Get ready, you outdoors-loving pet owners, because it’s almost tick season. Those blood-sucking pests are most active from April to October, but one of the diseases they spread, Lyme disease, is a year-round problem. It’s also the most common vector-borne diseases in the United States. Both dogs and cats are susceptible to infection. So how can you tell if your pet has the disease? What’s the treatment like? Will your pet completely recover, or can there be permanent damage? Read on to learn all you need to know about how to recognize, treat and prevent Lyme disease in your pets.
WHAT IS LYME DISEASE?
Lyme disease is an illness caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, a corkscrew-shaped spirochete. It can affect humans, dogs, cats and some livestock. Most animals show no symptoms, or they recover quickly.
Lyme disease was first recognized by Dr. Allen Steere in 1975, after a sudden outbreak in juvenile rheumatoid arthritis struck Lyme, Conn. Borrelia burgdorferi is named for William Burgdorfer, who discovered the bacterial pathogen that causes Lyme disease.
Pictured: Borrelia burgdorferi
HOW IS LYME DISEASE SPREAD?
The disease is spread via the bite of an infected tick. In the northeastern, mid-Atlantic and north-central United States, the deer tick is the main culprit. The black-legged tick is to blame for spreading the disease on the Pacific Coast. The insects pick up the bacteria from mice and other rodents they bite, and then pass it to humans and other animals.
If your dog or cat has free reign of your outside property, it could likely pick up a tick. The chance of infection is higher if the tick stays attached to its host for a prolonged period of time. In most cases, a tick must be attached for at least 12 hours to transmit Lyme disease. It is not transferable from dogs and cats to humans. Regular tick checks after outdoor fun are advisable. (Source)
Pictured: A deer tick.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LYME DISEASE IN DOGS?
The main symptoms are arthritis and lameness in the limbs. Infected dogs show signs of trouble walking, or signs of severe pain in their joints. Fever, rejection of food, and depression are also telltale signs. The disease can stay latent in dogs for two to five months before having a noticeable effect. Humans usually suffer from an acute rash during the first stage of infection, but this stage is not seen in dogs. If left untreated, an infected dog can suffer kidney failure, neurological changes and more. (Source)
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LYME DISEASE IN CATS?
Your feline friends can get Lyme disease, but cases are rare, and cats don't typically show symptoms. Cats that do show symptoms of Lyme disease will display lameness, sorenesss of joints and lethargy. If left untreated, the disease can cause kidney problems. Sometimes, cats develop heart or nervous-system disease, but this far from common. Other telltale signs include walking with a stiff, arched back, and sensitivity to touch. Rejection of food and swollen lymph nodes near the bite may also occur. (Source)
HOW IS LYME DISEASE DIAGNOSED?
To diagnose Lyme disease in both dogs and cats, a veterinarian will need a pet's history leading up to the infection. The vet will then take a complete blood profile and a urine sample to see if the bacteria is present. He or she will also take a look at the bite area to see if there is swelling, and to check to make sure all pieces of the tick are gone. If the bacteria is present, that doesn’t always mean the animal is positive for Lyme disease. Some animals can carry the bacteria and not get sick. Your vet may also take X-rays to look at swollen joints. In severe cases, the vet may also draw fluid from affected joints. (Source)
HOW IS LYME DISEASE TREATED?
Both dogs and cats with Lyme disease respond well to antibiotic treatment. Recovery time is about four weeks, with symptoms subsiding within a few days to a week. Not all traces of the bacteria disappear immediately, but symptoms will subside, and the animal should return to normal. In severe cases, some permanent joint damage can remain after treatment. Some pets may also develop joint or kidney problems years after infection. There is no evidence that pets can pass the disease to humans. (Source)
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HOW IS LYME DISEASE PREVENTED?
There are plenty of precautions you can take to lessen the chance your pet will become infected with Lyme disease. Avoid areas known to have endemic tick populations, and check your pet for ticks after any outdoor activity. This is especially important in areas that ticks inhabit, and in areas with dense brush or grass. Ticks need to feed for 12 hours before they can transmit Lyme disease. If you catch a tick early enough, there’s less of a chance the bacteria will infect your pet.
Other than tick checks, you can treat your pet with flea and tick medications or tick-repellent collars. There is also a Lyme disease vaccination for dogs. Use the vaccine and the chemical repellents only with the supervision and recommendation of your vet. (Source)