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Established 1925

Incorporated 1929


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 The Hunting Dog and Lyme Disease Prevention

 Sources:  The Pet Center      Mesa Vet Hospital     Frontline For Pets     Dr. Schoen

There are many different types of ticks throughout the United States.  In some areas they are seasonal and only cause a problem in warmer months, but in many temperate areas, ticks are a year round threat. Besides being a nuisance and causing local irritation, ticks can transmit rickettsial diseases to your pets.  Some of the most common tick borne diseases are Ehrlichiosis (tick fever), Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world. There is much that is known about it, but also a tremendous amount that still is unknown. There are many varied opinions regarding symptoms, diagnosis, vaccination controversies and treatment options. Lyme disease is caused by an organism known as a spirochaete and named Borrelia burgdorferi. It is transmitted by tick bites. It has been found worldwide and in ancient chinese medical literature they actually describe a syndrome very similar to Lyme disease, thousands of years before Lyme, Connecticut was named! In the United States, more than 90% of the cases occur in the Northeast, with California and Missippi second. It is fairly common in dogs, but rarely seen in cats, although I have seen some cats with it.

Signs of Lyme Disease in Dogs

In cases of canine Lyme Disease, over 90 percent of canine patients are admitted with signs of limping (usually one foreleg), lymph node swelling in the affected limb, and a temperature of 103 degrees (101 to 102.5 degrees is normal).  The limping usually progresses over three to four days from mild and barely noticeable to complete disuse of the painful leg.  Once the dog starts to be affected by the bacteria, Lyme Disease can progress from a mild discomfort to the stage where a dog will be in such joint and muscle pain it will refuse to move; it is not uncommon for an owner to have to carry a sick dog into the animal hospital.  Over the span of two or three days a dog can progress from normal to completely unable to walk due to generalized joint pain.  In addition to joint damage, the bacteria can affect the dog's heart muscle and nerve tissue.  If the disease is diagnosed in time, treatment can cure the dog before permanent joint or nerve damage occurs.  Certain antibiotics, such as the Tetracyclines, are very helpful in eliminating the disease.

Generally, the diagnosis of Lyme Disease is based upon clinical signs and history.  For example, if a dog ran or played normally a few days ago, has had no signs of trauma or previous arthritic discomfort, and now displays tenderness upon palpation of the affected limb and has a mild fever and swollen lymph nodes, you are going to seriously consider Lyme Disease as a possible diagnosis.

On the other hand, just as in human medicine, Lyme Disease is called "The Great Imitator" because it has often been mistakenly diagnosed when another disorder is present, such as an autoimmune disease, lymph tissue cancer, Blastomycosis, or septicemia.  Just as vexing is the fact that at times other similar-appearing diseases are diagnosed when the culprit is actually Lyme Disease. 

Treatment for Lyme Disease In Dogs

Keeping other disorders in mind, if you suspect Lyme Disease, get treatment immediately, generally with a prescribed antibiotic such as tetracycline and possibly some aspirin if the dog is in a lot of pain.  Many veterinarians do not wait for blood tests to confirm the tentative diagnosis because in dogs the information obtained may be confusing and require too much time to hear back from the lab.  Vets have seen patients that from clinical experience, know they have Lyme Disease, yet their blood test curiously indicates no exposure to the disease.   And there are numerous cases of normal-appearing, healthy dogs with positive blood tests for Lyme Disease.

What is the best treatment?  It appears that doxycycline and amoxicillin seem to be the best antibiotics against Lyme disease. It is suggested that staying on antibiotics for a minimum of a month, sometimes even longer is best. In some dogs that were only on antibiotics for two weeks,  it comes back with a vengeance and does not respond as well afterwards. A holistic approach would also include using probiotics such as acidophilus to keep the healthy bacteria alive in your pets gastrointestinal tract. In addition, it has been found that the organism can actually further suppress the immune system. So you might use nutritional and herbal support to boost the immune system as well. This would include echinacea and garlic.  Homeopathic remedies have also appeared to be helpful. The most successful of these ude homeopathic Ledum and a Lyme nosode. Lyme nosode is a homeopathic remedy that is made from the killed organism, diluted, successed and potentized to the point that nothing of the original organism remains. For appropriate dosages of these remedies, you should contact a homeopathic veterinarian.

