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Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs

In 1985, the first case of Lyme disease was found in a canine. 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. The cause of Lyme disease is Borrelia burgdorferi, more commonly known as B. burgdorferi, a bacteria that is transmitted by a tiny, slow-feeding deer tick. To promote awareness of the disease and how it can affect canines, April is known as Prevent Lyme Disease in Dogs month.

Many dogs that are diagnosed with Lyme disease show signs of lethargy due to the pressure that the disease can cause on their joints. Other dogs may have a more severe case of lethargy that will last for only three to four days, but then return days or even weeks later. Other symptoms that indicate a possible Lyme disease infection include walking stiffly, difficulty breathing, sensitivity to touch, fever, and lack of appetite. Another side effect of Lyme disease is kidney disease. If left untreated, it may result in glomerulonephritis, which causes inflammation and interferes with the function of the kidney's glomeruli.

Although cats can also develop symptoms of Lyme disease, it rarely occurs, even in parts of the U.S. that are known to be more populated with ticks.

If you suspect that your dog has been exposed to Lyme disease, a blood test is available that can find antibodies produced by the body in response to an infection with B. burgdorferi. While your dog’s test may come back positive, they might not actually be infected with the disease. Your dog may have been exposed to B. burgdorferi, but their body was strong enough to find off the infection.

Another test to confirm whether or not your dog actually has Lyme disease is called the C6 test. This test is able to eliminate false positives and make a correct diagnosis in most cases.

Luckily, Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics. A minimum of 14 days should be given for the antibiotics to do their work; however, your veterinarian may prescribe a longer amount of time, such as 30 days. In most cases, the probability of a positive response to the antibiotic is high. However, studies have shown that some dogs were still carrying B. burgdorferi, even after a full course of antibiotics. While it’s disconcerting to know that your dog may never be fully free of B. burgdorferi, the good news is that they may also never show signs of the disease again.

The best medicine, as we all know, is prevention! There are Lyme disease vaccinations for pets. With the combination of vaccination and the consistent use of tick control products, the chances of your dog being diagnosed with Lyme disease greatly decrease. Another way you can keep your dog safe is avoiding wooded areas, where ticks congregate, while outdoors with your dog. If you do bring your dog into a wooded area, make sure they stay on the path if there is one, and avoid any tall grass. Once you have returned from your outdoor adventures, a tick inspection is always recommended; the sooner a tick is found, the better the chance of avoiding disease. If a tick is found, the CDC recommends the following steps for removal:

1.    Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.

2.    Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin.

3.    If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.

4.    After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

5.    Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.