Lyme Disease in Dogs – What you need to know

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Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia, transmitted by the bite of a tick, to humans, dogs and other animals.  In Ontario, and the northeastern United States, the deer tick transmits Lyme disease.

First discovered in the 1970s, Lyme disease has spread throughout Canada and the U.S., even becoming endemic in parts of Ontario.  In New England, 50-75% of dogs now test positive for Lyme.

Currently the Kingston and Picton areas have the fastest growing rate of Lyme disease in the province.  Current testing in Ontario detects more cases of Lyme disease than heartworm.

Lyme disease can cause lameness, fever, swollen lymph nodes, lethargy, loss of appetite, and in advanced cases – permanent kidney damage.  As in humans, it is most successfully treated if it is detected early.  Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme; however, it is difficult to eliminate all of the organisms, so relapse can occur.

The tick life cycle takes approximately two years to complete, encompassing the use of at least three hosts.  The early life stages are extremely small and difficult to detect.  When not attached to a host, ticks remain in cool, moist areas such as long grass or in the woods.  Although they are most active during the spring and fall, they do survive Canadian winters and may become active at other times of the year if local weather conditions are right.

What if I find a tick on my dog?

Remove the tick yourself or come to the clinic to have it removed as soon as possible.  Ticks have to be attached for at least 48 hrs to transmit Lyme disease.

Use tweezers to grasp the head and pull straight out with steady traction.  DO NOT squeeze the body as this increases the risk of Lyme bacteria entering the bite wound.

You may bring the tick to the clinic, in a sealed container, for identification.

If it is a deer tick, we will recommend a Lyme test in six weeks.

Can I catch Lyme disease from my dog?

NO.  Lyme disease cannot be transmitted directly between pets and humans.  Be aware though, that if our dogs are being bitten by ticks, chances are we have been exposed to the same environment and may be bitten too.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed?

A simple blood test will give results within 10 minutes.  It also tests for other tick-transmitted diseases and heartworm.  We recommend that this test be performed each spring for your dog.

As only a portion of the dogs infected with Lyme disease develop symptoms, confirmatory tests may be recommended to see if your dog needs treatment.

How can I prevent my dog from contracting Lyme disease?

The most effective way to control Lyme disease is to prevent the ticks from biting.

Vaccinations are also available for dogs at risk of Lyme infection.  These vaccinations are meant to prevent the disease from developing if the dog is bitten.  When first given, a vaccine booster is needed in 3-4 weeks.  After that, the vaccine is given annually as long as the dog remains at risk.

How can I prevent ticks from biting my dog?

Avoid long grasses, shrubs and wooded areas, particularly in the spring and fall. Forests where deer are known to live are of particular concern.  When walking, stay on the path and don’t brush against vegetation….all very difficult instructions for a dog!

Use a topical product from your veterinarian to prevent ticks from attaching and biting.  This should be applied monthly in spring and fall for most dogs.  In high-risk areas, it is safest to apply it through the summer as well.  If this product is used during the same time period as flea and heartworm preventives, give those on the 1st of each month and the tick preventive on the 15th

Products to repel and kill ticks are toxic to cats.  Please DO NOT apply them to cats, even in small amounts.  If using in multi-pet households, apply the products to the dogs and separate them from the cats overnight until the product is completely dry.

Check often for ticks.  They must feed for at least 48 hours to transmit Lyme, so get them off early.

Talk to us at the clinic, to develop a plan tailored to your dog’s needs.

Everyone should be able to enjoy the beautiful weather without risk of infection!