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Lyme Disease

Our canine companions are frequently bounding through the tall grasses, marshes, woods and bushes when the weather is nice. We think only of the fun they are having as they frolic without a care, but there can be dangers lurking in the grass and they are so small that they are often overlooked. One of these dangers is ticks and the threat posed to our canine companions is something called Lyme Disease.

Lyme Disease is a bacterial illness that can be transmitted to humans, dogs, and other wildlife through the bite of a tick. Once bitten the tick has to stay attached for 24 to 48 hours and it introduces a bacteria into the bloodstream of the host resulting in the appearance of symptoms. The most common tick that this is transmitted through it called the ‘deer tick’ or the ‘bear tick.’ It is important to know whether or not you our your pet are exposed since it is likely you were both in the same environment and both should be checked over for ticks as soon as possible. Although direct transmission is not a concern like if your pet gets blood on an open cut or through a bite, if a tick attached to your pet and then you transmission can occur so it is key to watch for ticks crawling around!

Now that our skin is sufficiently crawling it is also important to look out for the symptoms of Lyme Disease in our pets for their health and ours! Overall, your canine companion is going to act pretty similarly to how we would if we got a cold. They will likely be running a fever and a great way to do a noninvasive test it to feel their ears and see if they seem a bit warm. This is not a scientific way or accurate if they just got done playing, but it is a great initial indicator and can help you determine if you need to be more invasive and take a rectal temperature which is the most accurate way to check. They also might have low energy, swollen lymph nodes, and a decreased appetite. A tell tale sign that Lyme Disease is what is ailing out pet is the influence on joints. Your pet might exhibit lameness which can be consistent, intermittent or even re-occuring in that it may impact your pet every few days to a week. Also, your dog’s joint may be swollen and stiff which can be very painful for them. It is important to see a veterinarian if you notice any of these signs since they can progress into more severe symptoms like kidney failure, or severe cardiac or neurological symptoms.

Once you do go to the vet it is important to give a detailed history of activities, behavior and any information about what your pet could have gotten into or exposed to. This is essential in ensuring a quick and accurate diagnosis by a veterinarian. A veterinarian will often take radiographs in order to see what could be leading to the lameness or issues with the joint, but the main way that Lyme Disease is diagnosed in our canine companions is through a blood test. The most common one is an antibody test which is positive if high enough levels of the antibody that responds to the bacterium is found. However, this can be inaccurate since dogs that have not been exposed long may not have high levels of the antibodies or dogs that have been infected for a long time might also false negative. The other blood test tests for the DNA of the bacteria itself which is great if the bacteria is present in the affected joint, but it can false negative if the bacteria was not in the sample collected.

Even though this may seem like a lot and a bit terrifying this disease is easily treatable! The treatment is usually a course of antibiotics for several weeks. Usually all of the symptoms resolve quickly, but if not a longer course of antibiotics can be used. This of course can be couple with pain killers and other treatments to help target specific symptoms of the disease and make your pet more comfortable.

Our dogs are often our best friends and to ensure that this disease doesn’t grab ahold of them like the ticks do it is important to avoid areas that are known for large tick populations. However, if not it is important to check them for ticks frequently and use tick preventative if they have been romping around outside as prevention is always the best treatment. If not, knowing the symptoms, connecting the dots, and seeking veterinary help is always great in ensuring our canines can continue to frolic with no worries!

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Veterinary students volunteering with wildlife zebra in Africa
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