It’s that time of year again where the weather’s warming up and all the critters are starting to frolic again. Unfortunately, ticks are among them, and these little buggers present a health threat not only to humans but to animals as well, particularly dogs.
Ticks can be found in most states, but the Northeast, Midwest, and West have the worst tick problems in the U.S. While ticks in general carry disease, the only species to carry Lyme disease is the lxodes scapularis, more commonly known as the black-legged tick or deer tick. As you can probably guess, deer can carry deer ticks, but these little bloodsuckers will latch onto pretty much any living, breathing creature to feed on or use as transportation to another host. Unless you live in a largely urban area, you are likely to have ticks in your backyard, even more so if you live in the country, where the wildlife population is substantially higher.
The symptoms of canine Lyme disease differ slightly from the symptoms humans display. When a person contracts this disease, they may develop a rash, along with flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches, fatigue, chills, nausea, and stiff joints. A dog will typically experience lameness in its limbs, appetite loss, and fever. However, only about 5 percent to 10 percent of dogs that get infected will become symptomatic (the rest have antibodies to fight the disease off), and the symptoms might not manifest for two to six months after infection.
Symptoms will begin suddenly. If you notice your dog seemed normal one day and then couldn’t walk or stand the next, take them to the vet as soon as possible, as sudden-onset lameness is a common symptom of canine Lyme disease. While the disease itself isn’t fatal, if left untreated for too long, complications from Lyme disease can kill your dog or cause permanent damage. In other words, you don’t need to rush your dog in for emergency treatment at 2 a.m. (which often costs at least a few hundred dollars just to walk through the door), but definitely schedule a visit for your vet’s next available appointment if you notice your dog presenting with any of the aforesaid signs.
Treatment for canine Lyme disease is a long round of antibiotics. Doxycycline, the preferred antibiotic of choice, usually is administered for no less than one month. Much like with human antibiotics, the entire prescription must be taken until it’s gone, even if your dog begins showing signs of improvement (dogs will usually feel better within a few days of starting on medication). Your vet might suggest the Lyme disease vaccine after your pup has completed treatment and comes in for the follow-up appointment. Vaccination is always a good idea for pets, but bear in mind that the Lyme disease vaccine has a failure rate of about 20 percent to 30 percent, so it’s entirely possible for your dog to get Lyme disease again even after vaccination.