By now, everyone on this part of the planet has heard about Lyme Disease, the difficult to diagnose malady spread by ticks. In this short article, I want to explain several aspects of this disease so readers have some baseline knowledge as warm weather approaches.
Information about Lyme disease is timely as ticks start feeding in March and April. As the temperature increases, ticks become more active. Though this biological behavior is true for all ticks, it is the minute deer tick which poses a serious problem as it is the reservoir for Lyme disease. Both nymph(immature) and adults(mature) deer ticks transmit Lyme disease to both people and pets.
Here are several key points. Ticks reside in tall grasses and shrubs, usually at the boundaries of forested or woodland areas. Naturally, it’s easy for pets to rub up against foliage and pick up ticks. If a tick attaches to a pet, then it takes approximately 24 hours for the organism-a bacterium, which carries the disease to enter the pet’s bloodstream. Once in the blood, the bacterium rapidly divides and spreads virtually everywhere in the body. In dogs, the kidneys can be especially targeted as these organs filter blood and bacteria lodge there. Amazingly, cats seem to have a natural immunity to Lyme disease
and although the organism is found in cat blood, it rarely causes a problem. Of course, with people and dogs, it’s a different story. The clinical signs of the disease in dogs are numerous and can often be vague. Every vet has seen an arthritic, painful dog who has a fever and whose joints hurt. That’s classic. But we also see hard to diagnose cases-dogs with neurological signs like seizures or Bell’s palsy, dogs who have heart disease or who manifest behavioral changes. These not-so-straightforward presentations can pose a diagnostic dilemma. Compounding that, ticks also transmit other illnesses such as Ehrlichia and Anaplasma both of which have their own set of clinical signs. So dogs can be sick from more than one disease-all transmitted by the same tick!
Testing for tick-borne illnesses has improved but is by no means an exact science. Veterinarians use both in-clinic and ancillary tests to screen for vector-borne diseases.
Naturally, it’s best to prevent the disease in the first place. Using a reliable topical medicine is crucial. Whatever product is used, if it is a spot on topical like Frontline, Revolution or Advantix, then don’t apply it 3 days on either side of a bath! The skin needs some oil on it for those formulations to spread. And do be sure to apply it directly at the level of the skin, not on the hair. Use it monthly until at least December as ticks feed until several hard frosts.