the area for signs of infection. Contact your veterinarian.
- Save the tick by placing it in an empty pill vial with a damp piece of Kleenex.
- The tick can be sent to a laboratory for identification and possible testing for the Lyme Disease bacterium.
- Never use petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish or other products to remove a tick.
If you have any other questions about Lyme disease or ticks feel free to contact the clinic at 905-434-2885. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have or set up your pet’s blood parasite screen.