Lyme disease, one of the most common tick-borne diseases, has been diagnosed in all 50 states, with the highest concentration in the New England area. Potentially difficult to diagnose, the disease can be even more challenging to treat, and recurrence is always threatening. Here’s what you need to know about ticks and Lyme disease to keep your family and your pet safe from this serious threat.
Not all ticks transmit Lyme disease
Only one tick species in our area carries the Lyme bacterium: the blacklegged tick, or deer tick, which can also transmit a host of other diseases, such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Powassan disease. In North Carolina, we also have to worry about Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis transmission by the lone star tick, American dog tick, and brown dog tick.
Lyme disease transmission does not happen immediately
Unlike mosquitoes and their immediate transmission of heartworm larvae during a bite, ticks must bite and stay attached to your pet for 48 hours to transmit the Lyme bacterium. Fortunately, this delayed transmission allows you ample time to comb through your pet after a trip outdoors and remove any crawling or attached ticks.
If your pet gets Lyme disease, she can’t give it to you
But, if your pet is diagnosed with Lyme disease, you may also fall victim, because even though she cannot directly transmit the Lyme bacterium to you, an infected pet indicates Lyme-carrying ticks are in your area. Take proper precautions for both you and your pet when venturing outside to avoid contracting this disease.
Lyme disease can cause a wide variety of clinical signs
Some disease signs can be vague, making diagnosis difficult without a complete history and testing. One hallmark disease sign is shifting leg lameness. Your pet may limp on one leg for a few days, appear to recover, and then limp again on the same leg or a different leg. Dogs with Lyme disease also may exhibit:
- Decreased appetite
- Hot, swollen joints
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Kidney disease
Keep your pet and family safe by creating an undesirable habitat for ticks
Contrary to popular belief, ticks don’t jump or fall from trees. Instead, they cling to tall grasses, weeds, and bushes, biding their time until their next victim strolls by. Even if you don’t take your pet to wooded areas, she can still pick up ticks in the backyard. Make your yard inhospitable for ticks by:
- Keeping the grass cut short
- Trimming back bushes and shrubs
- Preventing wild animals from venturing into your yard and depositing ticks
- Creating a barrier between heavily wooded areas and your yard with a buffer of mulch, wood chips, or rocks to prevent tick migration
Diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease can be challenging
Testing cannot confirm a Lyme disease diagnosis for at least two to five months after a tick bites your pet and remains attached long enough for disease transmission. Keep in mind that previous exposure, whether through a tick bite or Lyme vaccination, may also cause a positive test result.
Lyme disease is difficult to fully eradicate. It may linger in the kidneys, occasionally flaring up during times of stress or other issues that compromise the immune system. An antibiotic is usually prescribed to help squelch the infection and reduce the bacteria load to a subclinical level, as well as pain medication for any lameness. Depending on the infection severity, antibiotics may be warranted for a month or longer. Once your pet has completed her course of antibiotics, vaccination is recommended to help prevent future infections. Also, staying on top of year-round prevention is crucial, since ticks can pop back up throughout the winter.
Are you ready to tackle ticks this spring? Give us a call to discuss the best tick preventive options for your furry friend.