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Preventing Lyme Disease in Your Dog

Lyme disease is a potentially debilitating disease in both humans and animals. At one time Lyme disease was limited to the eastern coast of the United States, but it has since moved inland and is occupying the Midwest as well. Although the migration of the disease hasn’t been scientifically explained, it is thought that bird migration may play a part in this, as does human transportation of animals. It is caused by a bacterial strain of Borrelia and is carried by a deer tick that embeds itself into the skin. If left untreated, this inflammatory disease can be fatal.

Information on Lyme Disease and Its History

In 1975, prompted by an outbreak of rheumatoid arthritis in juveniles, Dr. Allen Steere first recognized the disease near Lyme, Connecticut. Due to the rural location and incidences of the disease in the summer and fall, he ascertained that a tick was carrying the disease. However, not until 1982 did Willy Burgdorfer discover the bacteria that caused the disease, and it was named Borrelia burgdorferi. Since that time incidences of the disease have increased along the coastlines of the eastern United States, as well as areas in the Midwest. Humans are at risk for the disease, as are domesticated animals. Dogs can commonly be affected due to the fact that they have a tendency to wander into high-grass areas, and their bodies lie close to the ground. Unlike humans, dogs do not have the protection of shoes and long pants. 

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Canines

Many of the symptoms of Lyme Disease in dogs are similar to those of humans. Some things to watch for are stiffness in walking, an arched back, fever, difficulty breathing, lack of appetite, and swelling at the site of the bite. Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause complications such as permanent lameness and kidney or heart failure. The disease can be detected by a blood test done by the veterinarian, which can show exposure to the bacteria. It can usually be treated with a high dose of antibiotics given for a month. If treatment is successful, the dog will begin feeling better in three to four days.

Prevention of Lyme Disease in Canines

Prevention of Lyme disease in dogs can take on many forms. First and foremost, keep dogs out of areas in which they may come into contact with deer ticks. An individual who lives in the most common Lyme disease states, should try to keep the dog from the forests. If that isn’t possible due to lifestyle choices, one possibility is the use of a flea and tick repellent. There are possible side effects to these topical medicines, however, which include skin irritation and rash, as well as harsher effects such as diarrhea, salivation, nervousness, and even seizures if the dog ingests the medication. Many veterinarians will say that the benefits of a flea and tick repellant outweigh the risks, especially in areas of high Lyme disease infections. There is also a vaccination available for dogs to guard against Lyme disease. However, its effectiveness is not guaranteed, and there is a possibility of a vaccine reaction. Therefore, individuals are cautioned to use it only on a healthy animal.

Removing a Tick from a Dog

One of the most important things to do if a dog gets a tick under its skin is to remove it promptly and completely. This will help to prevent the Lyme disease from entering the bloodstream, as a tick must remain engorged for at least 24 hours for the disease to develop. Using a pair of tweezers, one should grasp the tick’s head or mouth, rather than the body, and begin pulling it out. One must be careful not to twist the tick while removing it, but pull straight out. Once it is removed, it should be placed in a container of alcohol to kill it. Triple antibiotic ointment can be used at the site if desired. If one confirms that the tick was a deer tick, it is prudent to take it to the local veterinarian to determine the presence of Lyme disease for reporting reasons. Also, if one is unsure as to the time and date that the dog was bitten by the tick, or if there is reason to believe the tick has been present for over a few hours, it would be best to have the animal tested eight weeks after for Lyme disease.