Lyme and Other Tick-Borne Diseases
Information and Links
Tick-borne disease is becoming an epidemic in the United States. It’s serious and, in some cases, it can be deadly. Lyme disease has now been reported in all 48 contiguous states, though cases are most heavily concentrated along the East Coast, California, and the north-central states.
There’s a lot of confusing and conflicting information on the treatment of this disease. What follows represents what I now do for my dogs. Everyone should discuss appropriate treatment with their vet.
The Lyme Perpetrator: Deer Ticks
The tiny deer ticks are the carriers of Lyme. Never going dormant, they remain active year-round and can transmit the disease at any time, though most cases are reported during the Spring and Fall. Because deer ticks are so tiny (the size of a sesame seed), they are very hard to spot on dogs. People often miss them on themselves as well. The nymphs, which are most often responsible for Lyme transmission, are even smaller than the adults.
Signs of Lyme
Lyme is a shape-shifter disease that carries a variety of bacteria. For this reason, signs of Lyme can vary. It can also present with all kinds of weird signs or no signs at all. And different vets’ knowledge may vary. One vet told me that dogs don’t get bulls-eye rashes. Kiera has had a few textbook case bulls-eyes.
Many dogs who are positive will never show a sign. But the most common signs are arthritis, lameness, stiffness, joint swelling, soreness, lethargy, and fever. Often, people and dogs won’t get bulls-eye rashes. In advanced cases, Lyme can cause kidney failure, heart problems, and neurological damage, which can lead to an aggression disorder. Because any of these signs, including lameness, can last less than 24 hours, if you notice anything different about your dogs, or they just don’t seem right, even if you can’t put your finger on it, please get them checked.
The most accurate test now used in diagnosing Lyme disease in dogs (done at the vet’s office) is the Canine SNAP 3Dx or the C6 SHAP test, which tests for C6 antibodies to Lyme disease, and also tests for the additional tick-borne disease of Ehrlichia canis, as well as for heartworm disease. The reason the SNAP test is so accurate is because th C6 antibodies are only present due to actual infection, not as a reaction to the vaccine, which is very helpful for dogs who have been vaccinated or whose vaccination status in unknown.
A positive on the C6 SNAP test requires a follow-up test called the Lyme Quantitative C6 Antibody Test. The C6 antibody test determines the level of Lyme to see if we need to treat with antibiotics. A dog with a level over 30 gets Doxycycline and is then retested in six months to see if the titer has dropped.
There is also an annual vaccine. The first vaccine is followed by a booster in two weeks, and then a booster every year thereafter. The old vaccine did have problems. The new vaccine (Merial or Fort Dodge) is much safer, as it uses a killed virus as opposed to a modified live virus. There is some question as to whether or not a Lyme positive dog should be vaccinated. Lyme-expert vets recommend the vaccine even for dogs who’ve had Lyme, if they live in endemic areas. The vaccine is believed to help prevent another serious re-infection. Some people question whether the vaccine will cause a dog to test positive. The answer is no; it’s a different test–antibody vs. antigen. Statistically, the risk of any vaccine reaction is less than one half of one percent. There are convincing arguments for vaccinating and not vaccinating. It’s worth it to take the time to educate yourself so you know the risks. I’ve decided not to vaccinate my Lyme positive dogs.
I also use Frontline monthly throughout the entire year. You’ll still find ticks when using Frontline, but it kills them within 24 hours of attachment. It’s thought that the tick needs to be attached for more than 24 hours before the disease can be transmitted. Also, if you miss a tick, it will fall off the dog and look for a new host at the next meal. When you use Frontline, those ticks fall off dead. I include garlic in their food, and this seems to repel ticks as well.
If you’re open to trying natural remedies, a mixture of Lavender and Geranium oil works well to repel ticks. Dab the oil between the dog’s shoulder blades. Resources you might find helpful are: Veterinarians Guide to Natural Remedies for Dogs: Safe and Effective Alternative Treatments and Healing Techniques from the Nation’s Top Holistic Veterinarians, by Martin Zucker, and New Choices in Natural Healing for Dogs & Cats, by Amy Shojai
If one of my dogs does have a Lyme flair-up (both dogs are positive for Lyme), I immediately get them on a 30-day course of Doxycycline (some vets recommend 60 days or longer, depending on the stage at which it’s caught). Even if my dogs’ signs resolve sooner–signs usually resolve in a couple of days with treatment–I still give them the entire 30-day course of antibiotics. The life cycle of the spirochete is 30 days. Without treatment (or with shortened treatment), the infection can remain dormant before returning in the form of late-stage symptoms, such as neurological disorders, heart and kidney irregularities, and migrating joint pain. If the disease reaches this late state undetected, it can be difficult to treat and is sometimes fatal.
It’s important to raise people’s awareness about the rapid spread of Lyme around many parts of the country, because of the seriousness of the complications if left untreated. One of the expert vets on Lyme that I’ve gotten to know says, “When in doubt, test for Lyme.”
To Begin Your Own Research
When you google “Canine Lyme disease” or “Lyme disease + dog-human” or any variation on these, you’ll hit the jackpot. I’ve included the links that I’ve found to be chock-full of information on their own, as well as providing many links to other terrific and helpful sites. Because there have been a lot of recent developments in the understanding and treatment of Lyme, I always check the page date to make sure that I’m reading the most current information. To do this, right-click on the page and then click on page info.
If your dog has a tick borne disease (TBD) or you suspect that it might be infected, consider joining the Tick-L. They are a knowledgeable and supportive group of people and vets who’ve been through it.