Although it has been recognized in Europe for over a century, Lyme disease was first diagnosed in the United States in humans in 1975 and in dogs in the 1980’s. Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi which is a part of the corkscrew-shaped spirochete group. These bacteria live in the gut of deer ticks and are spread to humans and dogs through tick bites.
Humans and dogs show different signs of Lyme disease. Humans will often develop a rash that looks like a bull’s-eye and/or flu-like symptoms. A few weeks later, they experience joint pain and occasionally neurologic symptoms and/or a heart rhythm disturbance.
Dogs differ in that they do not show signs until weeks or months after infection when signs of arthritis are seen. Sometimes they develop a fever. If Lyme disease is diagnosed soon enough, it can be treated with a course of antibiotics. However, if the disease goes untreated for a long period of time it can lead to kidney damage. Lyme disease can be diagnosed with a blood test we perform here at Rockville Road Animal Hospital.
There are two main ways to protect your dog against Lyme disease. One method of protection is vaccination. After two vaccines are given three weeks apart, an annual booster is needed to maintain immunity. Vaccination is recommended for dogs that come into contact with ticks while hunting, camping, or participating in other activities in wooded areas or spaces with tall grass.
Lyme disease is more prominent in the northeastern U.S., so owners who travel with their dogs to that region should consider vaccinating their dogs. Your veterinarian can help you decide whether vaccination will benefit your dog.
The other approach to Lyme disease prevention is tick control. Frontline Plus is an effective topical tick (and flea) control product. To contract Lyme disease, it takes 48 hours for the spirochete to pass from the tick to the host. Frontline Plus kills ticks before this transmission occurs. Regularly check your dog for ticks, especially after walking or running through tall grass or bush. If you find a tick that is attached, use tweezers to remove the tick. Pull the tick from its head to be certain the entire tick is removed.
With vaccination and tick control, you can protect your dog against Lyme disease. Schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians to discuss the options for your dog.