May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, therefore, it is the perfect opportunity to discuss preventative measures that you can take in order to protect your furry companion from this potentially dangerous disease.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the Borrellia burgdorferi bacterium, which travels through the bloodstream and eventually causes a number of health issues, some of which can be severe. According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, "LD manifests itself as a multisystem inflammatory disease that affects the skin in its early, localized stage, and spreads to the joints, nervous system and, to a lesser extent, other organ systems in its later, disseminated stages."
How does my dog contract Lyme Disease?
While there are different types of ticks, it is the deer ticks that are responsible for transmitting Lyme Disease. As carriers of Lyme Disease, ticks transmit the disease from one host to another by imbedding their mouthparts into the host's skin and sucking on its blood. In order for the disease to be transmitted, the infected tick must be attached to your dog for at least 48 hours. Therefore, having a prevention plan that includes daily inspections for ticks on your dog can be an effective means towards preventing the disease from spreading.
How do I know if my dog has been infected?
As a human, one of the early signs of Lyme Disease is the characteristic “bull’s eye” rash that forms around the site of the bite. Unfortunately, this is not a symptom found in dogs. Furthermore, many canine symptoms may not be recognizable until a few months after becoming infected, making early diagnosis difficult. Furthermore, many of the ailments are often confused for symptoms of other health issues. The most common symptom seen in dogs is recurrent lameness, most especially in the leg joints, as a result of inflammation. Other symptoms may include loss of appetite, depression, swollen lymph nodes, high fever, and in more severe cases, the disease can lead to kidney disorder (this has been seen in cases involving Labrador Retrievers).
How can I protect my dog from getting Lyme Disease?
Prevention is key to protecting your canine friend from becoming infected with Lyme Disease. First and foremost, if you spend anytime outside in high risk areas, it is imperative that you thoroughly scan your dog’s body for ticks. If you find a tick attached to your dog and properly remove it, we highly suggest taking the tick to your veterinarian to have them test it for Lyme Disease. In addition to daily inspections of your dog, there are a number of options available that can be effective at repelling and preventing ticks. Some tick control methods to consider include:
Topical Medication: Usually these are applied on a monthly basis directly onto your pets skin and coat and, depending on the product, are highly effective at repelling ticks, fleas, and a number of other parasites. As with all medications, read the label carefully and always discuss options with your veterinarian.
Oral Medication: There are a number of new products available that can be given in pill form to your canine friend. Many of these are highly effective at protecting your dog from ticks and fleas for at least 4 weeks, and some for as long as 12 weeks. Since most oral medications require a prescription from your veterinarian, it is good idea to discuss the best tick prevention plan for protecting your dog.
Shampoos, Sprays, and Collars: Though these options may not be as effective as the topical and oral medications, they can still be useful. Shampoos generally kill ticks on contact; however, they need to be repeated more frequently since the ingredients simply don't last as long as those found in oral and topical medications. Sprays can be used in-between shampoo treatments in order to help provide additional protection, especially if you plan on spending extended time in the woods with your dog. The use of a flea and tick control collar can be effective; however, it’s protection is generally limited to the dog's head and neck area. As with any product, be sure to read the labels carefully before use and discuss treatment options with your veterinarian.
I would be remiss if I did not discuss the Lyme Disease Vaccine. While the vaccination remains an ongoing debate in the veterinary medical field, this is a viable option available for canines. Those in the field who are opposed to the vaccination have questions about it's efficacy, as well as its possible side effects. However, there is general consensus that use of the vaccination should not be the only preventative method used, but rather part of a larger prevention program, especially in high-risk areas. If you and your dog reside in or spend considerable time in a location where Lyme disease is prevalent, I encourage you to discuss a tick prevention plan with your veterinarian.