Lyme disease is nearer than you think; it is now endemic in the UK and according to official estimates they suggest there could be up to 3,000 new cases occuring in the UK every year. The true number of cases is not known, and may be higher still. Since full recovery may not take place in many cases, the total number of people affected is accumulating. There is apparently, concern that the disease appears to be under reported and inadequately investigated.
Lyme disease can affect both humans and animals so as shepherds, farmers pet owners and country lovers we need to be very aware of the first signs of an infected bite through to the difficulties relating to its diagnosis and treatment.
It is hoped that the following information may help in recognising the symptoms of lyme Disease and impress upon people how imperative it is to seek immediate and adequate treatment. It is however, more difficult to catch the disease in dogs quite as early.
Humans and other non-canine family members can become infected with the same tick borne disease that threatens dogs. If you live in a tick infested area or you have ever found a tick on your dog, you should be as diligent checking yourself as you are checking your dogs.
What is it?
lyme disease is an infectious, tick-borne disease that affects both animals and humans, it is caused by a spiral shaped bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi and is spread by ticks that are infected with the bacteria by feeding on infected mice and other small animals. When an infected tick bites other animals, it can transmit the bacteria to these animals. Lyme disease is transmitted by the deer tick (blacklegged tick) and a small group of other closely related ticks. The deer tick is small and may bite animals and people without being detected.
The signs and symptoms of lyme disease in dogs are different than those seen in humans. Although most dogs will never show any signs of the lyme disease infection, it can cause chronic joint disease in man’s best friend.
Lyme disease affects a variety of species, including dogs, cats, and people. Up to 95 percent of dogs infected with B. burgdorferi do not develop symptoms (people are much more likely to become ill with Lyme disease). There is no evidence that Lyme disease is spread by direct contact with infected animals. However, keep in mind that ticks can hitch a ride home on your pets and move on to the humans in the household.
Dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in the woods, bush, or areas of tall grass are most commonly infected with Lyme disease. However, ticks can be carried into yards on other animals, and dogs can become infected anywhere ticks are found, but the time between infection and the appearance of Lyme disease symptoms can be up to 2-5 months.
Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease
When symptoms do develop, they may be transient or recurrent, and can include:
Some dogs with Lyme disease may develop kidney disease. Signs can include depression, vomiting, loss of appetite, and increased thirst and urination (sometimes a lack of urination will develop). Dogs who develop kidney disease can become very ill and may not respond to treatment.
Neurological disease (behavioural changes, seizures) and heart complications, which are sometimes seen in humans, are rare in dogs.
Diagnosis of Lyme Disease
The diagnosis of Lyme disease must be based on a combination of factors, including history (tick exposure), clinical signs, and a quick response to treatment with antibiotics.
A dog exhibiting any signs of lyme disease should be tested by a veterinarian as soon as possible. The most common diagnostic tool is the “C6 test,” a blood test that checks to see if the dog’s body has created an antibody against the C6 peptide triggered by the borrelia burgdorgeri bacteria. However, this test can only tell if the dog has been exposed to lyme disease, and not whether the dog is suffering from an active infection. An accurate lyme disease diagnosis is based on the results of the test combined with the dog’s history of deer tick exposure and the manifestation of common symptoms.
Other diagnostic test such as blood and urine tests, x-rays, and sampling of joint fluid, may be done to check for signs of kidney disease and to rule out other conditions with similar signs and symptoms.
Treating Lyme Disease
Treatment with antibiotics usually produces a rapid improvement in symptoms (antibiotics will be continued for between 2 and 4 weeks). Either a tetracycline- or a penicillin-based antibiotic is commonly used such doxycycline, which is an inexpensive medication with minimal side effects. Not only does doxycycline help kill the bacteria, but it also helps relieve joint pain and fever. Amoxicillin is another effective, inexpensive antibiotic that has few side effects. Antibiotic treatment is most effective during the early days of lyme disease infection.
Treatment may not completely clear the bacteria, but produces a state where no symptoms are present (similar to the condition in dogs that don’t have symptoms from infection).
If kidney disease is present, a longer course of antibiotics along with additional medications to treat the kidney disease is usually necessary. Kidney disease may develop some time after the initial infection, so is it a good idea to regularly check for excess protein in the urine of dogs that have had Lyme disease. Catching the kidney disease early in its course offers the best prognosis.
Preventing Lyme Disease
Tick control is extremely important for the prevention of Lyme disease (and many other diseases that can be transmitted by ticks). Check your dog daily for ticks and remove them as soon as possible, since ticks must feed for at least 12 hours (possibly 24-48 hours) before transmitting the bacteria causing Lyme disease. This is especially important after your dog spends time in tall grass.
Check for ticks daily.. If you find a tick on your dog, remove it right away, preferably with a removing tool which should ensure that the whole tick is removed.
In dogs especially if you find one tick, look for others, there is never just one.
After the dog returns from work etc. check the dog for ticks then 2 hours later
check again to ensure that any that have been in the coat have also been detected.
Dispose of it safely.
NEVER use petroleum jelly, hot match, cigarette, nail polish or any other products to remove the tick as these can create stress in the tick and encourage it to regurgitate its guts and infection into the bite wound.
Products that prevent ticks such as monthly parasite preventatives (e.g., Frontline®, Revolution®) or tick collars can be used; be sure to follow your veterinarian’s advice when using these products. Keep grass and brush trimmed in your garden.
Vaccines for Lyme Disease
Vaccination against Lyme disease is a controversial topic and is something that should be discussed in depth with your veterinarian.
Many specialists do not recommend routine vaccination because so few dogs actually develop symptoms of lyme disease, and when Lyme disease does occur in dogs, it is usually readily treated. Additionally, because the arthritis and kidney problems associated with Lyme disease are at least partly related to the immune response to the bacteria (rather than the bacteria itself) there is concern that vaccination may contribute to problems. Vaccination is also not 100 percent effective, and only helpful in dogs which have not already been exposed to B. burgdorferi.
However, vaccination before exposure can help prevent dogs from getting Lyme disease and also prevent them from becoming a carrier of the bacteria. Where vaccines are used, it is usually recommended to start vaccinating dogs as young puppies (e.g. at around 12 weeks, with a booster 2-4 weeks later). The vaccine does not provide long lasting immunity, so annual revaccination (ideally before tick season) is necessary. The recombinant form of the vaccine is considered to have less potential for side effects.