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April: Lyme Disease Prevention Month

As a National Association of Professional Pet Sitter (NAPPS) member and a pet parent, it is important to understand that there are many diseases that pets can acquire from other animals.  April is known as Lyme disease prevention month to raise awareness that the disease may infect dogs when warmer weather starts in spring, raising the threat of the disease.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is carried by a slow-feeding deer tick.  Lyme disease can be found in any part of the U.S. and Europe, but is most often found in the upper Midwest states, the Atlantic seaboard and the Pacific coastal states. 

When a tick bites a dog, the tick becomes firmly embedded in the dog’s skin, feeds on the dog’s blood, and so transfers the Bergdorferi bacteria to the dog’s bloodstream.  The illness will appear about two to five months after the tick bite, but only about 5-10% of dogs will develop the illness.

Signs of illness consist of sudden lameness, with tenderness and swelling of one or more joints, and signs of severe pain when the joints are touched.  Other signs to watch for are lethargy, loss of appetite and fever.  The dog may walk stiffly.  The illness responds very quickly to a three or four week course of antibiotics, such as doxycycline or amoxicillin, but may recur after a few weeks, and again respond readily to the same antibiotics.

Unfortunately, antibiotics do not completely eradicate the bacteria Bergdorferi in the body, so that the bacteria lie dormant.  Dormancy that lasts for a very long time may cause kidney damage, which must be treated by a veterinarian.

PREVENTION:  Dogs in heavily infested areas must be checked daily for ticks, and the ticks removed.  Removal is done with fine tweezers and must remove the whole tick, head as well as body, and all body parts.  If the tick is removed within 12 hours of the bite, there is minimal to no danger of infection.  Only about 5% of dogs will show signs of illness, which do not appear until 2 to 5 months after a tick bite.  
Tick-borne disease is most successfully prevented by topical medication, which must be placed on the skin as the manufacturer directs, or can be worn as a medicated collar.