Lyme Disease in Dogs and Humans

It is summer time and that means walks in the woods, camping and all those glorious trips on nature trails enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. However, lurking in some areas there lies a nasty tick that can cause both humans and animals an opportunity to become very ill.

It is an illness that is caused by a bite from an infected tick and it does not care who you are human or dog. This problem surfaced around 1975 when a group of children in a Lyme, Conn., suffered a severe outbreak of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. This unusual grouping eventually lead researchers to identify the bacterial cause in 1982 and thus led to the name “Lyme disease.” In 1984 it found its way into the canine population and since has skyrocketed. It is a serious and deadly disease if left untreated.

According to statistics released by a pet insurance provider (Veterinary Pet Insurance) in 2008, Lyme disease is the most common canine infectious disease for the third year in a row. Forty-sever percent of all the claims Veterinary Pet Insurance received were for tick born infectious diseases. Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis (caused by the Brown Dog tick and the lone star tick, infection enters the white blood cells and causes anemia and other complications) and anaplasmosis (caused by deer ticks, the disease is similar to Lyme disease) are among the three leading infectious tick diseases.

What is the cause? Warmer climates, urbanization and an increase in the rodent and deer populations are the primary causes. A female tick can lay approximately 3,000 eggs per season and once the tick population gets established there is a big problem in removing them. Once a disease that was established in a few areas has now managed to move through the entire Northeast, the Midwest and in areas of California and Oregon.

What is Lyme disease? It is a disease caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi which is transmitted into the bloodstream by the saliva of the infected tick by means of a prolonged bite. It cannot be transmitted from dog to dog or to humans from dogs. It comes from the tick bite itself and reacts differently in humans than it does in dogs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only two ticks are known to carry this bacterium, the blacklegged deer tick, found throughout most of the United States and the Western blacklegged tick found only in the Western states. Granted that there are other ticks that carry

different types of bacteria, but only these two ticks carry Lyme disease.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs? It is difficult to diagnose. Common symptoms are fever, limb discomfort, lameness, swelling in the joints, lack of energy and loss of appetite. Since these symptoms are common to many other canine diseases it may take a while to determine the actual cause of the problems. Lyme disease can take up to 5 months after exposure to surface.

A simple blood test can detect if a dog has been exposed to the bacteria and treatment can begin. Dogs are usually treated with an antibiotic (usually doxycycline) and will begin to show improvement within a few days after receiving treatment.

The interesting thing is some dogs can test positive for the disease and never appear sick, as their bodies are capable of fighting off the bacteria. It is recommended however, that if your dog tests positive and several other tests show the same result it is best to have your dog treated, but that is a matter of personal judgment.

What are the complications of Lyme disease in dogs? Lyme disease does not cause permanent arthritis in dogs. The type of arthritis or lameness caused by this disease is non-erosive arthritis; it does not cause damage the bone. The swelling and lameness will go away with treatment.

The potential problem related to Lyme disease is kidney complications if left untreated. These problems can be fatal to your dog. It is necessary to have your vet do a routine urinalysis if your dog has contacted Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is a dangerous disease, but when caught early and treated most dogs achieve full recovery.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease in humans? Lyme disease in humans affects different areas in the body as it progresses. The place where the tick has bit the human usually causes a reddish rash and “flu-like” symptoms.

Medically it is described in three phases as: (a) an early localized disease with a skin inflammation; (b) early problems of the heart and nervous system, which could include palsies and meningitis and (c) later a disease that causes motor and sensory nerve damage and brain inflammation as well as arthritis.

Many people do not even recall a tick bite, as some ticks can be as small as the period at the end of this sentence. Some people do not develop a reddish rash, but even the rash will disappear by itself with no treatment at all. Some people suffer from flu like symptoms and possible swollen glands plus a headache. If you are like most people you “get over” these things without the aid of your doctor and this is where the seriousness of this disease begins.

As the bacteria spreads through your body it begins to affect your heart muscle causing and inflammation, which can cause abnormal heartbeats and heart failure. The nervous system can develop facial paralysis, abnormal sensations due to the disease of peripheral nerves, meningitis and confusion. If this is not enough, you can also develop chronic arthritis and suffer from anxiety and depression.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed in humans? If you live in an area where Lyme disease if known and show up at the doctor’s office with the usual red rash the diagnosis is simple. If you have been bitten by a tick be certain to tell your doctor. In most cases without your doctor knowing if you have been bitten or if you have been in an area where Lyme disease is known, they will review your history and try the process of elimination to exclude certain diseases. Blood tests are not significant in the early stages of the disease, though can be helpful in the later stages. Currently the best test is what is called the Western Blot assay antibody test.

How is Lyme disease treated in humans? In most cases Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics that work really well in the early stages of the disease. If the disease has progressed undetected for awhile, it maybe necessary to take some intravenous drugs and pain-relieving medicines can also be given.

How do you protect your dog and yourself? Since dogs carry ticks into the home, it is wise to check your dog every time it comes in. A tick check is simply done by going through your dog’s fur and parting it with your fingers. Begin at the ears and head while working your way down, on black dog’s use a flashlight to help you see the ticks. If you find one do not stop as you may find more, ticks love company. Use some sticky tape to help remove the tick or use tweezers making certain you remove the whole tick, legs and all. Do not try burning them off with a match or cigarette.

Keep your grass cut; trim bushes around your house so that they get a chance to get some sun. Ticks love damp dark places. If you live near a wooded area keep the area around your home free from the growing brush; a stone or mulch path surrounding the area is a good idea.

Use year round flea and tick preventatives. If you live in an area where Lyme disease ticks are prevalent there are vaccines available to help prevent the disease. A vaccine along with the flea and tick preventative will go a long way in protecting your dog. Though it is known that the vaccines do not always work, they are worth a try. The vaccines are usually given twice, a few weeks apart and then once a year and are recommended if you live in areas known for the disease.

Regarding us humans wear protective long pants, long sleeves and boots if you are venturing into the woods and if you pick up a tick be certain to remove it at once. Spraying an insect repellent that contains DEET will help too. If you get a tick and remove it, save the culprit in a jar so that is can be identified as not all ticks carry Lyme disease. It takes approximately 48 hours once a tick becomes attached to you or your dog to transmit the bacteria, that is why checking yourself and your dog is so important. The quicker you remove them the better off you both are.