What is Lyme Disease
Lyme disease, conspicuous when contracted by humans because of its bullseye rash, can also be deadly to dogs although the primary symptom is lameness. There has been a 560% increase in cases of the disease affecting dogs, with 99 reported in 2015 alone. These reported cases are thought to be just the tip of the iceberg, though. NHS data also reveals that the number of diagnosed cases amongst people has increased fourfold between 2001 and 2013, with, at least part of the increase, being attributed to the warmer winters we are experiencing in the UK.
Caused by bacteria carried by Deer ticks and transmitted to humans and dogs when the tick feeds, it is not possible for Lyme disease to be spread directly from dogs to people although it is possible that dogs can bring infected ticks into households. The tick must be attached for about 48 hours in order to transmit the disease, and the disease itself is difficult to detect in dogs because the symptoms can come and go, and may be mistaken for other ailments.
Lyme disease in dogs can cause a rash, loss of energy, raised temperature, lameness, fever, swollen lymph joints and a reduced appetite, but it does not cause the recognisable rash only seen in humans. The symptoms in dogs usually occur much later after the bite than in humans, with the most prominent being temporary but recurrent lameness caused by the joint inflammation.
If Lyme disease is left untreated it can also cause damage to kidneys and the nervous system, and kidney disease is more prevalent in Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Bernese Mountain Dogs.
Preventing Lyme disease
There are a number of vaccines available for dogs that claim to prevent or reduce the risk of Lyme disease, however, some vets have criticised the efficacy of these and do not recommend them. You should always seek your vet’s advice specific to your dog and circumstances.
The most effective preventative measure is tick control, such as using insecticides that repel them when your dog is walking in wooded and moorland areas. Humans should wear long sleeves and tuck socks into their trousers when dog walking in these high-risk locales and of course, always check yourself and your dog when you get home. Ticks cannot fly and jump, so can only attach and bite when brushed against. Hedgehogs and foxes are also common carriers, so, unfortunately, dogs in urban areas are also at risk.
If you do find a tick on your dog, the first thing to do is to get it removed as soon as possible – while this must be done quickly, it must also be done properly and ideally with the advice of a vet. It is easy to remove the body, but if the mouth is left in it can cause an abscess or infection. There are plenty of home-remedy solutions, such as using matches or Vaseline, but it is always best to seek veterinary advice.
If your dog is diagnosed
Lyme disease is diagnosed with a blood test and requires a relatively simple treatment of antibiotics lasting between 14 and 30 days. However, it is possible for your dog to relapse after this treatment and they should be monitored carefully. Where the disease causes acute pain, such as in joints, your vet may recommend a pain relieving treatment in addition to the antibiotic.
A small but growing risk
Both Lyme disease and Alabama rot affect a very small number of dogs each year, but the number of reported cases is growing. The risks for Lyme disease are mostly between late Spring and Autumn when the tick population is highest, so now is the time to be particularly vigilant. If left untreated, Lyme disease can be a serious and debilitating condition which can cause long term problems.
Alabama Rot is far more difficult to treat than Lyme disease and must be caught early for treatment to be effective. So if you suspect your dog might be suffering from the disease you should take them to a vet immediately.
Finally, for peace of mind ensure that you have good quality insurance that includes cover for illness as well as accidents to cover the potentially expensive treatment.