Fortunately, over ninety percent of dogs treated within the first week of obvious signs of Lyme Disease will respond rapidly to treatment with a tetracycline antibiotic.  This medicine is administered for at least three weeks.  Approximately  five percent of dogs will have some type of relapse of signs such as cardiac or neurological difficulties even after treatment.   Some of these patients will experience chronic, lifelong joint pain from the damage caused by the bacteria and its direct and indirect stress to joint tissues.  The earlier the antibiotic is started in the course of the disease, the better the patient's chances of a complete recovery.

Can a dog contract Lyme Disease a second time?  Yes.  But, quite honestly, it is not known for sure if the reoccurrence is a second, distinct infection or a flare-up of the original episode (because the Borrelia organism replicates quite slowly).  And, since dogs can harbor the bacteria in their tissues a long time before the disease is evident, Lyme Disease cases are showing up all year long.  In the northern states, however, the summer months are the busiest for Lyme Disease case presentations.

Prevention of Lyme Disease in Dogs

As far as prevention goes, there is a great deal of controversy concerning the dog Lyme vaccine. There is a great debate about how well they actually work as well as potential side effects. There are publications concerning its safety, but the researchers only look 24 hours after the vaccine reaction. Research at Cornell University veterinary school brings up some suspicion that there may be potential long term side effects of the vaccine, though nothing is certain. These side effects may vary from rheumatoid arthritis and all the major symptoms of lyme disease to acute kidney failure. Though nothing is definitively documented, some vets are very cautious and do not recommend vaccinating for Lyme disease even though it is epidemic. Many veterinary schools and major veterinary centers do not recommend the vaccine for the same concern regarding potential side effects. Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs four to eight weeks after the vaccine have been seen  and when tests are performed, it shows no evidence of the disease, only evidence of the dog having been vaccinated, yet the dog shows all the classic symptoms of the disease. There is a new dog vaccine out that claims that it does not have any of the side effects, however, remain cautious and will wait for a year or two to see.  Some dog owners would rather treat  the dog for Lyme disease rather than risking the potential side effects of the vaccine. In addition, there is a question of actually how well it works. There are  three Lyme vaccines approved for use in dogs.  Keep in mind, though, that no vaccine for humans or canines will be 100% effective and protective against the disease.  Until more safety and decreased risk of side effects and efficacy are demonstrated, one might recommend holding off.   For helpful information on the advisability of vaccinating your dog, contact a vaccine manufacturer or discuss this disease with your veterinarian.

The best prevention still is checking your dog carefully and removing any ticks at least once a day. Collars do not seem to work that well, although some of the topical insecticides do seem to work well, but then one has to weigh the potential toxic effects of these insecticide from the beneficial effects of preventing ticks.   In addition, there are new chemical agents that you apply once a month to small areas of the dog's skin; thereafter, the agent spreads over the dog's body via the oil on its skin and kills ticks before they get a chance to inject the bacteria into the dog via the tick's saliva.  Sprays, collars, powders and dips are often used too (in these products  the chemical ingredient permethrin is more effective than pyrethrin).  Again, compromise and only use the topicals during the greatest incidence of tick usually in the spring and fall. It is all a balance! Keep your pets away from tick infested areas, check them daily and stay healthy and happy and tick free!!

Please note:  All of these agents will kill the tick after it climbs aboard the dog.  The longer the tick is attached and biting, the greater the risk of bacterial transmission... IF the tick carries the Borrelia bacteria in the first place.  Remember, no repellent will keep every single tick off a dog.  Sprays, collars and dips repel ticks to some degree, with collars being the least effective.

Hunting dog owners have found that spraying their dogs with a topical spray just prior to an outing in the woods decreases the numbers of ticks picked up by their dogs.  Caution!  Do not "double up" on insecticides or repellants.  If your veterinarian has prescribed a topical once-a-month flea and tick product, always consult your veterinarian before applying any additional insecticide/repellent product!  By the way, insect repellents designed to be applied to clothing should never be used in dogs.  To be specific, DEET is toxic to canines

Examine your dog after outdoor excursions and carefully pick off the ticks you find.   But remember how tiny the Ixodes larvae and nymphs are; they'll be a challenge to remove without crushing them. With tiny tweezers, gently grasp the tick as close to the dog's skin (or your own!) as possible and gently pull away from the skin.  Ticks do not burrow under or into the skin but rather attach to the skin surface with two claw-like mouth parts.  Try not to crush the tick.  After removal, cleanse the area with antiseptic.

Humans should wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible to prevent the ticks from contacting the skin.  And the use of light-colored clothing will make observation of the dark-colored tick easier.  Examine yourself closely for ticks after a day in the field.