Most of us are getting more and more familiar with Lyme disease in humans, especially in the Northeast. Did you also know that it is a significant problem in the veterinary field too? Information on Lyme disease is still being studied and guidelines and recommendations are changing all the time. Currently while our main focus and research is being done in dogs, some information is coming out on cats and horses though there is still a debate on the disease in those species.
Lyme disease, a spirochete bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, is carried by the deer tick (Ixodes scapularus). The tick will feed on the host and while it is attached it will transfer the Lyme bacteria if it has it. Both the adult tick and the nymph form of the deer tick can carry the Lyme bacteria. It is believed that it takes 48 hours for the tick to be attached before the Lyme bacteria is transferred.
Lyme disease has different forms which cause different symptoms in the mammalian host. Most commonly in the northeast we see the form that attacks the joints. The typical symptoms in our dogs are swollen joints (usually large on leg, elbow or knee), shifting leg lameness or limping, and fever. We also see a rarer form that causes acute renal (kidney) failure. In this case you would notice your pet drinking and urinating more, showing lack of appetite, weight loss and lethargy (tiredness). Unfortunately, this form does tend to be fatal. There are some breeds that seem more susceptible to this form but it is very hard to predict which dogs will get this form. There are other form of Lyme disease such as a neurological form and a cardiac (heart) form, however we rarely see these in our dogs in the north east USA. The most important part of this is what we can do to try and prevent your dog from getting Lyme disease. Prevention is always better than a cure and with Lyme disease it is especially true. First there is a vaccine against Lyme for dogs. This is a vaccine that is given yearly and has found to be very effective in either stopping Lyme before it can become disease or if exposed, stopping any clinical symptoms from Lyme. Along side with this the most important part is good tick control. The idea here is we want to kill the tick faster than it takes for Lyme to be transmitted. We highly recommend the oral tick products as it has a faster kill time and is effective against the deer tick. We currently carry Nexgard which is given monthly and is one of the best barriers against Lyme ever reaching the canines’ system.
The other important factor is trying to catch Lyme early in the disease/exposure process so that it can be treated effectively. We test yearly in-house and have a set of specialized tests that we can send out to a lab if your canine patient has already been exposed!