It’s good to be a tick these days. The mild winter some of us had means that ticks are out and about much earlier this year – and they are very hungry. Of course, this is bad news for pets and pet parents alike, because ticks can spread disease. Aside from the infamous Lyme disease, there are several other tick-borne illnesses that can affect pets. But first, let’s look at Lyme.
In the past, Lyme disease was primarily the concern of pet parents in the northeastern United States, and indeed, the disease is named for the Connecticut town where several cases were discovered in the 1970s. However, in recent years the disease has rapidly spread to affect pets and people across a much wider area.
The organism that causes Lyme disease is a spiral shaped bacteria named Borrellia burgdorferi. Ticks pick this organism up from one of their hosts and are able to transmit it to other hosts, including you or your pet. While humans tend to get a characteristic “bull’s-eye” skin lesion around the tick bite, most pets do not.
Generally, Lyme disease tends to affect dogs more so than cats. Cats CAN be infected with the organism that causes Lyme, but they do not seem to develop clinical signs of the disease, nor do they need treatment. (Some dogs fall into this category as well, but more on that in a moment.)
In dogs, clinical signs typically do not occur for weeks or months after infection. Additionally, only about five to 10% of infected dogs show clinical signs at all. In those dogs who do show signs, the following are most common:
- Shifting-leg lameness
- Enlarged lymph nodes
In some rare cases, Lyme disease can cause kidney damage, which may show up as a sudden onset of vomiting, weight loss, lethargy and increased water intake.
There are many different types of tests for Lyme disease, but the current favorite is a test for specific antibodies that will show up in a blood test. While testing for Lyme disease is not complicated, deciding what to do with a positive result can lead to muddy waters.
If a dog tests positive for Lyme disease, he should be treated, right? Well, not exactly. Lyme disease in veterinary medicine is a complicated matter. From testing to treatment to prevention, there are many different opinions in the veterinary community regarding the best course of action.
Check out Part 2 for Lyme treatment, prevention strategies and their controversies.