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Lyme disease is a very common infectious disease in the northeast United States. It is especially common in Maryland.  It is also a very controversial topic among veterinarians because most dogs that test positive are not clinically ill. This makes it difficult to determine which dogs should be treated. Lyme disease also affects humans, so it is a topic of interest to everyone. CAPC says there were 57 new cases of canine Lyme disease diagnosed in Frederick County in January 2017.

What is Lyme?

Lyme disease is a bacterial disease, also called borreliosis burgdorferi, spread through the bite of an infected tick, which is called the Vector, the black-legged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) spreads the disease in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States. The western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) spreads the disease on the Pacific Coast.  Dogs, horses, and cattle can also get Lyme disease, as well as, white-tailed deer, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, opossum and raccoons. Ticks become infected with the bacteria when they feed on an infected animal, which is how it starts to spread throughout the animal world.

How does my pet become affected?

Dogs become infected when a tick carrying Lyme bacteria bites and latches. Signs of Lyme can take up to 2-5 months to appear. Normally, lameness and joint pain (arthritis) may be seen.  The knee and elbow are commonly affected and the lameness may shift from leg to leg intermittently. Dogs may also appear to have a fever, decreased appetite, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, and may develop kidney disease.

How do humans become affected?

Ticks can attach to any part of the human body but are often found in hard-to-see areas such as the groin, armpits, and scalp. In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted. Most humans are infected through the bites of immature ticks called nymphs. Nymphs are tiny and difficult to see; they feed during the spring and summer months. Adult ticks can also transmit Lyme bacteria, but they are much larger and are more likely to be discovered and removed before they have had time to transmit the bacteria. Adult Blacklegged ticks are most active during the cooler months of the year. Lyme disease in humans can vary from no illness to severe disease. Signs may start 1-2 weeks after infection, First, you will see what we call the “bullseye” type rash on your body, where the tick has bitten you. Not all people infected will get the rash.  Other signs may include pain in one or more joints, swollen joint(s), waxing and waning pain, fever, body aches, stiff neck, and headache. The knee is the most common joint affected.  If you think you may have Lyme, or have more questions about it,  please contact and talk your HUMAN Doctor for testing and further information on Lyme.

Diagnosis of Lyme disease?

The diagnosis of Lyme disease must be based on a combination of factors, including history, (tick exposure), clinical signs, and drawing blood to run a very simple blood test, called the 4Dx Snap (also known as the heartworm/Lyme snap blood test).  A positive antibody test is not enough to make a diagnosis on its own, because not all dogs that are exposed to B. burgdorferi get sick, and antibodies can persist in the blood for a long time after exposure.

Treating Lyme Disease?

Treatment with antibiotics usually produces a rapid improvement in symptoms (antibiotics will be continued for a few weeks). Treatment may not completely clear the bacteria, but produces a state where no symptoms are present. 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. This is especially important in peak tick season and after your dog spends time in the bush or tall grass (consider avoiding these areas in tick season). Products that prevent ticks such as monthly parasite preventatives all year long (e.g., Frontline, NexGard, Parastar, Advantix), be sure to follow your veterinarian’s advice when using these products. Keep grass and brush trimmed in your yard, and in areas where ticks are a serious problem, you can also consider treating your yard for ticks.

VACCINATE!!  Vaccinating can help prevent dogs from getting Lyme disease and also prevent them from becoming a carrier of the bacteria. Where Lyme disease is common (like right here in Maryland), 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 is ideal.  Dogs that have already had Lyme disease are able to get the disease again — they are not immunized against it — so prevention is key.

Contributed by Nicole Graham, Veterinary Technician

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