Vet Buzz from Bill Barboni, DVM and Chris Pitts, RVT,
Marin Pet Hospital, San Rafael, CA
Although many people think ticks only come out in the spring and summer, in the west these bloodthirsty bugs are more likely to be encountered in late fall and winter. There are many species of ticks but the western black-legged tick, which is mostly reddish brown in color and found primarily in humid northwestern coastal areas and the western slopes of the northern Sierra Nevada, is the species that carries Lyme disease. Lyme disease was once thought to be confined to the East Coast, but in the past several years has been found to be increasingly prominent on the West Coast.
Q: What is Lyme disease?
A: Lyme disease is a spirochete bacteria carried by ticks, specifically Ixodes pacificus in the West Coast.
Q. Can people get Lyme disease?
A: Yes, Lyme disease is transmissible to people via ticks.
Q: How is Lyme disease transmitted?
A: A tick needs to bite your pet, and then the tick needs to feed for 24 hours in order to pass the disease to your pet.
Q: What are the common signs of Lyme disease?
A: The symptoms are varied, but the most common signs of Lyme disease are fever, joint pain and/or swelling, lameness and lethargy. It can also irreversibly damage the kidneys, heart and nervous system.
Q: Is Lyme disease treatable?
A: Lyme disease can be treatable if caught early enough. A course of antibiotics given over several weeks may be effective in treating the clinical signs, but the disease may never fully clear from the body. A Lyme disease infection, which has been allowed to fester, can cause irreversible damage to your pet, with the worst-case result being death.
Q: How will my veterinarian determine if my pet has Lyme disease?
A: Most often your veterinarian will order a blood test specific for Lyme disease, and perhaps a general health blood panel to ensure that the kidneys, in particular have not been hit hard by Lyme disease. On occasion your vet may take samples of synovial fluid from one or more joints for analysis.
Q: Will my pet develop the classic bull’s eye shape mark at the site of the tick bite seen in humans?
A: No, the bull’s eye is not a common occurrence in dogs. Typically the site of a Lyme disease laden tick bite will look like a usual tick bite; a small red, raised area with a mild amount of scabbing and or oozing of serous fluid.
Here are some actions to take to help prevent infection.
- Use a tick prevention method such as a Preventic Collar or Frontline. These products typically kill ticks before they have a chance to pass Lyme disease on to your pet. In addition, any ticks that your pet may transfer into your home will be more likely to die, as they will be treated.
- Do a tick check after every walk. Although ticks are small, they are usually quite visible. Combing your pet with a fine-tooth comb and closely inspecting the ears, face and armpits can assist you in finding these little pests before they can do any damage. If you handle a tick, wash your hands thoroughly in soap and water afterwards. (Don’t forget to check yourself over too!!)
- Stay out of tall grass. Ticks climb up onto the ends of grasses and stretch their legs out waiting for a victim to walk past.
- Remove ticks from your pet ASAP.
- You can find tick pullers at your local pet store, which come complete with little instruction booklets on how to use the device. These are great if you are squeamish and do not want to touch the tick. (We recommend not touching the tick as Lyme disease can be transmitted to humans. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water if you do handle a tick). You can bring your pet to our clinic where we will always remove a tick for free.