Lyme disease is a serious threat on the East Coast and is becoming more of a concern westward as the climate and tick habitat change. Since Lyme disease can cause severe, lifelong effects, prevention is crucial for protecting your pet. The best way to defend your furry pal against the threat of Lyme disease is to learn more about this common tick-borne illness, so read on to discover information from our Providence Vet team that you need to know.
#1: Lyme disease is transmitted by black-legged ticks
Although more than 90 tick species can be found in the United States, only the black-legged, or deer, tick is capable of transmitting Lyme disease. Black-legged ticks are tiny parasites that range in size from a poppy seed to a sesame seed, so finding them on your pet can be challenging.
#2: Lyme disease typically does not affect cats
Lyme disease can affect many species, including birds and reptiles, but clinical signs rarely develop in animals outside of dogs and horses. People also can develop Lyme disease after being bitten by an infected tick. While cats technically can contract Lyme disease, no cases have been reported outside of laboratory settings. However, cats can become infected with other tick-borne illnesses, so tick prevention is still a necessity for your feline friend.
#3: It can take months for Lyme disease signs to develop in your pet
A black-legged tick has to remain attached to your pet for about 48 hours to transmit the Lyme bacterium, but signs typically take two to five months to develop after the bite. In some cases, signs can develop three to four weeks after exposure, but typically no earlier. Most dogs exposed to Lyme disease never develop signs, and only about 5% to 10% develop clinical disease.
#4: Lyme disease signs can be vague in pets
A hallmark Lyme disease sign in dogs is a shifting-leg lameness, where the dog will limp on one leg, then switch to another leg. Pets typically do not develop the classic bull’s-eye rash that people do, mainly because it is so difficult to see under their fur. Other Lyme disease signs can include:
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Swollen, painful joints
- Decreased appetite
In rare cases, affected dogs will develop kidney disease, as the Lyme bacterium likes to linger in the kidneys. Dogs with kidney disease become excessively thirsty and urinate frequently. They also can become nauseous, vomit, and have diarrhea.
#5: Diagnosing Lyme disease in pets can be challenging
Once a pet is bitten by an infected tick, it can take several months for antibodies to develop. The most common test for Lyme disease is a simple blood test that detects the antibodies, so your pet’s test results may be falsely negative for two or more months. After treatment with antibiotics, your pet still may have antibodies, which will cause a positive test result. A positive test does not indicate an active infection, however, so it can be tough to determine when additional treatment is necessary.
#6: Treatment for Lyme disease is not always fully effective
Antibiotics often are recommended to reduce the bacterial population, but treatment may not fully eradicate Lyme disease. As the Lyme bacterium lingers in the kidneys, it can be difficult to eliminate, causing flare-ups throughout the pet’s life.
#7: Ticks often carry multiple pathogens
While black-legged ticks are the only species to carry the Lyme bacterium, they also can carry several other pathogens. Anaplasma is the most common disease they carry, but deer ticks are also responsible for spreading Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, and Powassan disease virus.
#8: Removing ticks from pets effectively requires a delicate touch
When removing a tick, be careful not to squeeze the body, as this can essentially “inject” bacteria into your pet or yourself. Instead, grasp the tick’s head with tweezers as close to the skin as possible, being careful not to pinch your pet. Then, using steady, even pressure, pull the tick straight back. Avoid twisting or yanking to ensure you remove the entire head.
#9: A Lyme disease vaccine is available for dogs
A vaccination for Lyme disease is available for dogs to minimize their risk of contracting the disease. And, if your pet becomes infected, the vaccine will reduce the severity of illness. Ask Dr. Bedford if the Lyme vaccine is appropriate to add to your pet’s vaccination protocol.
#10: Administering year-round tick prevention is the best way to protect your pet
While ticks are largely active during the spring and fall, they can pop up and search for a meal any time the temperature is higher than 40 degrees. Since winter weather can be unpredictable, protect your four-legged friend from the threat of Lyme disease by administering year-round tick prevention.
Are you unsure which tick preventive would best suit your pet? Contact our Providence Vet team to discuss your options.
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