First discovered in dogs in 1985, Lyme disease is transmitted through a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Most commonly, the main carrier for this bacteria is the black deer tick. In the United States, the tick is most prominent in the Northeast, accounting for about 85% of Lyme disease cases. However, there have been rare instances of the disease existing in the Southern and Western United States.
For a tick to transmit the disease it must be attached to the host for 48 hours. If the tick dies during this time period or is removed, transmission will not occur. While tick prevention medicine is always recommended to protect your pet, it only takes one tick to cause Lyme disease. Toward the end of the tick preventative cycle, medicines have a tendency to be less effective. One tick carrying the disease and attaching to your dog at the right time is all it takes.
Positive Exposure Test
As part of your pet’s yearly wellness exam, it is a good idea to conduct a blood test to monitor for tick-borne diseases such as Lyme. When a dog is exposed to Lyme disease, certain antibodies are released into your dog’s system to combat the disease. It is important to note that this screening only indicates exposure to Lyme disease and not the disease itself. A positive Lyme test in your dog does not mean with certainty that your dog has the disease. In fact, in a recent study conducted by Cornell University, about 94% of dogs that test positive for exposure to Lyme never fully develop the disease.
If your dog tests positive for Lyme disease there are additional tests available to quantify the amount of antibodies produced by your pet. By opting to run further testing you will be able to create a baseline for your pet. If your dog has very minimal traces of the antibody it can be a good indication that your dog was simply exposed to the disease. By monitoring the level of antibodies year after year it is much easier to notice a spike in antibodies should the disease fully manifest.
If your dog starts to exhibit symptoms of Lyme, such as lameness, loss of appetite, or reduced energy, it may be time to have a veterinarian examine your dog. Your vet will be able to check for common symptoms related to the disease, such as swollen joints, swollen lymph nodes, and fever. Lyme disease is typically treated with antibiotics, with most veterinarians opting for tetracycline or a penicillin based medicine. The medicine is given orally for a minimum of 14 days, but usually over the course of 30 days. While most dogs are fully treated after 30 days, there is the potential in some dogs for a relapse of the disease. In these rare cases, antibiotics are prescribed for an extended period of time.
Of course, the best treatment for Lyme disease is prevention. Monthly tick prevention is available, but as discussed, can become less effective toward the end of the cycle. Lyme vaccines are available but the effectiveness of the vaccine is still debated among veterinarians. It is clear, however, that dogs that receive the Lyme vaccination are less likely to contract Lyme disease. Dogs can be vaccinated after 12 weeks of age. Lastly, it is important to always monitor your pets and remove any ticks you may notice. Transmission can only occur after the tick has been attached for 48 hours so the sooner you remove the tick the better.
To learn more about testing your dog for tick-borne diseases, or if you have questions about a positive Lyme test feel free to reach out to our team. Call us at 954-958-9582 to schedule an appointment today.