We’ve all heard of Lyme disease. For many of us in the New York area, the term can elicit worry, or cause a shudder down the spine. That’s because the condition, caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, can cause serious disease in people and pets alike. And, since Lyme disease is endemic in our area, New Yorkers are at increased risk of contracting this unpleasant tick-borne condition. Named after the town in Connecticut where the illness was originally discovered, Lyme disease has been recognized since 1975 in humans and dogs. Since then, cases have been confirmed throughout the U.S., but southern New England, the Mid-Atlantic region, and upper Midwest areas continue to be hardest hit. Consider some of the following facts about Lyme disease and pets that you may not know.
#1: Only certain tick species can transmit Lyme disease
People and pets become infected with Lyme disease when they are bitten by a specific tick type that also happens to carry the bacteria that causes the disease. Currently, only ticks belonging to the genus Ixodes can transmit Lyme disease, including Ixodes scapularis and Ixodes pacificus. It’s important to note, however, that although only certain ticks carry Borrelia burgdorferi, other tick species can carry and transmit other bacteria that cause diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis, to name a few.
#2: Pets may show no Lyme disease signs for months
An infected tick that latches onto your pet begins transmitting infective bacteria right away, but systemic disease signs often take weeks to months to manifest. Most pets won’t become clinical until at least two months after infection, and some may take as long as five months. And, since signs are often non-specific and may be minor, recognizing them isn’t always easy. If you find a tick on your pet, monitor them closely over the next few months for signs of fever, joint pain or swelling, loss of appetite, or lameness.
#3: Lyme disease is rare in cats
Surprisingly, although the bacteria that cause Lyme disease are capable of infecting cats in a laboratory setting, no clinical cases have been reported in this species. However, as with dogs and people, cats can develop other tick-borne diseases, so prevention is still crucial.
#4: Diagnosing Lyme disease in dogs can be tricky
Most veterinarians recommend screening dogs for heartworm and tick-borne diseases—including Lyme disease—as part of their annual wellness appointment. This can be done with a simple table-side test with results available in minutes. While this test is a reliable screening tool, a positive Lyme result only indicates that a dog has acquired antibodies to the bacteria, and differentiating exposure from active infection requires further testing. If your dog receives a positive antibody test and is showing disease signs, however, your Best Friends Veterinary Clinic veterinarian will likely recommend antibiotics treatment.
#5: You can’t get Lyme disease from your pet
Humans can definitely suffer from Lyme disease like dogs, but the only known transmission route is through an infected tick’s bite. If your dog comes down with Lyme disease, you cannot contract the bacteria from your pet, but that is a red flag that you should monitor yourself for signs as well, since you were possibly exposed at the same time. If you are concerned you may have been exposed to Lyme disease, contact your physician for further guidance.
#6: Lyme disease is reportable
If you or your pet are diagnosed with Lyme disease, your physician or veterinarian are required to report their findings to their local health authorities, who then forward the findings to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
#7: Preventing Lyme disease in pets is straightforward
Fortunately, Lyme disease prevention in pets is fairly easy, thanks to a variety of tick prevention products and a reliable vaccine. From monthly chewable tablets to collars, to topical solutions, keeping your pet protected from Lyme disease has never been easier. If your pet is particularly at risk for contracting Borrelia burgdorferi, our veterinary team may recommend the Lyme vaccine, which requires two initial vaccinations and an annual booster. If you need advice on which products to choose for your pet, or if the vaccine is necessary, we can help.