Published on March 24th, 2015 | by Debbie Martin0
Lyme disease and its dangers and prevention
Lyme disease is a disease which affects both dogs and cats around the world. It is most commonly contracted during spring and summer, when fleas and ticks are at their most active. While the disease is rare, its consequences are potentially very serious – and even fatal. In this article we’ll conduct a brief examination of what Lyme disease is and how it can be prevented and we’ll do so with specific reference to dogs in particular.
How is it contracted?
Lyme disease is carried by a bacteria called borrelia burgdorferi, whose main transmitter is the tick. A tick is a small parasite, only slightly larger than a flea. In Europe, the guilty party is Ixodes Ricinus, while the east and west coasts of the United States are haunted by Ixodes Scapularis and Ixodes Pacificus respectively.
The disease is usually transmitted after the tick has been feeding on the dog for eighteen hours. Consequently, it is important that the dog be periodically checked for ticks, particularly during the seasons in which they feed. We’ll return to this subject a little later.
There are a number of factors which make some dogs more susceptible than others. Certain breeds of dog are more susceptible to contracting the disease – specifically retrievers and Bernese Mountain dogs. Age may also play a role; younger dogs are typically more vulnerable than older ones. All dogs stand a chance of becoming infected with Lyme disease, however,
What are the symptoms?
Lyme disease is evidenced by a number of nasty symptoms. The most obvious of these are those brought about by inflammation of the joints. You may notice that your dog is struggling to walk. This lameness can be either chronic or acute. In the former case, the dog will suffer an ongoing lack of mobility; in the latter case, bouts of lameness may recur every few weeks – it may even return to a different leg. The affected joint will look and feel swollen and be painful to the touch.
Your dog may also suffer from knock-on effects. Their appetite may dwindle and they may approach stairs and other high places with trepidation. They may also experience bouts of depression. In some cases, the dog will go on to develop more serious problems – most commonly those relating to the kidney. If not treated, this damage will eventually result in kidney failure, the symptoms of which include vomiting, diarrhoea and a build-up of fluid under the skin. Needless to say, if your pet displays any of these symptoms, then they should be taken to a vet as a matter of urgency.
How is it diagnosed?
Unfortunately, it is difficult to know for sure that your dog is suffering from Lyme disease. This is because many of its symptoms coincide with those of a huge variety of other conditions. If you suspect that your pet has contracted the disease, a trip to the vet is therefore entirely necessary.
Your vet will then want to conduct a series of tests on your dog’s blood and urine – and possibly the fluid from your pet’s joints. These fluids may contain traces of bacteria, from which your vet can deduce the presence and progress of the disease.
Your vet will also check the area around the bite. While few people are familiar with the different sorts of ticks and tick bites, your vet will be familiar with the sorts which indicate Lyme disease and those that do not. Some part (or the entirety) of the offending tick may even remain, offering a vet a vital clue as to the presence of the disease.
How is it treated?
When it comes to the treatment of the animal, there is both good and bad news.
The good news is that, since Lyme disease results from a bacterial infection, it can be easily treated using antibiotics. Consequently, in all but the most severe cases, an afflicted pet will be treated as an outpatient. A typical course of antibiotics will last for around a month and by the end of that the pet should be entirely free of the offending bacteria. If this is not the case, then the dog has likely been misdiagnosed and you should return it to the vet.
The bad news is that the symptoms of the disease may remain even after the bacteria has been expelled. Joint problems are notoriously difficult to eradicate and may persist throughout the animal’s life. For this reason, it is important that Lyme disease is treated sooner rather than later
How can it be prevented?
As we have seen, the effects of Lyme disease range from the irritating to the severe to the life-endangering. Owners of both dogs and cats will therefore be keen to learn how these dangers can be avoided.
The best way to protect your pets against Lyme disease is to ensure that their environment is kept free from ticks. While ticks are most common during spring and summer, they have been known to survive during the cold months as well, owing mostly to the warm environments we keep in our homes throughout the year.
There are a number of ways in which ticks can be guarded against. The most obvious is through flea and tick medication. This is available in a number of forms; of which sprays and collars are among the most common. Powder is also available which will rid your home of fleas, but it should be applied consistently throughout the year in order to effectively minimise the risk.
If you are so inclined, you might also consider asking your vet about vaccination. Be aware though, that this is only worthwhile if you consider your dog at risk of the disease. If your dog is under a certain age – remember that younger dogs and puppies are statistically more likely to contract the disease.
Ensure that your dog’s bedding is regularly inspected and washed too as this will help to prevent fleas from establishing a foothold. You can also inspect the dog itself particularly on areas they cannot reach like under the ears and neck and on their behind. Ticks are small, but they are still visible with the naked eye. They can even be removed with a device such as the O’Tom Tick Twister.