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What dog owners need to know about Lyme disease

Aug 17

Categories: Blog

Lyme disease is a growing concern both to dog owners and their veterinary team because the disease is increasing in numbers, spreading geographically (not localized to Lyme, CT anymore nor even the North Atlantic states) and there frankly are just more ticks out there! When spring arrives, as it appears to have this week in New Jersey, with the trees budding, some color in the flowers blooming, warmer weather, longer days-- there will be many more TICKS!

These tiny disease carriers are most active during spring and summer transmitting the bacteria that causes Lyme disease as well as about 20 other diseases putting our pets (and us) at risk in our Monmouth county area. Infected ticks, which can be as small as the head of a pin, may inhabit lawns and gardens, fields and forests. Lyme disease can be confused with other diseases and sometimes the tick can carry more than one disease, leading to what is called co-infection, making diagnosis sometimes challenging.

The Lyme Disease Foundation recognizes April as Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs month. The CDC or Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that more than 21,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported each year in the United States. That's people numbers... we don't really know how many dogs are infected as in veterinary medicine we don't actively report the numbers. We do know that, at Animal Health Care of Marlboro, most of our active and sometimes silent disease is found in unvaccinated dogs: more about that later....

So how do you assess your dog's risk? Exposure to Lyme disease is a combination of where you live, where you travel, your dog's lifestyle and overall health. So we'd like to talk about the exposure risk in our western Monmouth county surrounds. We know that many dogs will not show signs at all except maybe being just a little "off" and who doesn't have some days like those? Others will develop fever, loss of appetite, joint pain, and lethargy. Our veterinary team sees this presentation several times a week: and again, usually in unvaccinated dogs! Dr. Morrone just saw a patient who had not only Lyme disease but another tick disease combined and Heartworm disease to boot! One sick guy but we're working to get him back on his paws again. And, you guessed it : no vaccination!

So think about the following risk factors:

  • does your dog live in an endemic area for Lyme disease? if they live in our areas of Marlboro, Manalapan, Englishtown and Old Bridge to name a few, they certainly are in an endemic area!
  • does your dog live in a suburban home next to or near wildlife areas? again who doesn't in our neck of the woods?
  • is your dog's yard surrounded by tall brush?
  • does your dog go walking, hiking, fishing or camping in wooded areas?
  • does your dog frequent areas with a lot of deer? like your backyard or frontyard?

If you find a tick on your dog, or answer "yes" to any or all of these questions, talk to your pet's veterinarian.

Canine Lyme disease prevention is through a comprehensive tick-borne disease control program, including vaccination. Your pet's vet can help to navigate through the available protection options based on what you tell us. With routine testing each year we can identify those dogs at risk.

No single form of tick control works for every dog every time. A strategy that combines checking your dogs for ticks, using repellents, avoiding riskier areas (yeah, go tell that to your dog as they run off and play fetch in the woods!) and topical protection is the foundation for control. Having your dog tested at your veterinary hospital also detects early stage disease many times even before clinical signs show up.

Vaccination is the number one way, we as the veterinary team can help! We often don't know all the places your dog roams and can't control that activity. But we know there are safe and effective Lyme vaccination programs for dogs. ( Sorry, no people vaccination yet--even though "both ends of the leash" you and your pet are at risk because where you spend time with your dog sets you up for tick bites and disease, too). At ahc we consider Lyme vaccination a "core" vaccination for dogs. The vaccination series starts at 12 weeks of age in puppies and consists of an initial 2 vaccination protocol to first time vaccinates given between 3-4 weeks apart and that vaccination is boostered every year.

We also have some very safe and effective tick control products that work well. We currently advocate for the use of monthly Vectra on dogs or the new Seresto collar by Bayer which lists 8 months of flea and tick protection (we even have a $20 rebate offer for you) for both dogs and cats.  We also have the Preventic collar (for dogs only) which causes ticks to detach and drop dead within 24 hours or so! In some dogs we'll combine Revolution, another topical monthly preventive, with a Scalibor collar (6 months of flea and tick control) to provide across "the dog" protection (there's a reward program for these products, too, so that if you but 6 months of Revolution you get 2 months free and a free Scalibor collar: saving you about $60-70 ).

So remember:

  1. Lyme disease is a potentially serious tick borne disease that can affect your dog (and, you!).
  2. The disease has been found in all 48 mainland states with our area of New Jersey considered endemic -the disease threat is near constant and pervasive.
  3. Dogs get Lyme disease from a tick bite most commonly the "deer tick" but the bacteria has been found in other ticks and ticks can carry more than one disease at a time.
  4. The bacteria transmitted into your dog by the tick bite is the method of infection: the tick acts as a transport carrier.
  5. Canine Lyme disease is largely preventable by using tick control, tick checks, and vaccination.
  6. Vaccination can help protect your dog from Lyme disease all year long.

How do you know what's the best prevention and protection? Ask your veterinarian because we tailor our recommendations to your pet's lifestyle. And after all isn't that what animal health care is: a joint effort by you, the pet parent, and us, the veterinary team! Protect your dog from Lyme disease: talk to your pet's vet.