During the warmer months, pet owners become increasingly aware of parasites that can bite and sicken their pets or family. Fleas, mosquitoes and ticks thrive in the warm weather, and seem to come out with a vengeance. While all of these pests pose a danger to your pet year-round, ticks are especially dangerous as they can sicken both pets and humans alike. Lyme disease in dogs (or, less commonly, cats) can be a serious affliction if left untreated.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease is illness caused by infection of the Barrelia burgdorferi species of bacteria. The bacteria is transmitted to humans or their pets through the bite of an infected tick (though fleas and mosquitoes have also been shown to carry the bacteria). Lyme Disease is a multisystem inflammatory illness, that manifests first in the skin. Without treatment, the illness can then travel to the joints, nervous system and vital organs.
Fortunately, Lyme Disease is a treatable illness, especially if it is detected early. Treatments, usually including antibiotics, will cure most cases of early onset Lyme Disease, and many cases in later stages. As with any illness, response to treatment varies from patient to patient, and some pets or people may experience some lingering effects.
Who is at risk for Lyme Disease?
Any animal can contract the illness, as they’re the targets of thirsty ticks. Mice and deer are a favorite host of ticks, and likely accountable for the transfer of infected ticks to humans and their pets, due to their close proximity of habitat. People or pets who spend lots of time hiking or in the woods are more likely to pick up ticks, and therefore at greater risk.
Until recently, Lyme Disease was only considered to be a threat in Northeastern and Upper Midwestern parts of The United States.
The disease now appears to be spreading rapidly throughout the country, especially on the pacific coast, and inward along the eastern coast. The state of Texas has also had a great increase in the amount of cases reported.
It’s worth noting, that no matter where you live, your pet could still be at risk by way of a friend or neighbor (human or dog alike) who may have recently traveled, dropping affected ticks nearby.
Do all ticks carry Lyme Disease?
Not necessarily. The only species of ticks that are a sure carriers are the black legged tick (also known as a deer tick) and its cousin, the western black legged tick. However, it is worth noting that insects such as fleas and mosquitoes have been suspected of transmitting the bacteria as well. For this reason, it’s not completely safe to rule out any one species of tick, and is best to err on the side of caution. You should also keep in mind that not ALL black-legged ticks carry Lyme Disease, so don't panic right away if you find one.
How will I know if my pet has Lyme Disease?
Any time you find a tick on your furry friend, it’s best to be on the lookout. Symptoms of the disease can take 3 to 30 days to appear. If your pet (or family member) has had a recent tick bite, and displays any of the following symptoms, call your vet or doctor:
- Joint pain or swelling
- Muscle pain
- Headache, irritability or mood changes
- Unexplained rash (be aware that the “bullseye” rash most commonly associated with Lyme Disease appears in less than 40% of patients, so look out for any type of rash)
How can I keep my pet or family from becoming ill?
As with many illnesses or disease, the best protection is prevention! Ticks like to stay out of the sun, and in damp places. Keeping your yard free of undergrowth, piles of leaves and debris will help eliminate good hiding places. You should also try to keep your lawn mowed short, as ticks will often attach themselves to blades of grass, and hitch a ride on anyone passing through.
The CDC claims that Lyme Disease can only be passed by a tick that has been attached to the skin for 24 to 48 hours. Detecting and removing the tick as soon as possible will significantly lower the risk of bacterial transmission. Brushing your pet every day, and doing a quick “tick check” after they go outdoors will help you find and remove any pests that may have found their way onto your furry friend. If you do find one, remove it right away.
Will flea and tick preventatives protect my pet?
Using a tick preventative on both your yard and pet is a good way to keep ticks, and Lyme Disease, out of the house and away from your family. There are several options to keep pests off of your pets. Some topical treatments will kill the ticks, but only after they’ve attached to the skin. Tick collars, like the Seresto Collar, can often work well to repel the nasty biters.
There are natural options, both for outdoor control and for your pet’s fur. Be cautious about any pesticides used in your yard, as many can be neurotoxic to people or pets. A great solution for keeping your yard free of ticks is to welcome some chickens to your yard! Backyard chickens are great, not only to provide eggs, but they will help control the pest population on your property.
Additionally, some folks claim that using essentials oils - lemon eucalyptus, thyme, tea tree or neem oil - can help repel ticks, though the science is still out on that. Using essential oils as pest protection for your pets also requires frequent, and thorough, application. Ask your veterinarian what they recommend for your pet, as they know them best.
Lyme Disease is a year-round danger
While fleas, ticks and mosquitoes are most prevalent in the warmer months (spring, summer and fall), they can be out and about any time the temperature is above freezing. Remember to ALWAYS give your pup heartworm preventative, and keep in mind that pest infestations happen suddenly and quickly.
Additionally, keeping your pet in good health, inside and out, will help them better recover
from any ailment they may encounter.
A pet with healthy skin and joints will be easier to diagnose than one with chronic inflammation. Make sure your pet gets plenty of hydration, good fats and Omega-3 in their diet, to keep their body healthy. Keeping your dog or cat on The Original CrockPET Diet, along with careful and loving attention, is the best way I know to maintain a healthy pet, and protect them from preventable diseases like Lyme Disease.
Never forget - your pet’s best health begins in the bowl!