Spring has arrived in North American, bringing with it the promise of budding flowers, warmer weather, longer days — and ticks!
These tiny disease carriers are most active during the spring and summer and can transmit Lyme disease to both you and your pets. The Lyme Disease Foundation, along with the Merial pharmaceutical company, recognizes April as Prevent Lyme in Dogs Month to increase awareness of the risks and encourage pet owners to take precautions.
“You’d be surprised at the number of cases we find where
there are no visible symptoms.” — Matt Eberts, DVM
In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that more than 21,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported each year in the United States. Although it has been found in every state, Lyme is still most prevalent in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
Matt Eberts, DVM, from AAHA-accredited Lakeland Veterinary hospital in Brainerd, Minn., says up to 40% of the dogs he examines test positive for Lyme.
Some infected animals will not show symptoms, while others develop fever, loss of appetite, joint pain, and lethargy. Although humans can develop heart and neurological problems, these issues are extremely rare in infected pets. However, if untreated, canine Lyme disease can cause kidney damage.
The good news is that when Lyme is detected in animals early and treated with antibiotics, pets recover quickly. If you suspect your pet has been infected, your veterinarian can run a blood test to find out.
No single form of tick control is a silver bullet. Instead, a strategy that combines avoidance, habitation control, tick checks, and repellents is the best way to protect your pets from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
Ticks thrive in damp, dense woods, so walk your dog on trails and away from vegetation, and keep cats indoors. Control tick habitation by mowing your lawn regularly and removing leaf litter and brush piles.
Ticks are often hard to find, but checking your pets frequently can greatly reduce the chance of infection. A tick needs to be attached for 48 hours to transmit the Lyme disease bacteria.
If you live in a high-risk area, your veterinarian may recommend an annual Lyme disease vaccination, screenings, and a repellant. Safe, reliable chemical and natural tick control products are available from your veterinarian as dips, sprays, collars, and topical applications. Many prevent fleas as well.
But how do you choose? Ask your veterinarian. “We tailor our recommendations to the lifestyle of your pet,” says Eberts. “For example, if your dog spends a lot of time swimming, there are some topical products that are more water-resistant than others.” However, Eberts cautions none are 100% effective.
Is Your Pet at Risk?
This map, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows where Lyme disease is most common. Pets have been infected in all 50 states. Contact your state and local public health authorities for specific information.
Other Tick-borne Diseases
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness, but these pests carry other serious, and sometimes deadly, diseases. If you think your pet may have contracted one of these illnesses, contact your veterinarian immediately.
When will your pet require geriatric care?
||Lethargy, appetite loss, weakness, pale gums
|Drug injections that can have serious side effects
||Medication may not totally clear up the infection|
|Bobcat fever (cytauxzoonosis)
||High fever, depression, jaundice, organ failure
Dogs are not affected
|Southern states, especially Missouri and Oklahoma, and the Atlantic Seaboard
||Fever, coughing, weight loss, bleeding disorders
||All 50 states
||Can be fatal if not treated early|
|Rocky Mountain spotted fever
||Fever, inappetence, dizziness, vomiting, cough, weight loss, skin lesions
||Nationwide, primarily Atlantic and South-central states
||Can be fatal if not treated early|
||Weakness and loss of coordination in hind legs leading to paralysis. Difficulty breathing, chewing, and swallowing
Cats are not affected
|Northwestern and Southeastern states
||Removal of ticks usually leads to recovery
||Can be fatal if ticks are not removed|