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Assessing the Risks of Lyme Disease and Prevention in Dogs

April 17th, 2020 by Laurie Brush

Half the black-legged deer ticks you and your pet encounter on a Sunday stroll are carriers of a disease that can be deadly. The Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium is zoonotic, meaning it can infect both humans and man’s best friend with Lyme Disease.

For your fur friend, if left untreated, canine Lyme disease can damage the heart, nervous system, and kidneys. Chronically infected dogs may develop a life-threatening form of kidney inflammation and dysfunction. Long-term, Lyme can lead to arthritic-like joint stiffness and lameness.

For humans, Lyme Disease has become the most common vector-borne illness in the US (at 62%), infecting more than 300,000 humans annually. Recent research has shown that more than 2 million of those afflicted will later suffer post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, characterized by cognitive dysfunction, incapacitating fatigue, and chronic pain.

“When weighing the risks of preventative treatment, it’s important that pet parents consider both the human and canine risks,” said Dr. Laurie Brush, founder of Heaven at Home Pet Hospice. “It’s also very important to protect senior dogs who are more vulnerable to infection.”

While dogs and human are infected with burgdorferi in roughly the same proportion, only 6% of dogs will fully develop the disease. It can take several months for clinical symptoms to show. At the same time, canine hosts introduce the carriers into your home.

Preventative Options

  • Oral preventative measures such as NexGard, Simparica and Bravecto have shown a small risk of seizure, but at the same time, the fast kill rate of these products reduces the chance of live ticks leaving the host to infect humans.
  • Topical acaricides or collars may prevent ticks from biting your dog but you may still be at risk. Water reduces efficacy of long-lasting collars.
  • A canine Lyme vaccine is available, but does not prevent infestation, or the risk to humans.

Diagnosing Canine Lyme

For dogs, early symptoms start with fever, lethargy, and/or random lameness in their legs. Two blood tests (C6 and Quant C6) can confirm a diagnosis. False negatives are possible if adequate time has not passed since infection.

Treatment of Canine Lyme

If caught early, Lyme disease can be effectively treated with antibiotics (often doxycycline) and anti-inflammatory medication.

Lyme is just one of a number of tick-borne diseases on the rise. Prevention and frequent checks will help reduce the risk to your pet and your family.