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The Dangers of Lyme Disease for Your Pet

One of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences for a dog owner is taking your pooch on an adventure outdoors. Whether this means goofing around in the yard or going for a hike in the woods, the moments we spend with our pals outside are some of the best. However, our outdoor adventures with our pups are not without danger, especially threats that come in small packages: Ticks. And where there's the potential for ticks, there's the potential for Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in the world and can lead to some serious health issues for our pets.

Symptoms and Signs

If you suspect your pet, especially your dog, has contracted Lyme disease, it is important for them to see the veterinarian as soon as possible.

The most common Lyme disease indicator in dogs is sudden and recurrent lameness caused by swelling of the joints. The initial showing of lameness may only last for a couple of days, but then return a few weeks later - sometimes in the same leg but can also occur in a different leg.

Other symptoms of Lyme disease include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Decreased activity
  • Dehydration
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Severe symptoms of Lyme disease, though rare, can present in the following ways:

causes of lyme disease in cats and dogs _ westie dog with a red collar

Causes

Lyme disease is contracted through tick bites, most commonly from deer ticks, and is caused by a bacterium known as Borrelia burgdorferi, a spiral-shaped bacterium. This type of bacteria actually grows on wild animals like deer, mice and other small mammals where it multiplies without causing illness in the animal.

Since Lyme disease can't be transmitted from one animal to another, it requires a carrier - a tick - to spread. As in, if a tick feeds on a wild animal and then later feeds on a domesticated animal or human, the bacteria can spread.

Ticks and Removal

Ticks are parasites that attach themselves to a human or animal and consume their host's blood. In order to spread the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, an infected tick must feed on a host for at least 24 hours if not longer. This makes removal, once you discover the tick, very important.

Tick removal can be done at home using tweezers. Be sure to wear gloves and when you grab the tick, try to get as far down by the head as possible, while avoiding twisting or jerking motions that may crush it. Dispose of the tick in a twist-top jar filled with a bit of rubbing alcohol. This allows you to preserve the tick for veterinary testing. If you have concerns, speak to your veterinarian before you begin the process.


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Treatment

First and foremost, if you believe your cat or dog has contracted Lyme disease, it's important that they see their veterinarian as soon as possible. In most cases, an antibiotic like Doxycycline will be prescribed for treatment. Treatment usually takes about four weeks depending on the severity. If your dog shows signs of discomfort, your veterinarian may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce the pain and swelling.

Once treated, the symptoms of Lyme disease usually dissipate quickly. In many cases, the pet feels better and gets back to their normal behaviors in a day or two.

lyme disease in cats _ orange tabby cat with green collar itching

Lyme Disease in Cats

While Lyme disease is more common in dogs than cats, it can affect our feline friends even though it is highly recommended that pet parents keep their kitties indoors at all times. When a cat contracts Lyme disease, they are most likely to display similar symptoms to their canine counterparts, including lameness, lack of appetite, and lethargy as the dominant symptoms.

Some cats do develop kidney issues, which, if untreated, can disrupt kidney function and even lead to kidney failure. Severe symptoms, like heart or nervous system issues, are rare, but not unheard of.

Many cats may not even show symptoms when they have Lyme disease, but if you find a tick on your cat, you should have them checked out by a medical professional. Treatment for cats is similar to dogs, and if your veterinarian diagnoses your feline family member with Lyme disease, they will probably receive antibiotics to combat the infection.


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Prevention

When working to prevent Lyme disease, it's best to know when and where your pet might come in contact with ticks. Try to avoid tick-infested areas, including grasses, marshes, and wooded areas. This is especially important during the spring months when ticks are most active.

If your dog does happen to encounter an area that is likely to have ticks, you will want to give them a thorough evaluation to make sure they don't have any unwelcome passengers. If you do discover a tick on your dog (or cat), act quickly to remove it from their coat or skin. Quick removal reduces the likelihood of the contracting Lyme disease.

There are several veterinary products that can help prevent ticks from attaching to your pals. You can also discuss vaccinating your pet to guard against ticks with your veterinarian. The decision to vaccinate will depend on your pet's health, lifestyle, and several other factors. Regardless of whether or not you vaccinate your pet, it's always important to maintain a home environment that is not conducive to tick infestation. This includes maintaining a well-kept lawn and clearing shrubbery around your yard.

If you follow those recommended tips and routinely check your pets for any hidden dangers, Lyme disease can likely be prevented. If you do find a tick or believe your pal is showing telltale symptoms of Lyme disease, remember that early detection is key and a quick response can yield favorable results when treating your pup or kitty for Lyme disease.


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