If you’re a fur-parent, you want to keep your fur-baby happy and healthy, and part of that responsibility includes guarding your pets against Lyme disease. We’ve all heard of the disease and know to watch out for those pesky ticks, but just what exactly is Lyme disease and how can we prevent our pets from contracting it?
We spoke with Dr. Brent Lakia, Practice Owner and Veterinarian at Vale Park Animal Hospital, to find out just how to keep our precious pets safe and protected when it comes to Lyme disease.
Q: How do pets contract Lyme disease?
A: Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected black-legged deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). These ticks are active even in winter and are known to be active any time the temperature is above 32oF. As the tick is attached to the pet, the bacteria that causes Lyme, B. burgdorferi, is injected into the pet through the tick’s saliva. This process actually requires close to 48 hours for the infective bacteria to make it from the gut of the tick to the tick’s salivary glands.
Q: How does Lyme disease affect pets?
A: Lyme disease causes inflammation throughout the pet’s life. Clinical illness is typically caused by the pet’s own immune system reacting to the bacteria’s (Borrelia burgdorferi) presence in the body. The bacterium is a spirochete, meaning its body shape is that of a spiral, which makes it very good at evading the local immune system once the bacteria have made it into the body
Q: What are the symptoms of Lyme disease in your pet?
A: In dogs, the most common symptoms of Lyme are fever, inflamed and painful joints, and lameness. Curiously, dogs will often have a shifting leg lameness, meaning one day they will be limping on the left front leg, then the next day the right front leg, then the left rear leg, etc. Other dogs will develop Lyme nephritis, which often does not have any initial signs of disease. These dogs will be normal until Lyme disease affects the kidneys enough to cause kidney disease, characterized by increased thirst, increased urination, and often accidents in the home. Lyme nephritis can be fatal, so it is recommended that all dogs with a positive Lyme test have their urine tested for protein, as this is often the first sign of renal Lyme nephritis. If protein is noted in the urine, your veterinarian will often prescribe appropriate antibiotics for 28-30 days of treatment. Some dogs might not show any disease symptoms at all.
Cats can be infected with Lyme disease; however, they rarely appear to show any clinical signs of the disease. Very rarely they may develop arthritis or inflammation of the nervous tissues. Cats typically are not tested for Lyme disease and typically do not require treatment. To help prevent other tick-borne diseases, cats should be kept on a topical monthly preventative such as Revolution Plus if they are exposed to ticks or go outside.
Q: What should a pet owner do if they suspect their pet has contracted Lyme disease?
A: Owners should reach out to their veterinarian if they suspect their pet has contracted Lyme disease. There is a test (called a 4Dx test) that is a good screening for Lyme disease. However, the quickest we can have a positive test after exposure to Lyme disease is four weeks after a tick bite. If your pet has been recently bitten by a tick, it is always a good idea to reach out to your veterinarian for help with the removal of the tick.
Q: What are the best practices for pet owners to avoid pets contracting Lyme disease?
A: Keep your pet on flea and tick prevention all year round. The best Lyme prevention is the newer oral flea and tick prevention that kills ticks in under 24 hours, as this does not allow for the needed time for a tick to infect the pet. Examples of these newer oral flea and tick preventions are Nexguard, Bravecto, and Simperica. Further, vaccination for lapses in coverage provides an additional layer of protection for your pet.
Q: Are there any preventive medications?
A: There is a vaccination to help prevent Lyme disease. This is a very good vaccine, but as ticks can carry more than just Lyme disease, we still recommend flea and tick prevention even if your pet is vaccinated for Lyme disease. Additionally, Nexguard is labeled as a preventative of Lyme disease due to its effectiveness at killing Ixodes ticks before they can transmit the disease.
Q: Any additional information you feel is important for pet owners to know?
A: Lyme disease can be a very serious disease but does not always require treatment. Talk to your veterinarian if you are concerned about Lyme disease, and based on your pet’s personal needs and symptoms, an appropriate testing and treatment plan will be made. The best way to deal with Lyme disease is to prevent it with effective, monthly flea and tick prevention.
For all of your pet’s health needs, Lyme disease and beyond, visit the team at Vale Park Animal Hospital. They’re ready to take care of your pet and keep them happy and healthy.
“Vale Park has a passion for client education and strives to provide quality medical care for our patients with exceptional compassion and client service,” Lakia said.