Lyme disease: 2018 update

Lyme disease has continued to be a common diagnosis among dogs, cats, horses and humans in the first half of 2018. Lyme disease is an infection caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. The disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick and can affect many species. Currently, one out of five dogs are infected with the bacteria. This number is slightly down from 2017; however, we still have five months left to the calendar year. Since January, 148 dogs have been diagnosed positive for Lyme disease at Catskill Veterinary Services.

Deer ticks are known to transmit Lyme disease when they attach to an animal or human and begin to feed. Traditionally, it was understood that the tick must be attached for 24 hours to transmit the bacteria. However, there have been reports of transmission occurring in under an hour’s time. A dog does not have to live outside or spend a great deal of time outdoors to become infected. I have had several patients that are labeled as house dogs become ill from Lyme disease.

An animal may not show clinical signs of becoming infected with Lyme disease for several months. Many dogs fail to show clinical signs at all. If a dog does develop clinical signs they include lethargy (tiredness), fever, vomiting, painful joints and loss of appetite. Some of the clinical signs may resolve on their own without any medical treatment at all. Others have been linked to long-term complications involving the joints, kidneys and nervous system.

Lyme disease is diagnosed based on a patient’s medical history, clinical signs and results from diagnostic testing. There are a number of tests that are available that allow veterinarians to detect a positive sample. Some of them can be done as quickly as during your office visit, while others require the assistance of a specialized laboratory. Testing is a very important part of early detection of disease. The sooner your veterinarian can identify if your companion has a Lyme disease infection, the sooner it can be treated.

Treatment for Lyme disease includes the administration of antibiotics for a four to six-week period. Often pain medication (arthritis medication) is used in order to address joint pain. You should not attempt to treat your companion without the direction of your family veterinarian. Relapses in Lyme disease are common and therefore despite being treated for the 30 days your companion may have a low grade of infection all of their life. This low grade of infection can sometimes have flare-ups in times of stress or other illness. Reinfection also occurs.

Prevention of Lyme disease is crucial. The vital step starts with preventing the tick from biting your companion; this is often done with the use of topical flea/tick products or specific tick preventing collars. These preventatives are often applied/administered every 30 days or even every six to eight months for collars. Consult your family veterinarian regarding the product they recommend that would best serve your pet. There is also a vaccine available for preventing Lyme disease. The initial vaccine is given and then followed up with a booster in two to four weeks following. Patients are recommended to have annual boosters thereafter, or as long as they are still in a high-risk area. When a vaccination is administered by a veterinarian, the manufacturers provide a disease-coverage policy. If a patient is given the vaccination and tests positive for Lyme diseas, the company will provide resources for lab test verification as well as treatment. 

Lyme disease is extremely serious and quite preventable. It is important to speak with your family veterinarian about your pet’s risk and creating a proper plan for prevention and appropriate screening. 

[Joseph A. D’Abbraccio, DVM, of Catskill Veterinary Services, PLLC, can be contacted at catskillvetserv@gmail.com. For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/CatskillVeterinary Services or www.catskillvetservices.com.]

 

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