Your Dog and the Dangers of Lyme Disease: Part I
Ah, Lyme disease. Not only is it the #1 mispronounced disease of the summer (it’s Lyme, not Lymes disease, folks!), but it’s probably the #1 misdiagnosed disease out there, too. The Gram-negative spirochete (bacteria-like) organism that causes it, Borrelia burgdorferi, was originally discovered in Old Lyme, Connecticut in the mid-70s. Nowadays, over 95% of the cases of human Lyme disease come from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Regardless of what state you live in, pay attention, as this disease can be devastating to your dog.
Thankfully, cats are rarely affected by Lyme disease. Why? It’s likely because they are such fastidious groomers that those ticks don’t have a chance of attaching on!
So, what exactly is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease, an infection that causes shifting-leg lameness, arthritis, joint swelling, fever, platelet abnormalities, and rare heart arrhythmias, is usually transmitted by the Ixodes deer tick (Ixodes scapularis or I. pacificus). In severe cases, it can cause protein loss through the kidneys (called protein-losing nephropathy or “PLN”), resulting in fatal kidney failure – this is particularly common in Golden Retrievers and Labradors.
Next week, I’ll talk about how to go about diagnosing Lyme disease – it’s more complicated than you think, and it’s important to know what a “positive” Lyme test really means. We’ll also focus on how, and if, we should be treating it.
How do I prevent my dog from getting Lyme disease?
When in doubt, prevention is the key. Prevention includes tick-picking (fun!), flea and tick medication, and even vaccination.
While tick-picking isn’t the most reliable way to stay Lyme free (as nymphs are as small as the head of a pencil), make sure to check your pet (and you!) carefully after a walk in the woods. Check the inside thighs, the ears, and the trunk of the belly, where these tiny ticks like to hide… and then do it again the next day. If a tick bites your dog, the tick will be big enough to find by then. Remember, it takes about 24-48 hours for a tick to transmit Lyme disease, so you have a narrow window to find and pull those plump ticks
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Dr. Justine Lee is a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and toxicologist, as well as the CEO and founder of VETgirl and has 18 years of experience. She has been published in several veterinary journals and was honored with the “Speaker of the Year” at the North American Veterinary Conference in 2011 and 2015. She is one of the founders of the Pet Health Network veterinary team in 2012 and lectures throughout the world on the importance of emergency and critical care.