Ticks are most active during the warm spring and summer months, but they can bite and transmit disease anytime temperatures are higher than 40 degrees, which makes ticks a year-round threat to your pet’s health. Dogs are at risk for Lyme disease, one of the most common tick-borne diseases in our region. The Creature Comforts Veterinary Service team is sharing strategies for tick control and Lyme disease prevention to help pet owners protect their pets, and themselves, from this ever-present threat.
Lyme disease transmission in pets
Lyme disease is carried by a specific tick species, usually known as the black-legged tick or deer tick. These ticks prefer to feed on deer and rodents, but will gladly take a blood meal from a human, pet, livestock, or any other passing creature. Depending on the region, as many as 50% of these ticks carry Lyme disease, which they can pass on to people or dogs. Some tick-borne diseases are transmitted in only a few hours, but a tick must attach for at least 24 hours before the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, can be transmitted.
Lyme disease diagnosis in pets
Many dogs infected with the Lyme bacteria never get sick, while others can develop clinical illness. Signs in dogs most often include:
- Swollen, painful joints
- Shifting leg lameness
- Swollen lymph nodes
Some infected dogs will develop an autoimmune condition triggered by the Lyme bacteria that most often results in kidney failure, but can also impact the nervous system or heart. A blood test can detect antibodies to the Lyme bacteria, either through routine screening or during tests performed on a sick pet. If your pet is Lyme-positive, your veterinarian may order additional tests to look for other tick-borne infections, and to check your pet’s overall health and organ function.
Lyme disease treatment in pets
If your pet is exposed to Lyme disease but does not become sick, your veterinarian may order an additional test to quantify their antibodies, which helps them decide if treatment is necessary. A pet who needs treatment will receive an antibiotic course, while pets with autoimmune complications, such as kidney failure, will likely receive an immunosuppressive drug combined with other treatments specifically aimed at the damaged organ. Lyme disease may occasionally be fatal, but early detection increases the chance of recovery.
Lyme disease vaccination for pets
A Lyme disease vaccination is available for dogs, which prevents high-risk pets with frequent tick exposure from developing the disease. The vaccine works only when given prior to tick exposure, and requires annual boosters to remain effective. Remember—the Lyme disease vaccine cannot prevent other tick-borne infections. Most ticks can carry more than one disease, and pets are usually exposed to multiple ticks during each outing. Therefore, the vaccine helps protect your pet against the most common tick-borne diseases, but is not a complete solution.
Tick prevention and control strategies
Tick prevention and tick control are used alongside the Lyme disease vaccine to provide pets with more complete protection. Protect pets with the following strategies:
- Provide a high-quality, year-round flea and tick prevention product prescribed or approved by your veterinarian.
- Remove leaf litter and tall grass from your yard to reduce tick hiding places.
- Check your pet thoroughly for ticks each time you return from venturing into tick-heavy areas, including wooded or prairie habitats.
- Remove ticks promptly with tweezers or a “tick twister” tool. Grasp the tick as close to your pet’s skin as possible, and pull slowly and steadily. Never burn attached ticks, and place the removed tick in alcohol rather than smashing them.
Lyme disease risk for humans
If your pet is exposed to Lyme disease, you and the rest of your human family members are also exposed. Your pet cannot directly transmit Lyme disease, but they can bring infected ticks into your home and cause indirect exposure. Many infected humans develop chronic disease, and they are more difficult to treat than pets. Adhering to tick control and prevention strategies protects not only your pet, but also your human family members.
Don’t risk your pet’s health by leaving them unprotected against ticks. Ask our Creature Comforts Veterinary Service team about the best tick control products for your pet, or call us to schedule your pet’s next wellness, heartworm, and tick-borne disease screening test.