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Lyme Disease in Pets

Lyme Disease in Pets

               As if we don’t have enough to worry about right now, spring brings forth fleas and ticks which can infest our pets.  Deer ticks of the Ixodes species can carry Lyme disease, named for the town of Lyme, CT where it was originally found.  York county has an extremely high prevalence of Lyme in both people and pets.  About 8% of dogs tested positive in 2019 with roughly the same number of cases so far in 2020. Learn more about symptoms and how to protect your pet against Lyme.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria or spirochete known as Borrelia burgdorferi which is picked up by the tick when it bites an infected animal such as a deer to ingest its blood, then passed to another animal when the tick bites again and injects the bacteria into the blood when feeding.

               Borrelia bacteria is spread by deer ticks, which are about the size of a sesame seed when engorged.  They can easily be missed in dogs and cats with thick fur.  A simple blood test can tell whether a dog has been infected with Lyme or other tick-borne illnesses, however; it may take four to eight weeks from the time a dog is bitten by an infected tick to the time he tests positive for Lyme disease.  A tick needs to be attached for 24-72 hours to transmit Lyme disease.  Dogs testing positive for Lyme disease do not always display symptoms, but, if they are ill, they will develop a fever, sore, swollen joints and lameness.  In some cases, dogs may also develop severe kidney disease or kidney failure.  Patients who are not showing symptoms may not require treatment, but it is recommended to check a urine sample to see if there is any protein in the urine which may indicate inflammation.  Dogs with protein in their urine or who are symptomatic are treated with antibiotics and pain medications or anti-inflammatories if needed.

               Cats can be infected with Lyme but infections are rare and are usually found in cats with compromised immune systems.  Cats have similar symptoms of fever, lameness and lethargy, but may also show difficulty breathing. While cats and dogs do not spread Lyme directly to people, infection in a pet may indicate that people are also at risk if bitten by an infected tick.

The incidence of Lyme disease in dogs can be drastically reduced by vaccinating your dog against Lyme, using a good flea and tick preventative and regularly checking your pet for and removing any ticks found on the skin.  To remove a tick, grasp it firmly at the head where it is attached to the skin with tweezers or a tissue or gauze pad and firmly pull back and away from the skin.  Try not to crush the tick or remove it with your bare fingers.  If a small bit of the head remains embedded, do not worry or try to dig it out.  It will not cause any harm and will be pushed out of the skin as the area heals.  On occasion, a tick bite can become infected, so, if the area remains red or appears swollen, have it checked by your vet. 

               Patton Veterinary Hospital offers several chewable and topical flea and tick preventatives for dogs and cats and a Lyme vaccine to protect your dog (no vaccine exists for cats).  Keep your pets protected against fleas and ticks and reduce infections like Lyme disease. 

               This blog brought to you by the Patton Veterinary Hospital serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.