April is not quite over yet, so I thought it might be wise to talk about this important disease before Summer starts, as it has been reported in virtually every State in the country. The month of April kicked off a national awareness campaign to help prevent this debilitating infection.
The fear of Lyme disease came to national attention in the late 1970s when the bacteria causing the illness in people was first identified. The bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, is found in many species of wildlife (such as deer) but has found humans and pets to be suitable alternative hosts. Named for the city of Lyme, Connecticut, in which the disease was first recognized, it is the most common tick-borne disease reported in the U. S. And by the way, it’s “Lyme disease” and not “Lyme’s disease”…
In dogs, intermittent lameness is the most common sign we see. Kidney failure, neurological problems, and even heart disorders can occur as well. It is important to remember that ticks don’t cause the disease. They simply transmit the bacteria which is responsible for it. Prevention is therefore geared toward the ticks, not the bacteria.
Treating actual Lyme disease requires a different approach however. Antibiotics (such as doxycycline) can help kill the bacteria that cause the disease. Unfortunately, treatment sometimes fails, leading to longer treatments, more health problems, and higher costs. As an added worry, dogs don’t develop any long term immunity after the illness, opening the door to becoming re infected again and again.
Fortunately, veterinary scientists have found ways to minimize the risks to dogs and help them avoid the nasty effects of this disease. One of the first steps is for dog owners to understand how this disease is contracted and how it can be prevented. The Lyme Disease Foundation has recently named April “Lyme disease prevention” month. By kicking off an awareness movement early in the Spring, pet owners can become aware of tick related problems before the heavier tick seasons of Summer and Fall.
Many of the topical flea products provide protection against ticks as well, so discuss the best plan of action with your family veterinarian soon. These products are especially helpful for nature loving owners who enjoy having their faithful canine companion along with them on hikes, camping trips, -or any outdoor activity. Keeping ticks away from your pets literally can be a lifesaver.
Vaccination against Lyme disease may also be recommended. State of the art vaccines for dogs have been created and can provide an additional level of protection against Lyme disease. Although “Lyme positive” dogs have been found in most States, vets believe that this disease is fairly regional in nature, and owners should have an open discussion with their vet prior to requesting the Lyme vaccine.
There is no doubt that ticks cause a creepy reaction in most of us. Keeping your pets tick-free is possible and potentially can keep your dog from contracting serious illnesses.
Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ
Diplomat, American College of Veterinary Surgeons
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a traveling, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. His website is www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (www.WalkaHound.com).