Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne (translation: transmitted by a bug bite) illness in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is caused by spiral-shaped bacteria named Borrelia burgdorferi. Both humans and animals are at risk of contracting it through the bite of an infected tick.
The Black-Legged Tick (formerly known as the Deer Tick) is primarily responsible for the spread of the disease in the Northeast, while the Lone Star Tick, more prevalent in the Southeast, may also carry and transmit the disease. Ticks are found mainly in forests and grassy, wooded areas. Due to climate and the presence of both the Black-Legged Tick and the Lone Star Tick, Lyme disease is a serious problem in North Carolina.
In order to transmit Lyme disease, a tick must be attached to a dog for 48 hours. However, prevention of tick attachment in dogs is a very effective means of control. Numerous preventatives of different varieties (topical, collars and oral medications) are effective in preventing dogs from acquiring Lyme disease. Talk to your primary vet about the best option for your pet and eliminate his or her risk of contracting a tick-borne disease.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Typical symptoms include fever, lethargy, lameness, joint swelling and decreased appetite, though they will not show up until 2-5 months after exposure. In fact, clinical signs only develop in 5-10% of dogs who are exposed to the bacteria. Though it’s rare, infection with Borrelia burgdorferi can damage the kidneys, so a vet will recommend bloodwork and urinalysis to assess for any other effects in the body.
Dogs who contract the disease are also at risk for Bartonella, the chronic Lyme disease coinfection, which is a very critical illness. Some of the signs of Bartonella are similar to those mentioned above, though there are additional symptoms such as the inflammation of the heart, inflammation and irritation of the nose, inflammation of the brain, nasal discharge and/or nosebleed, seizures, cough, arthritis and the enlargement of the spleen and liver.
Treatment of Lyme Disease
If an animal tests positive for Lyme disease and shows clinical signs that correlate with the illness, they are placed on an antibiotic for one month to treat it.
There is no well-established antibiotic treatment for Bartonella in dogs. Case-by-case treatment plans are determined based on the seriousness and specific symptoms developed in the dog.
If symptoms show up outside of regular business hours or symptoms seem severe, call CARE at 704-457-2300 or bring your pet into our 24/7/365 Emergency Service.
Prevention of Lyme Disease
If you are not currently using a preventative for Lyme disease, talk to your vet immediately. Prevention is always preferred when it comes to tick-borne illnesses. If your pet is currently on a preventative, make sure to administer it as prescribed. Because a tick must be attached for 48 hours to transmit the disease, make sure to check your dog after time spent outside. If the tick is removed prior to 48 hours of attachment, the host will unlikely get the disease.
Further, there are several vaccines available against Lyme disease in dogs. It is recommended that dogs be screened for exposure to the bacteria before vaccination to ensure the vaccine is safe and appropriate for them.