Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)
Lyme disease - is my pet at risk?
Lyme disease was first diagnosed in dogs and people in Canada in the middle 1980`s. It is a serious illness which can cause debilitation, arthritis and major organ damage (kidney). It is important to be aware that lyme disease infection is quite different in dogs compared with the humans After being bitten by a tick that has transmitted the lyme disease bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, 80% of people will develop a rash and/or flu-like symptoms. In the next few weeks the person develops joint pain and few experience neurologic symptoms and heart rhythm abnormalities as well. At this same point in the infection timeline, dogs have yet to develop any symptoms at all.
In dogs, Lyme disease does not begin to manifest for weeks to months after infection at which point signs of arthritis are typically noticed. There often is a fever and enlarged lymph nodes. Long term infection can result in life threatening kidney disease (glomerular disease).
Although lyme disease is caused by a bacteria, it is carried and spread to other animals by the so called “deer tick”. The tick transfers the bacteria from infected wildlife such as deer and small mammals (mice, skunks, raccoons, etc) to our pets. These ticks are common to most provinces and are increasing in numbers. The tick’s small sized and relatively painless bite makes it hard to detect particularly on our furry companions. By the time the tick as become engorged enough on blood to be easily detected, the tick will have transmitted the lyme disease bacteria to your pet.
Tick bites often go unnoticed, making the diagnosis of lyme disease difficult. Add to this the fact that most dogs do not become sick for months after the infection and even then the signs are very vague. The result is that lyme disease in dogs is difficult to identify. Treatment involves weeks of antibiotic therapy, but when identified early enough can have a good outcome. However, pet not diagnosed until later in the disease are at risk for life threatening kidney damage. For these reasons prevention is key to protecting our companions that are at risk.
Prevention can be obtained only by vaccination. A vaccine is currently available to help your canine pet fight the borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Products such as Revolution ® kill ticks on your pet, but not before the lyme bacteria can be transmitted. Dogs cannot be tested for lyme disease until at least 1 month after the tick bite. Current recommendations are that only those dogs that are both testing positive for lyme disease and are ill should be treated. Cats are very rarely affected by lyme disease for which reason there is no feline vaccine available.
If you feel you pet is exposed to ticks and, therefore, at risk for contracting lyme disease, ask you veterinarian about getting your companion in a prevention program.