Tick bites can happen as often in your own backyard as in isolated woodland areas, so it is important to remain aware of the warning signs of Lyme disease in your dog. Left untreated, Lyme disease in dogs can lead to arthritis, heart disease, kidney disease and damage to the neurological system. Unlike humans, however, dogs do not exhibit the telltale red bull’s eye rash which may occur at the area of the tick bite or elsewhere on the body of an infected human, making it hard to diagnose canine Lyme disease, an ailment often confused with other diseases. The most common form of Lyme disease in dogs is Lyme arthritis, characterized by sudden onset of lameness, fever, lethargy, joint swelling and lymph node enlargement and loss of appetite.
If your dog exhibits any of these signs, take it to the veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian may make a diagnosis of Lyme disease after observing clinical signs in your dog, ruling out other illnesses causing similar signs, screening your dog’s blood for antibodies against Bb, the spirochete transmitted by ticks, and watching for a dramatic response to antibiotic treatment.
Although antibiotic treatment will stop most of the signs of the disease in dogs, once infected with Lyme disease, a dog may very likely be infected for life, because the spirochetes that cause the disease may never leave the body or be totally eliminated by antibiotic therapy. In fact, about 10-25% of dogs treated for Lyme disease will become chronically affected with arthritis and show signs of recurrent disease. Therefore, once infected and treated, a dog is not immune.
Vaccination – The Key To Protection
Although keeping your dog tick free by using tick repellents, collars and other preventive methods are important, it is difficult to provide 100 percent tick protection. Ticks can carry many other diseases to pets and vaccination against Lyme disease is the only method to ensure the best protection for your dog. From Connecticut to Texas, veterinarians are educating their pet owners about Lyme disease, and protecting pets with a vaccination program.
Steven A. Levy, VMD, is a nationally known expert on ticks and Lyme disease in dogs. Levy has published many papers on the disease and lectures at national and international veterinary conferences. He has practiced veterinary medicine for 25 years in Durham, Connecticut in Middlesex County, the county where Lyme disease was first discovered.
“The disease is certainly spreading, and pet owners need to be educated about the seriousness of this disease and prevention that works. We’ve virtually eliminated Lyme in our practice after 12 years of aggressive vaccination and client education. We vaccinate the puppies when we first see them, and we test and vaccinate older dogs that come in for the first time,” said Levy.
Available through veterinarians, LymeVax®, by Fort Dodge Animal Health, is the first vaccine developed specifically to protect dogs from Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Extensive laboratory and field-testing have shown it to be extremely safe and effective, even in dogs already infected with Lyme, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
Levy has conducted extensive research on Lymevax.
“The key is it is a multi-antigen vaccine. Single antigen vaccines are limited to attacking the Borrelia burgdorferi spirochetes while they are still inside the tick. I believe Lymevax is so effective because it can act against the Lyme bacteria in both the tick and the dog. With these multiples sites of action with multiple antigens, it offers a broader based protection compared to a single antigen vaccine,” said Levy.
Over 17 million doses of LymeVax have been administered in veterinary clinics across the country. M. H. Reves, D.V.M., owner of Animana Veterinary Center, Houston, Texas vaccinates 75 to 80 percent of the dogs in his practice.
“We have ticks in this area and we feel that it is better to use it as a preventative. LymeVax is the first vaccine that came out and we’ve never used anything else. We include it with the routine vaccinations including distemper, parvo and bordatella vaccines,” said Reves.
LymeVax offers protection against Lyme disease in dogs as young as 9 weeks old. It is first administered in two injections, two-three weeks apart, then given annually, providing one year of protection. Pet owners should see their veterinarian to determine what is best for their pet.