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Protecting Your Pet from Lyme Disease

When it comes to keeping your pets healthy, the best preventative is their routine vaccinations. Covering a wide array of diseases and conditions, routine vaccinations prevent the contraction and spread of many uncomfortable, harmful and even fatal conditions.

This time of year, ticks carrying bacteria that cause Lyme disease are a concern. North Shore Animal League America cares for your pets’ well-being and would like to share some information on Lyme disease with you. Hopefully this is one bug we can nip in the bud.


What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infectious tick-borne disease caused by the bacteria “Borrelia burgdorferi.”

Which ticks carry Lyme disease?
As far as we know, there are several ticks that carry Lyme disease. The most common culprit is the deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick (shown right). This is a very small tick about the size of a grain of pepper and often goes unnoticed even when engorged. Other ticks that carry Lyme include the brown dog tick, the rocky mountain wood tick and the American dog tick.

Where is Lyme disease found?
Though Lyme disease can surface throughout much of the United States, it is only prevalent in certain areas. Naturally the disease is found in areas where there is a high concentration of ticks, such as wooded and rural areas. The following map is courtesy of the American Lyme Disease Foundation:


How is Lyme disease transmitted?
Lyme disease is transmitted from the bacteria-carrying tick to the animal through saliva. The tick will bite its host and the saliva will infect the animal. The tick must be attached to its host for 48 hours for it to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. However, not all animals will contract Lyme disease even if the tick is attached for 48 hours or more. It has been reported that only a small percentage of dogs will actually contract the disease (cats very rarely, if ever, contract the infection). Lyme disease is transmitted only by the tick vector, not dog to dog, or dog to people. The tick needs to bite the host to infect it. Once ticks feed, they detach themselves from their hosts and leave. It is the unfed ticks that look for hosts, which can also include people.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs?
Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can vary. What’s interesting is that symptoms don’t start to appear until 2-5 months after the initial infectious bite. Symptoms to look for include: fever (103-105°), lameness (especially shifting leg lameness), lethargy, loss of appetite, swelling in the joints and swollen lymph nodes.

*In some cases, Lyme disease can be deadly to your dog. If you suspect that your dog may have been infected, it’s best to contact your veterinarian immediately – even if he is not exhibiting symptoms.

How is Lyme disease in dogs diagnosed?
Veterinarians use blood testing to help diagnose Lyme disease; however, testing positive does not necessarily mean that your pet has the disease. Testing positive can also mean that your pet was exposed to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease but did not actually contract it. Often, a dog’s system can fight off the disease naturally. Your veterinarian will use the blood tests along with other symptoms and the animal’s medical history to make a diagnosis.

How is Lyme disease in dogs treated?
Lyme disease in dogs will be treated with antibiotics for up to one month.

How can I protect my pet against Lyme disease?
The best protection against Lyme disease is prevention. Giving your pet a flea and tick preventative can help ensure that an infected tick that attaches itself dies before reaching the 48-hour mark, which is necessary to transmit the disease. Keeping your pets away from tall grass and wooded areas decreases their exposure to ticks, thus decreasing the odds of getting bit. Be sure to discuss preventatives with your vet so they can recommend one that is suitable according to the dog's risk.

There are also vaccinations that help protect against Lyme disease. This is something you should discuss with your veterinarian to decide whether this method of prevention is right for you.

How do I remove a tick from my pet?
Ticks that cause Lyme disease are extremely small, and often go unnoticed, even when engorged. However, the best way to check for ticks is to brush your pet daily. All ticks are irritating to your dog and can be anywhere on their bodies. Ticks are most commonly found on the ears and in the ear canals, at the base of the ears, on the feet, and in between the toes. Ticks can be removed from your dog or cat by grasping the head of the tick where it attaches to the skin with tick-removing tweezers and gently but firmly pulling back. Use caution when doing this and do not burn the tick or apply irritants to the tick such as rubbing alcohol, as both of these maneuvers can cause further problems for your pet.

Where do I get my pet vaccinated for Lyme disease?
Talk to your veterinarian about whether the Lyme disease vaccination is right for your pet. Lyme disease is regional, and vaccinating your pet may or may not be the best method of prevention for you. North Shore Animal League America’s Pet Health Center offers the Lyme disease vaccination.

For more information:
For more information on ticks and Lyme’s disease, contact your veterinarian. Never self-diagnose your pet or attempt to treat them at home without a veterinarian’s guidance.

For more information on North Shore Animal League America’s Pet Health Center or to schedule an appointment for the Lyme disease vaccination or any other service, please call 516-883-2000 or e-mail phc@animalleague.org.

 

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