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Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease is an infectious disease caused when a pathogenic spirochete, a spiral bacteria named Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi ), is transmitted via a tick vector, frequently the deer tick, also known as the black legged tick.  These ticks are commonly found in the Midwest and eastern United States.  The organism is carried via blood flow to many parts of the body, commonly concentrating in the joints and kidneys. The disease takes several months to spread throughout the body, and this is when signs usually first develop.  

Dogs with Lyme Disease affecting the joints often present with generalized pain, high fever, and/or shifting leg lameness and limping.  If left untreated, these signs may go away, but they will likely return in weeks or months.  When the spirochetes concentrate in the kidneys, the signs may differ and include vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite, and weight loss.  This is a less common yet more fatal form. The keys to preventing Lyme disease are prevention of tick exposure, vaccinating susceptible pets against Lyme disease, finding tick bites as soon as possible, and rapid antibiotic treatment.  Ticks thrive in grassy, wooded areas and climb to areas where they sense movement and then drop onto the approaching animal.  Keeping animals out of areas with underbrush and tall grass by utilizing trails when available is a key component to reducing tick exposure.  Ticks are the direct route of transmission, so reducing exposure to ticks is essential to the prevention of Lyme disease.   Chewable or topically applied monthly preventatives are very effective in limiting tick exposure.  Flea and tick preventatives are found in nearly all of our chewable and topical monthly heartworm preventatives including Simparica Trio and Revolution.  Dogs that visit or reside in areas where deer ticks are invasive should be vaccinated.  The vaccine is initially given twice at 2-4 week intervals and then annually.  Pets should be checked immediately after they have visited a potentially tick infested area.  Remove ticks that are found on animals and crush them between hard surfaces.  If the tick is attached, firmly grab it near the dog’s skin and remove it by pulling it straight out.  Do not spin the tick while removing it.  If the tick is attached and the affected area develops a “bullseye” appearance in the next few days contact our office immediately so we can discuss potential monitoring/treatment options. 

The disease is usually diagnosed through blood tests that detect antibodies that the dog had created in response to exposure to B burgdorferi.  The downfall of these tests is the body often takes weeks to develop enough antibodies to be detected by the test, so foresightful prevention and treatment is sometimes essential to preventing long term problems.  As mentioned, B. burgdorferi is a spirochete bacterium.  Therefore, it can be treated with antibiotics.  The key to prevent long term adverse effects is to start the 4 week antibiotic treatment as close to the initial tick exposure as possible.  As mentioned earlier, dogs that develop this disease often present very painful with classic “shifting leg lameness”.  Oftentimes, it will be initially confused with arthritis and NSAIDs may be prescribed to treat the clinical signs.  However, once the disease is accurately diagnosed and/or treated with 4 weeks of antibiotics, the patients almost always significantly improve.  Recurrences may occur, but that is most commonly due to infection from another deer tick bite as treatment of the initial disease with antibiotics does not prevent future disease.  Vaccines, although not 100% effective, is the best way to prevent this disease from wreaking havoc on your pet.  Humans can acquire this disease in the same manner as dogs.  Meaning, we can be bitten by a deer tick which can then lead to transmission of B. burgdorferi in the same manner.  There appears to be a lot of uncertainty amongst MDs about the presence and significance of Lyme disease in humans.  The same rules shall apply, nonetheless: Prevent tick exposure, remove ticks as soon as possible, and monitor all tick bite areas for the development of lesions.  If any questions or concerns arise call your doctor as soon as possible.