Disease Spotlight: Lyme

April 18th, 2013

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme Disease (species: Borrelia burgdorferi) is a tick  borne infection common in the northeastern, upper midwestern, and West Coast regions of the United States. However, the disease is making its way further south and more cases are arising in North Carolina every year. In fact, 5 years ago Virginia was an emerging state when it came to lyme disease but today lyme disease is considered endemic in our northern neighboring state. Lyme disease is spread by a bacterial spirochete that resides in ticks, particularly Ixodes scapularis (eastern black-legged tick or "deer tick") and Ixodes pacificus (western black-legged tick or "deer tick").  The name "Lyme Disease" comes from the town Lyme, Connecticut. April is Lyme Disease Prevention Month!

How is Lyme Disease spread?

Dogs, cats, and people are infected when a tick carrying B. burgdorferi latches on to feed.  Transmission of the disease can take up to 24 to 48 hours after attachment. Once the spirochetes make it into the host, they move through connective tissue to spread to joints, the heart, and occasionally neural tissue. Once the spirochetes are in a tissue, they begin to incite inflammation. Your pet cannot spread Lyme Disease to you! .

What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?

Dogs infected with Lyme disease may display fever, shifting leg lameness, inflamed lymph nodes, lethargy, depression, and anorexia. These symptoms can either be acute or chronic, however chronic symptoms can also lead to more advance problems such as polyarthritis and renal failure.  Little is known about Lyme Disease in cats. It should be noted that dogs and cats do not always show the target shaped rash that humans do when infected with Lyme.

How is Lyme Disease diagnosed?

There are various tests that can detect B. burgdorferi, but all are dependent upon time intervals and your pet's symptoms. Snap tests such as a 4dx Heartworm Test can detect antibodies against B. burgdorferi which either indicates active infection or exposure. Serology panels can also be run on your pet to look for markers of infection, using ELISA or IFA methods. In either case, your pet's symptoms must also be taken into account to determine the best plan for treatment.

How is Lyme Disease treated?

Lyme disease is standardly treated with Doxycycline. Depending on your pet's symptoms and any test results, your veterinarian will recommend either a short or long course. It is not recommended to give antibiotics every time your pet is bitten by a tick.

Prevention is Key!

The best way to keep your pet safe from Lyme Disease is prevention! There are multiple options for keeping your pet safe from ticks that spread Lyme and other harmful diseases:
  • Topical Preventions - Products such as Activyl, Advantix, Frontline and others use chemicals that can kill and repel ticks.  Ticks that do attach are killed before the 24 to 48 hour transmission window can be reached.
  • Collars - Treated collars like Scalibor are waterproof and repel and kill ticks before they can transmit disease.
  • Vaccines- There are vaccines available to help protect your pet from common strains of B. burgdorferibut it should be kept in mind that uncommon strains can still be passed on to infect your pet.
  • Grooming- Checking and pulling ticks off of your pet as soon as you notice they are attached is also a line of defense against Lyme Disease, but should ideally be paired with topicals or vaccination.
The best protocol would be a combination of topical/collar prevention, along with vaccination and regularly checking your animal for ticks. It is up to you to decide what protocols best fit your pet and your lifestyle.

Where can I learn more about Lyme Disease?

The Companion Animal Parasite Council is a great resource to learn about many parasitic diseases. Visit their site at http://www.capcvet.org/capc-recommendations/lyme-disease/ to learn more about this month's topic, and to explore other parasitic diseases!  

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