What You Need to Know About Lyme Disease

May 23, 2019

a chihuahua scratching behind its ear in front of a grass background

Now that summer is nearly here, you may be planning to spend more time outdoors. Maybe you’ll even want your furry friends to join in your summer fun! While we encourage you and your pets to enjoy all that summertime has to offer, we want to make sure you’re aware and prepared to protect yourself and your pets from warm weather dangers. 

Should I Be Worried About Ticks?

The short answer here is, “yes.” Ticks thrive in the wet, warm spring and summer months, and can often be found in grassy, marshy, brushy or wooded areas, including areas like your backyard, looking for a host to feed on. If there’s one thing you may already know about ticks, it’s likely that they are known for carrying and spreading a host of diseases, such as Lyme disease. So, tick bites can be potentially dangerous and lead to illnesses in both humans and pets, specifically in dogs. 

Deer ticks are most commonly seen as the main transmitters of Lyme disease in North America, and can be found in the eastern and northern Midwestern U.S. and southeastern Canada. 

What Is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a zoonotic disease—meaning that it can be transmitted to both animals and humans—caused by a bacterium that is carried primarily by ticks. It can be difficult to detect and can cause serious recurring health problems. 

Pets infected with Lyme disease may not show symptoms for two to five months. Typical symptoms usually include:

  • Elevated body temperature 
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Lameness in limbs 
  • Joint swelling 
  • Decreased activity
  • Potential kidney complications

In both humans and animals, Lyme disease is not contagious and cannot be spread from animal to animal, except through tick bites. 

How Can I Prevent Them From Being Exposed? 

Since Lyme disease is so difficult to detect, prevention is especially important. Here are some prevention tips: 

  • Talk to your veterinarian to determine whether you should vaccinate your dog, or to determine which tick preventative product is right for your dog or cat.
  • When possible, try to avoid areas where ticks might be found.
  • Once indoors, check for ticks on both yourself and your animals. 
  • Keep lawns and yards well maintained. 
  • Clear shrubbery next to your home. 

When checking for ticks, be sure to check under the limbs and in and around the ears. 

What Do I Do If I Suspect Lyme Disease? 

If your pet has been bitten by a tick and you suspect that they’ve been exposed to Lyme disease, it is important to seek veterinary care so that your veterinarian can perform the necessary tests for diagnosis. 

It is usually treated successfully with antibiotics.

Other Tick-Borne Illnesses to Look Out For:

While Lyme disease is a large concern, there are other illnesses that can be transmitted through tick bites that are seen at an increase during the summer. 

  • Cytauxzoonosis is a lethal infection caused by tick bites. This blood parasite is common in the South and is carried by bobcats. Ticks who feed on bobcats may transmit the infection to domestic cats, for whom the disease is fatal. Clinical signs of infection include: high fever, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, jaundice, coma and death. The infection progresses rapidly—in a matter of weeks—and there is no known cure, though several studies have proved successful in managing certain strains of the disease.
  • Anaplasmosis, also called “dog fever” or “dog tick fever,” is transmitted from the deer tick. Symptoms are similar to other tick diseases including fever, loss of appetite, stiff joints and lethargy, but also can include vomiting and diarrhea. In extreme cases, dogs may suffer seizures.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever comes from the American dog tick, the wood tick and the lone star tick. Symptoms include fever, stiffness, neurological problems and skin lesions. Typically the illness lasts about two weeks, but serious cases could result in death. 
  • Babesiosis is typically transmitted by the American dog tick and the brown dog tick. Causing anemia, symptoms may also include pale gums, weakness and vomiting.

To protect your pets and avoid illnesses and complications this summer, it is best to be cautious, educated and to take all the preventative measures you can. Stay in touch with your veterinarian on more ways you can keep your furry friends happy and healthy year-round.