Lyme Disease and Other Tickborne Diseases: Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is Lyme Disease?
A: Lyme Disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States. Transmitted through tick bites, Lyme Disease can cause serious, even chronic, health problems for both people and their companion animals. The bacteria that causes the disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, lives inside a tick or mammal and can bind to connective tissue once the tick bites its host. Lyme has the ability to change its presentation in the immune system, so the symptoms can vary with the individual and can even change at each stage of the infection.
Q: Are there other diseases that can make my dog sick from ticks?
A: Ticks have the potential to carry many harmful diseases. Common ones in Massachusetts include Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, which can often be co-transmitted with Lyme Disease. These are easily tested for. Other diseases, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, are rare in our geographical area but still our pets are still at possible risk of infection.
Q: What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?
A: Symptoms may not present themselves for two to six months or more. They can include lameness, which can change from one limb to another without explanation. Other symptoms can include joint swelling, decreased energy/lethargy, fever, and loss of appetite.
Q: What kind of actions can I take for my dog to prevent infection of Lyme Disease and other tick borne diseases?
A: There are three ways that you can prevent infection of tick borne diseases. Using a monthly tick preventative is a great way to keep ticks from attaching and transmitting disease. There are many products on the market, but our vets recommend a vet-approved product to avoid negative side effects. Please see a technician or doctor for recommendations. Leach Animal Hospital offers Nexgard, which can be administered to your pet orally, and Frontline Plus, which can be applied topically (Use one or the other, but not both at the same time!) Many dog parents also choose to vaccinate their pet with an annual Lyme vaccine, which increases the likelihood that their pet will be able to fight off an infection should it be transmitted to them. Finally, a quick, in-house blood test (4Dx test) can be performed for your pet at their annual physical exam to check for exposure to these diseases. Speak to your doctor about your tick prevention program and how any of these actions alone or in combination can help your dog.
Q: How is Lyme Disease treated?
A: Successful treatment of a tick borne disease is dependent on early detection. Leach Animal Hospital recommends annual screening via the 4Dx Test. If your pet is positively infected, the best form of treatment is to administer a course of oral antibiotics, such as Doxycycline or Minocycline. We may also discuss additional blood work to assess how much follow-up care your pet needs. However, the best treatment will be considered based on your pet’s age, condition, and severity of infection.
Q: Are there other things I can do to monitor my dog’s health after they have been infected by a tick?
A: Leach Animal Hospital does recommend some tests, based on the severity of infection and needs of your pet, if they have been diagnosed with Lyme Disease or another tick borne disease. They may include the following:
- Specific blood tests for glomular disease; to check if infection has damaged the kidneys
- Chemistry Blood Panel; to check kidney/liver/pancreatic function, blood sugar and electrolytes
- Complete Blood Count (CBC); to check immune response and anemia
- Thyroid Test; to check if hormones are being produced at appropriate levels
- Urine Test; to check for the appropriate kidney function and whether urinary tract infections might be present
- C6 test; helps the doctor to decide on a therapeutic plan based on whether the test shows active infection versus natural exposure; also this test can monitor the success of treatment over time