Lyme disease is the most common tick transmitted zoonotic (humans and animals) disease in the world. It has been reported in many species, but is generally considered a disease of humans and dogs. It is caused by the spirochete bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Cases are being reported in Clermont County with numbers increasing the further east you go in the state.
Types of ticks and how to identify them.
Life Cycle and Transmission
The bacteria is carried by the Deer Tick. This tick is very small and usually not seen. When blood engorged it may be the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen. Infection occurs when the tick is partially engorged, 24 to 48 hours after infestation. In humans an obvious large red target is seen where the tick attached to the skin. This occurs only when infected with the Lyme bacteria. These lesions are not seen in dogs probably because of their hair coat. Once infected, the incubation period (time from tick bite to showing symptoms) is two to five months. It should be noted that only 5% of infected dogs actually develop the disease and only a small percentage of deer ticks actually carry the bacteria.
Check out the Companion Animal Parasite Council's website for more information regarding disease prevalence in the state and surrounding areas.
The bacteria spreads throughout the body. It tends to localize in joints, muscle, and lymph nodes. It can also damage the kidneys and, in rare cases, the heart and brain. The most common symptom is lameness with painful joints that progress to arthritis. This is usually accompanied by fever, poor appetite, and depression. Swollen lymph nodes may also be detected. Infection of the kidneys can lead to kidney failure. Without timely treatment permanent arthritis can develop.
Doxycycline and Tetracycline are very effective antibiotics against Lyme Disease. However, these drugs have become difficult to obtain and the price has skyrocketed. Minocycline is an alternative drug that is somewhat less costly. Another problem with this family of drugs is it can cause dental damage in young, growing dogs.
NSAIDS such as Rimadyl and Metacam are used to control inflammation and pain in the joints and aid in reducing fever.
If treatment is started early, improvement can be seen in as little as three days.
Tick control. Several good tick preventatives are available and several more are sold over the counter that are not so good. We use and recommend Activyl Plus, a monthly tick and flea topical application. We also carry the Seresto tick collar that lasts up to 8 months. These are nice because they are waterproof and also have some limited activity against fleas. We recommend either of these products for dogs that spend much time outdoors, especially in wooded areas and meadows, or any dog that has a history of ticks on them.
Vaccination. A Lyme vaccine has been available for several years. Up to this year we only recommended it for dogs travelling to endemic areas. But, that has changed since Clermont County is now considered an endemic area as well. Outdoor dogs and dogs with tick history are candidates for vaccination. If not vaccinated previously, the first year they get 2 doses 2 to 3 weeks apart, then annual boosters. This is not considered a core vaccine by us, so do not assume your dog has been vaccinated at its annual immunization appointment.
So should you vaccinate your dog or just put on a tick collar? Does your dog need either of these? Call us. We decide each pet's health needs on an individual basis and based on lifestyle. We do not want to vaccinate indiscriminately or apply chemicals to your dog if not necessary.
To conclude, Lyme disease is nothing to mess with. It is treatable but can leave chronic debilitating problems. Likewise, it is easily preventable. And remember the tick preventions we carry are effective against all ticks. So, you’re also preventing the common brown dog tick and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever as well as Lyme disease.
Dr. Miller is a graduate of The Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine. He has been practicing and serving the pets in Clermont County for the entirety of his career.