Watch your pet for ticks to help prevent Lyme disease
The month of May has been designated National Lyme Disease Awareness Month.
It's an opportunity for educational organizations to spread awareness on how to prevent you and your family from getting the disease. One bite is all it takes is the message shared by the Global Lyme Alliance.
This is also a good message for pet owners. One bite from an infected tick is all it takes for Lyme disease to be transmitted to a pet.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium carried by ticks. When an infected tick bites a pet, the bacterium enters his bloodstream and travels throughout his body.
Ticks are most likely found in woodlands, tall grassy areas and marshes, but can be anywhere outdoors -- backyards, playgrounds and ball fields. They may even hitch a ride inside.
Lyme disease occurs in every state in the U.S., but most cases are in the Northeast, the Upper Midwest and the Pacific Coast. As birds and deer migrate, ticks tag along. Veterinarians in Illinois have seen a steady increase in cases of Lyme disease over the last 10 to 20 years.
While ticks are most active in warm months, they are a year-round threat according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council. And the highest risk of transmission of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is actually during spring and fall.
Ticks cannot fly. Instead they crawl onto vegetation and wait for a pet (or a person) to walk by and brush up against them. Then they grab on and look for a place to bite. Once a tick attaches, it takes a day or two to transmit the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease.
Some pets may never show signs of Lyme disease and, in other pets, it might take up to five months for symptoms to appear. The most common symptoms include loss of appetite, lethargy, fever, and lameness caused by pain or inflammation of the joints. The lameness may last just a few days but then reoccur in the same leg or a different one.
Left untreated, Lyme disease can progress, damaging the kidneys, the nervous system and, in rare cases, the heart.
Diagnosis of Lyme disease begins with a suspicion by you or your veterinarian based on symptoms and health history. Common blood tests, a urinalysis and a fecal examination may be done to rule out other causes of disease before, or in addition to, a blood test specifically for diagnosing Lyme disease is performed. This test detects antibodies in the blood that suggest an active Lyme infection.
Treatment for Lyme disease begins with antibiotics, typically Doxycycline, for up to four weeks. If the infection persists after the first round of antibiotics, another course is prescribed. Anti-inflammatories also may be recommended. Even with these treatments, symptoms may reappear in the future, lifelong joint pain may be experienced, and the development of kidney disease is a possibility.
The best way to treat Lyme disease is to prevent it. Carefully inspect your pet whenever he comes back inside, especially in spring, summer and fall. Watch for ticks during daily brushings.
If you find a tick, remove it immediately. Using tweezers, grip the head of the tick at the point where it enters the skin and pull it straight off. If you can't or don't want to remove a tick, your veterinarian will do it for you.
Use flea and tick-prevention products. There are a range of products available, including chews, topicals and collars. Your veterinarian will help you decide which product is best for your pet.
Your vet may also recommend a Lyme vaccination for your dog. While a vaccination may not be warranted for all dogs, she will consider factors like where you live, your lifestyle and your dog's health before making her recommendation.
• Diana Stoll is the Practice Manager at Red Barn Animal Hospital with locations in Hampshire and Gilberts. Visit redbarnpetvet.com, or call (847) 683-4788 (Hampshire) or (847) 422-1000 (Gilberts).