Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia Burgdorferi. It is spread primarily by ticks and infects humans and animals. It was first discovered in humans in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975 and was later reported in dogs in 1984. We have diagnosed many cases of Lyme disease at Berkshire Veterinary Hospital. The disease is present in the Berkshires and we now consider this a high-risk area.
Clinical signs of Lyme disease vary greatly from pet to pet and include fever, lameness and pain, arthritis, lethargy, loss of appetite, and depression. It is important to understand that many dogs will become infected with the Lyme organism without showing any signs of disease.
Lyme disease is responsive to a number of broad-spectrum antibiotics. If treatment is started early it is usually successful in preventing long term damage.
If your dog has clinical symptoms suggestive of Lyme disease blood tests are available to test for the presence of Lyme antibodies.
It is important to understand that a positive test indicates that a dog has become infected by the Lyme organism. It does not mean that the pet has Lyme disease. Many dogs will become infected without showing any signs of illness. In a recent study (2005), completed by Dr. Jacobsen at Cornell University, he found that 63% of experimentally infected dogs had clinical disease and almost all infected dogs in this study had microscopic evidence of polyarthritis. These numbers are alarming and are higher than researchers have reported in the past.
The risk of Lyme disease varies with each pet’s life style and the incidence of Lyme disease in their area. Pets that spend a lot of time outside in tall grass or wooded areas are at increased risk. Pets that travel to high incidence areas are certainly at increased risk.
Step one is to control ticks on your pet. The primary tick vector is the deer tick. At the present time our recommendation for tick control is Frontline spray or Frontline Plus. Both of these products are very effective, easy to use, waterproof, and provide good control of ticks for one month. They are approved for use in dogs and cats. Owners of dogs that are at very high risk might consider the use of a Preventic collar. This is an Amitraz impregnated collar that provides the most complete tick control. Ticks are active and feeding until the temperature is consistently below 40 degrees. In the Berkshires we will often see dogs with ticks during mild winter weather.
Vaccines are available for use in dogs. Lyme vaccines vary in the way they are designed. It is important to discuss vaccination with your veterinarian and to understand the type of vaccine your veterinarian recommends.