Lyme disease is a tick-borne bacterial disease which affects both humans and animals.
The disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which are transmitted to humans and dogs following a bite from an infected tick from the species known as Ixodes. It’s the most common tick borne disease in Europe, and the number of reported human cases has risen dramatically in the UK in recent years, with an increase of over 300% since the year 2000. With a recent survey showing that 15% of dogs are carrying ticks, unknown to their owners, the risk to our pets can’t be ignored.
Which dogs are at risk?
Ticks are found practically everywhere, from forests to gardens to vegetation on beaches. Tick numbers tend to be higher in certain areas, such as woodland, moorland, rough pasture and heathland. Urban/city parks, especially larger parks where deer are present, are also suitable habitats for ticks. So if you regularly go walking in this type of area, your dog could be at significant risk of picking up an infected tick.
Signs of Lyme disease
The disease is transmitted when an infected tick climbs on to the dog and starts to feed. The process of disease transmission generally takes around 48 hours, although it can occur more rapidly. In some dogs, infection does not cause any harmful effects but in others, a variety of symptoms can be seen.
The most common signs are:
- Loss of appetite
- Joint swellings
- Stiffness when moving
The disease can also affect the nervous system and the heart. In rare cases, serious kidney problems can develop which are very difficult to treat. These signs can take a long time to develop, sometimes several months, after a dog is bitten by an infected tick. The intensity of these symptoms can fluctuate for months, and if left undiagnosed can lead to permanent disability.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis can be difficult, as the signs are similar to a wide range of other diseases, but blood tests to measure immunity levels to Borrelia can be useful. Other tests are available which can detect the bacteria in tissue samples, such as skin or joint tissue. Treatment usually consists of antibiotics, plus anti-inflammatories to control the painful lameness which can be seen. Although treatment usually gives rapid results in the short term, it is very difficult to get rid of the bacteria, and relapses can occur. Prevention is certainly better than cure.
There are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of Lyme disease for your dog. You can help protect your dog from Lyme Disease by using suitable veterinary advised products. These are designed to protect against the ticks that carry the disease.
Vaccination is an important way of protecting your pet and a vaccine against Lyme disease is now available in the UK. A primary vaccine course of two injections are required followed by annual boosters.
Avoiding high risk areas, particularly during periods of peak tick activity during Spring and Autumn, can help. Carefully examining your dog after walks to identify and then remove ticks is important, as removal of ticks within 48 hours of attachment helps to reduce the risk of disease transmission. And don’t forget that Lyme disease affects humans too, so take appropriate steps to protect yourself against ticks, such as covering up exposed skin and checking yourself carefully for ticks.
Please ask us about our FREE Travel Clinics which help you plan the appropriate disease prevention measures and also check your pet’s microchip is still active. Even if you aren't travelling abroad you should still protect your pet. Remember to prepare well in advance as some parasite prevention products need to be applied well before any possible exposure to parasites. Please contact your local branch for an appointment.
Click on the video below to find out more about Lyme Disease.
Lyme Disease Pet Owner Information Leaflet