Just about everyone has heard about Lyme disease, but many people don’t know much about it other than the fact that it’s spread by ticks, which is true: Lyme disease is indeed transmitted by a type of bacteria commonly carried by small deer ticks. When one of these ticks attaches itself to a host (via biting) for at least 36 hours, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and transmit the disease. If infected, the individual will most likely develop a rash from the source of the bite within a few days to a month. Fortunately, this can serve as an early indicator of Lyme disease, making early treatment a possibility.
But what about Lyme disease and dogs?
Pet owners who know about Lyme disease might still be surprised to find that it can be transmitted to their canine counterparts, as well. Just like with humans, the disease is transmitted by the bites of ticks attached to the skin. However, it is generally more difficult to detect the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs because of the lack of the characteristic rash that serves as a giveaway to humans. Additionally, because the symptoms of Lyme disease mimic the symptoms of other canine diseases, a diagnosis is often only reached through a process of elimination. Symptoms may take several months to appear, and can include everything from tiredness to painful joints to loss of appetite. High fevers are also common. In some cases, Lyme disease can lead to more severe complications involving the dog’s heart, nervous system and other internal organs. So what all can you do to ensure your dog’s safety? Fortunately, quite a bit:
- Perform regular check-ups. If your dog is outside regularly, especially in grassy or heavily-wooded areas during the spring, summer and even the fall, take the time to carefully inspect his or her fur for any ticks. Remember, the ticks that carry Lyme disease are often very small, but they’re not invisible. Still, careful inspection goes a long way, and timeliness is a factor since the sooner the tick is removed, the less likely it was able to spread harmful bacteria that leads to Lyme. Fortunately, these tiny ticks are easily removable and can be pulled straight out with tweezers or fingernails.
- Research and find preventative products. From specifically-formulated shampoos that contain anti-tick ingredients to repellent tick collars, there are a number of products available to ensure your dog’s safety. Of course, nothing is foolproof; for example, tick collars work great when it comes to protecting a dog’s neck and head, but other parts of the animal’s body are still vulnerable. As such, it’s best to think of these products as supplements to your dog’s regular tick-inspection regiment, with the first line of defense always being a careful visual check-up that you perform yourself.
- Be mindful of where your dog goes. This is especially true for dogs that spend most of their time outdoors. As mentioned before, ticks are most prevalent in grassy, wooded and even sandy areas. If you live in an area where any of this terrain is abundant, your dog is at higher risk of an ambush from a hungry tick lurking in a thick underbrush or the sands of an unassuming beach. Also consider sticking to main trails if you enjoy hiking or taking walks in woods and parks.
- Consider vaccination. There are vaccinations that kill Borrelia burgdorferi, which is the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. These vaccinations are safe and effective, but the process is not as simple as going to the vet one time and being done forever. Typically, there is an initial vaccination, followed by a booster shot two to four weeks later (depending on your veterinarian’s assessment). The vaccination process must also be repeated annually to ensure immunity over time. Still, if this regimen is followed regularly, it is arguably the safest preventative measure that a dog owner can take to eliminate complications from Lyme disease.
Perhaps the most important piece of information to take away is that Lyme disease in dogs is a potentially serious ailment, but there are a number of measures that can be taken to prevent complications. The most important of these measures is preparedness. Consistently checking your dog’s skin for ticks means they can be removed before they ever have the chance to spread Lyme in the first place. And if you ever come across a tick that has been latched to your dog for an unknown period of time, remove it immediately and pay close attention to your dog’s behavior in the following days or weeks. Better yet, contact a veterinarian for a professional evaluation. For humans and dogs alike, Lyme disease is a very real disease, but it is also one that can be beaten.