As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, it’s only natural that we want to take our much-loved hounds out and about in the countryside.
Yet recently the Health Service Executive has issued a warning against Lyme disease in Ireland, advising ramblers, campers, and mountain bikers to take care when exploring.
But what is Lyme disease and is it a problem for our dogs too?
What Is Lyme Disease In Dogs?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread through the bite of a tick. The bacteria is a member of the Borrelia burgorferi group. Once your dog has been bitten, the bacteria enters the blood stream. From there it is transmitted throughout the body and generally concentrates around the joints. Surprisingly, only 5-10% of dogs show symptoms of the disease, yet when they do they can be severe.
In recent years, warmer weather has led to an increase in the number of ticks which has had a knock-on effect of increasing the incidence of Lyme Disease by 590% since 2009. For this reason, owners need to be aware of preventative measures and what to look for in case their pet starts to show symptoms.
How Can My Dog Get Lyme Disease?
The disease is transmitted by a vector, another organism that spreads the bacteria from host to host. In this case, it is the Deer Tick. They are hard-bodied ticks that can survive on a range of mammals such as deer, sheep, and cattle. When they latch onto a host they feed off their blood. At the same time, they are able to transmit any diseases they are carrying.
Ticks need to be attached to the dog for a substantial amount of time to effectively transmit the disease. While not precisely clear, it is believed to be in the region of 24 to 50 hours.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease In Dogs
A dog showing symptoms will often demonstrate ‘shifting-leg lameness’; where the joints become inflamed for a period of time before it switches to another limb. This lameness can also be intermittent, which can hinder diagnosis.
Internally, kidney failure may set in. Initially causing glomerulonephritis which results in inefficient blood filtering, this then progressed to full kidney failure at a later date. Now clear physical symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and increased thirst begin to become apparent.
These symptoms may or may not be accompanied by other more ambiguous symptoms such as general depression with a lack of appetite, stiffness in walking, becoming sensitive to touch or struggling to breathe. Complications of the nervous system are also a possibility although they are more uncommon. What can be problematic is that symptoms can take a while to manifest. Research is lacking in this area, yet experiments have suggested the disease has an incubation period of between 2 and 5 months before clinical signs are observed.
Prevention of Lyme Disease In Dogs
Prevention is always better than a cure and it is no different with Lyme Disease. Avoid walking your dog in long grass where ticks are prevalent in summer weather. After a walk, check your dog thoroughly to make sure that no ticks have become attached and remove them if they have.
There are also topical treatments that you can apply that repel and kill ticks that become attached. They are available from your veterinarian and are usually applied monthly. These are generally recommended as although checking your dog for ticks is advisable, they can often be incredibly small and are therefore easily missed.
Although there is a vaccine available, they are not in widespread use at the moment. Your vet can help you decide whether or not your dog is at a high enough risk to warrant its use. If they are, they will need to be vaccinated annually to remain protected.
Can Humans Get Lyme Disease?
Yes. People are also at risk of Lyme disease and as such should be vigilant against tick bites. Symptoms can include fever like signs such as muscle aches, sweating, and nausea. If you are worried at all you should contact your GP.
What To Do If You Are Worried Your Dog Might Have Lyme Disease?
If you are worried your dog may have Lyme Disease it is important to take them to be checked out by your veterinarian. They will take a full history and may take blood tests to confirm. Should Lyme Disease be confirmed in your dog they will be prescribed an antibiotic. One problem with Lyme Disease is that the symptoms are often similar to many other conditions. Therefore, it can be a case of eliminating other possibilities before Lyme Disease is diagnosed.
Treatment is usually for 4 weeks but can often be longer. Pain relief may also be required if your dog appears to be very uncomfortable.
What Can Pet Owners Do About Lyme Disease?
As pet owners, it is wise to both understand and be vigilant against Lyme Disease as it continues to be on the rise. Effective treatment is available, yet preventative measure will hopefully help you avoid both a dog in pain and costly vet bills. Always check your dog for ticks after a walk and treat them regularly with an effective topical medication.