May 16, 2019

Protecting Pets from Lyme Disease

By Dr. Jack Walkenhorst
This year has already been an especially bad year for ticks because of the mild winter we’ve had, among other contributing factors. These ticks carry a variety of dangerous diseases, including Lyme disease. Pets In Need veterinarian and board member, Dr. Jack Walkenhorst, shares how you can protect your pets and family.

How is Lyme disease spread?

Ticks transmit Lyme disease. When a tick jumps onto your pet and takes a blood meal, they can inject the bacteria that cause the disease into the pet’s blood stream.

The tick needs to be on the pet for at least 48 hours to spread the disease. However, depending on the life stage of the tick, some can be as small as a poppy seed and almost impossible to spot on an animal with fur.

The chances of finding a small tick on your pet are very remote. Once the disease is injected into your pet’s blood stream, it circulates and multiples until eventually reaching the pet’s joints.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease and how is it diagnosed and treated?

The most common symptoms of Lyme disease include joint pain and swelling, lameness, reluctance to move, high fever and swollen lymph nodes. If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms it’s important to get them to the vet for a test and potential treatment if necessary. A Lyme disease test is a simple blood test that can likely be run directly in your vet’s office.

Although the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is capable of infecting cats, the reported incidence of Lyme disease in cats is very low when compared to dogs. Fortunately, Lyme disease isn’t a chronic disease for dogs, like it is for humans. Lyme disease in pets can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by your veterinarian. Although the vast majority of dogs respond very quickly and completely to antibiotic therapy, in rare cases organs such as the kidneys could sustain damage.

What should I do to protect my pets?

Although ticks and Lyme disease are particularly prevalent in specific parts of the country, Lyme disease has been diagnosed in all fifty states, including Ohio and Kentucky. Therefore, it’s best for all pets to be on some type of flea and tick preventative. These preventatives not only protect the pet from Lyme disease, but also a whole list of additional diseases that can be transmitted by a flea or tick bite.

There are multiple ways to protect your pet from Lyme disease including a vaccine and tick preventatives. Often vaccines are only necessary if your pet spends a lot of time camping, hunting, or running around in woods, where ticks are most prevalent. If your pet’s environment and lifestyle provide a high exposure to ticks, you should discuss the Lyme disease vaccination option with your veterinarian to see if it’s a good fit for your pet.

There are a wide variety of flea and tick preventatives, including oral and spot on prevention. They will all kill fleas and ticks within 48 hours, but they each work differently. For example, some do not work to prevent attachment or bites, while others do

What should I do if I find a tick on my pet?

If you find a tick on your pet, it’s important to remove the tick as quickly as possible. Using a pair of tweezers, get as close to the pet’s skin as possible. Then apply steady pressure and slowly pull the tick off of the pet. If your pet is not on preventatives that would have killed the tick within 48 hours and prevented the spread of diseases, take them to the vet for testing and treatment. If the test comes back positive but the pet is acting completely normal, some vets will recommend forgoing treatment. However, although a pet is asymptomatic at the time of the test, they could develop symptoms later. It’s ultimately up to the pet owner, but treating the pet at the time of the test will prevent worrying and the possibility for symptoms occurring later.