Lyme disease was first discovered in 1975, in Lyme, Connecticut. It has since slowly moved along the eastern seaboard, moving inland, and now is endemic in our area. Last year, 1 in 5 dogs tested at Canton Animal Clinic were positive for antibodies to Lyme Disease. Lyme Disease or Borreliosis is a tick-borne disease that will affect both animals and people. Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection of a spirochete organism (Borrelia burgdorferi) transmitted through the bite of an infected deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). The infected tick must be attached to the host (dog, person, and other mammals) for at least 48 hours to transmit B. burgdorferi. If the tick is removed prior to that, transmission will not occur. Infected animals serve as a reservoir for other biting ticks, but luckily do not pose a threat for transmission to other members of the household. Other domestic animals including cats and horses can become infected with Lyme disease, but the disease seems to be clinically insignificant. Lyme Disease has many different symptoms. Generally, these clinical signs are observed 2-5 months after the animal has been bitten by an infected deer tick. Some of the symptoms you may see include:
- Decreased Appetite
- Lameness (may be a rotating lameness)
- Swollen Joints or Lymph nodes
- Weight Loss
In severe cases animals affected with Lyme disease can exhibit kidney disease which can rapidly progress to kidney failure. It can also affect the heart and central nervous system.
What Can You Do?
To catch early onset, Canton Animal Clinic recommends yearly 4DX (HEARTWORM, LYME, ANAPLASMA, & ERLICHIA) testing. The 4DX is a simple in house blood test that takes about 10 minutes. When testing for Lyme, the test looks for antibodies to a specific outer surface protein, the C6 peptide of the Borrelia organism. This peptide is constant and always detectable, so vaccinated dogs will not test positive and dogs with other infections will not erroneously test positive either. Therefore, a positive sample is a dog that has been exposed to Lyme. However, it does not differentiate exposure from active infection. A blood sample can be submitted to an outside lab to determine how high the antibody titer is, and therefore help in determining if treatment is necessary (Lyme Multiplex or C6). Additionally, because Lyme Disease can affect the kidneys, we recommend evaluation of urine and blood to evaluate the renal system. Generally, Lyme Disease positive animals are treated as out patients unless they are severely affected. Treatment utilizes a 4 week course of antibiotc either Doxycycline, Minocycline or Amoxicillin. Doxycycline/Minocycline is the antibiotic of choice because it can also eradicate other tick diseases that the animal may have concurrently. At home, the dog should be kept quiet, warm and comfortable until the clinical signs improve. Usually, they are feeling better in 2-3 days. If there is no improvement on the antibiotics, the dog needs to go back to the veterinarian for further evaluation and testing. Sometimes pain medications are also administered. Do not give your pet medication unless prescribed by your veterinarian. Unfortunately, sometimes the joint arthritis caused by Lyme infection may not resolve completely, and long-term joint pain may occur. The deer tick is a blood sucking parasite, so tick control on the host is the key to avoiding Lyme Disease. There are multiple effective products for tick prevention available through Canton Animal Clinic including: Advantix, Activyl and the Scalibor tick collar. All of these products either repel or kill the tick within the first 48 hours so the Borellia organism can not be transmitted to the dog. Unfortunately, none of these products are suitable for your feline and should never be used on a cat. To help repel ticks on your feline friend we carry Frontline. People living in tick endemic areas should check their pets daily for attached ticks. To remove an attached tick, use a pair of tweezers, or a special tick removing instrument like the “Tick off,” which is also available at Canton Animal Clinic, to aid removal.
- Grab the tick where it is attached to the skin. Do not grab it by its body, especially if it is blood engorged.
- Pull gently and steadily outward
- Discard the tick in a container of rubbing alcohol. Do not squish the tick as this will release the blood parasite organisms on your skin!
- Wash your hands thoroughly
- You may notice a raised area on the skin of your animal. This is a normal reaction to the cement like saliva of the tick. This will resolve with time (1-2 weeks). You can apply some topical hydrocortisone or antibiotic cream as long as the dog does not just lick it back off. Rarely a permanent hairless scar will form.
***Note: Burnt matches, rubbing alcohol, petroleum jelly (vasoline) and other home remedy tick removers do not work and may actually allow the tick to deposit more disease causing Borellia organisms into the host animal.*** As with any vaccine, the debate is to vaccinate or not. Tick prevention is the best way to avoid Lyme disease. We recommend that animals that live in endemic areas that have exposure to ticks are vaccinated for Lyme disease. Canton Animal Clinic uses Nobivac Lyme vaccine, manufactured by Intervet Schering-Plough Animal Health. Nobivac Lyme is a bacterin that contains two separate strains of inactivated Borrelia burgdorferi outer surface proteins, so it protects against Lyme disease in two different phases of infection. The Lyme vaccine is administered subcutaneously followed by a single booster 3-4 weeks later. It is then part of the annual vaccination series of the dog. Canton Animal Clinic still recommends a yearly 4DX test to screen your dog for Lyme and two other tick-borne diseases- Anaplasma and Erlichia. Most dogs treated for Lyme disease have a good prognosis unless kidney disease is also present, in those cases prognosis is generally very poor. It is not uncommon for pets that are successfully treated to remain carriers of the disease and have a relapse. Re-exposure and reinfection are also a big concern especially in endemic areas.