Lyme disease has been creeping its way towards Beaver County for the past few years, and it’s here to stay. Ticks are rampant, and even if you aren’t an outdoors enthusiast, you – and your pets – may be at risk. Read on to discover how to keep yourself, your children, and your pets protected from this potentially dangerous infection.
Pennsylvania has the most reported cases of Lyme disease in recent years.
We used to have a sign in my veterinary clinic that read, “Please tell our staff if you travel with your pet to the Northeast or other Lyme prevalent areas.” We took that down a couple years ago after we started seeing a substantial increase in dogs testing positive for exposure to Lyme on our in-house diagnostic tests.
Since 2012, the numbers have continued to rise at an alarming rate – I feel it safe to estimate that at least 1 out of 10 dogs that we screen routinely with their annual exams have enough antibodies present to flag as positive. It doesn’t matter if your dog doesn’t leave the yard; one of the highest C6 antibody levels I’ve ever seen was in a Maltese that was only walked on the sidewalks in town!
You may not know that a tick has attached to your dog – or yourself!
Ticks are nasty little creatures. And when I say little, I mean itty-bitty. Last week I pulled a nymph-stage tick off of a cat’s eyelid that was only about the size of a sesame seed. They can be hard to see!
What’s worse is that there is no pain directly associated with a tick bite, thanks to anesthetic properties in the insect’s saliva. I have experienced this firsthand on a few occasions – you don’t know it’s there until you see it or feel a new “bump” on your skin. (Sorry for the heebie-jeebies!)
The “Bullseye Rash” doesn’t always appear.
In humans, erythema migrans (the familiar bullseye-shaped rash associated with Lyme disease) only appears in about 75% of cases, and can appear anywhere on the body. Infected pets don’t exhibit this sign, so save yourself the time of searching under all that fur for redness.
Lyme disease is progressive.
Early signs of infection are subtle: you may experience fever, chills, fatigue and achiness. As the infection advances, it can affect your heart (Lyme carditis), joints (pain/arthritis), nerves (here is the neuropathy relief guide), and muscles. Without treatment, the disease can cause long-term damage.
Dogs may exhibit nondescript signs of early infection: lethargy, inappetence, and fever are common. Most people notice when the joints become affected – joint pain causes “shifting leg lameness” – in other words, the dog will favor one leg for a time, but later on is limping on a different leg. Advanced Lyme disease can affect kidney function, which may not be recovered in severe cases.
Early treatment is essential – and easy!
Oral antibiotics are typically the first line of treatment, though each case is treated individually depending on the patient’s needs (this applies to both people and dogs!). If you have concerns about the possibility that you or your pet have been infected, please contact your doctor or veterinarian for advice.
Note: Only select antibiotics are effective at treating the disease, so don’t reach for the leftover, expired meds in the cabinet that you didn’t finish after that bad cold you had in 2010…call your doc!
Prevention is the absolute best defense against Lyme disease.
My family spends A LOT of time in the woods. We trail run, we geocache, we hike – and after every outing in Sahli Nature Park or Bradys Run Park, we check for ticks. And we find them. Here’s some tips on how to protect yourself and your pets:
- Avoid tall grasses & weeds – clear these from the yard, if possible. The CDC recommends installing a 3-foot wide barrier of gravel or mulch around recreational areas on your property (e.g. patios, playsets).
- If you plan on being in the woods, wear long pants and apply a repellent with 20-30% DEET like OFF! Deep Woods before you go out. Stay in the center of well-established trails whenever possible.
- Protect your dog with a safe, veterinarian-recommended product to kill and repel ticks. There are topical (Advantix II, Frontline TriTak) and oral (NexGard, Bravecto) products that have been clinically studied to be effective and have minimal side effects. Do not use tick products labeled for dogs on your cat!!
Our Siberian Husky wears a Seresto collar year-round – it kills and repels for 8 months! I love it because I don’t need to remember to put it on every month, and it’s slow-release, so I don’t mind our 5-year-old hugging the dog. Even better? Seresto is cat-safe! This is nothing like the over-the-counter, stinky, toxic flea collars of the past.
Ask your veterinarian about vaccinating your dog for Lyme disease, and have him screened at least annually for exposure to the disease – this is often included with the annual heartworm test.
- If you do find an attached tick, remove it properly by grasping it close to the skin with tweezers or using a removal tool like the Tick Twister. To minimize risk of disease transmission, avoid squeezing the body of the tick. Whatever you do, do not burn it with a hot matchstick, try to “drown” it with petroleum jelly or nail polish. Just take it off!
Lyme disease is no joke, so do what you can to prevent tick attachment, and get treatment if you suspect an infection. Our parks and forests are full of fun and adventure – explore it, but be safe!