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posted: 7/11/2012 11:08 AM

Deer tick bites can cause Lyme disease in dogs as well as people

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  • A deer tick magnified under an electron microscope. The ticks carry the bacteria for Lyme disease, and can transmit it to dogs (and humans).

      A deer tick magnified under an electron microscope. The ticks carry the bacteria for Lyme disease, and can transmit it to dogs (and humans).
    Courtesy of Lou Ann Miller, University of Illinois

 

"What is Lyme disease for dogs; how do you cure it; and how do they get it?" asked a student in Gregg Thompson's sixth-grade social studies class at Woodland Middle School in Gurnee. "My dog has it," she added.

Ticks thrive in wooded areas. A hike or picnic in areas where there's lots of trees, bushes or tall grasses can create the perfect opportunity for ticks to bite people and dogs and become embedded in fur or skin.

The deer tick, one of two varieties of ticks found in Lake County, is the one that carries the bacteria for Lyme disease, an illness that makes dogs and people sick if left untreated.

These resilient little bugs can catch a ride in the car, on clothes or on backpacks.

"Always check your dog for ticks, especially if you've been camping or in the forest," said Abbey Trobe, certified veterinary technician and owner of Aussie Pet Mobile of Lake County.

Lyme disease affects dogs differently than people.

"When the tick attaches, it takes 48 hours for the bacteria to be transmitted to the dog," said Dr. Lindsay Seilheimer, DVM, who sees dog and cat patients at the University of Illinois Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Symptoms for the illness caused by the bacteria don't usually appear for two to five months.

Some signs your dog might be infected are a general lack of energy and shifting legs -- the dog changes weight from one leg to another.

"They might have a fever or vomiting," Trobe said.

Good news -- there aren't many cases of Lyme disease in our area. It's mostly found in the northeastern part of the U.S. All dogs are typically examined for the disease at annual checkups.

"There's a screening that's part of the annual heartworm test. Not every dog that's exposed to the disease becomes sick," Seilheimer said.

A 30-day course of antibiotics can wipe out the bacteria.

"The dog can relapse later in life," Seilheimer said, but a new round of antibiotics will bring the dog back to good health.

Preventing Lyme disease is not difficult.

Vets recommend applying topical flea and tick control medication to dogs each month, especially in the summer months. Dogs that are more likely to be exposed, ones that live near wooded areas, are given a Lyme disease vaccine. For people, it's advised to use insect repellent containing DEET when hiking or camping.

A description of how to remove ticks can be found at the Centers for Disease Control website, http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/.

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