Lyme Disease

Lyme disease spreading to Memphis

Lyme disease cases in both humans and dogs has been increasing in the past several years. We have known for a long time that dogs traveling to the northeast United States are at high risk of being bitten by ticks carrying the agent of Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi). There is more recent evidence that Lyme disease is steadily moving west.   We now have Lyme disease in the Memphis area.  This puts your dog and you at risk of Lyme disease.

Ticks are the vector of Lyme disease, particularly the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). The Memphis area has always had a perfect environment for pets to be exposed to ticks. Now that Lyme disease is quickly moving into our region we need to be sure our pets are protected. There are safe and very effective Lyme vaccines that can drastically reduce the chance that a dog becomes ill from Lyme disease.

We recommend that all dogs in our area be kept on year round flea and tick prevention. There are many options for safe medications for this purpose. The best way to prevent tick diseases is to prevent ticks from biting your pet in the first place. This is done with tick preventive medications (either oral or topical – discuss with your veterinarian the best options for your situation).
The best protection against Lyme disease is a combination of year round tick prevention with vaccination to protect your pet against Lyme borrelia. It only takes one tick bite to infect a dog with Lyme. If this unfortunate event happens, the Lyme vaccine can prevent severe disease from developing.

What should you do if you find a tick on your pet? Remain calm and make sure you remove the tick properly. Ticks firmly attach their mouthparts to the skin and stick like glue. It helps to first smother the tick with something that makes it harder for them to breathe. Apply a generous amount of alcohol or mineral oil to the tick. Smothering the tick in this was can make it back out of the skin slightly and makes tick removal much easier. Once you have smothered the tick you will need to use very fine tweezers to remove it. Grab the tick by head right where the tick attaches to the skin. The tweezer tips should be resting on the skin. Apply a firm grip and lift up carefully, lifting the tick at a 90 degree angle to the skin. Just pull the tick straight up off of the skin. If the tick is not coming easily, smother it with alcohol again and then try once more. Never squeeze the body of the tick! Squeezing the tick will cause the juices in the tick to be injected into your dog. Do not do this! If you squeeze the tick and that tick contained Borrelia (lyme disease) you may have just infected your dog. Use caution when you are removing ticks and wear gloves if possible. It is possible to infect yourself with tick diseases if you expose yourself to the tick’s juices (hemolymph).

What are the signs of Lyme disease in dogs? Lyme disease in dogs is not the same as in people. People exposed to Lyme usually develop a typical rash and flu-like symptoms. This does not usually occur in dogs. Dogs may not show signs of the disease for weeks to months after being infected by a tick carrying Lyme. Dogs can then develop fever, arthritis, neurologic and or cardiac symptoms. The disease can be very sneaky and easy to overlook because not all dogs will have the same symptoms. Diagnosis of Lyme is even harder because you may not remember ever seeing a tick on your dog.

There are other infections spread by tick bites such as Ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever (Rickettsia rickettsii) and Anaplasma. Still more infections can be spread by flea bites such as Bartonella and Mycoplasma. Much research is being done on these bacterial infections. They are difficult to detect and can be very sneaky causes of serious diseases. Many of them are infectious to both animals and humans.

How can you prevent your pet from being exposed to these bacteria and becoming ill? They are spread by fleas and ticks. Use year round veterinarian recommended flea and tick prevention! This is your best defense against ticks, fleas and the nasty diseases they spread. They are much more than a nuisance. They are vectors that spread disease.

See us at Grace Animal Hospital to discuss the best tick and flea preventative for your pet. We have vaccines for Lyme disease in stock if you wish to have your pet protected against this disease. The vaccine is recommended for all dogs that have potential for tick exposure. In our region this means it is recommended for all dogs – and highly recommended for dogs that spend any time outdoors. We expect a very high tick population this spring and summer. Keep those furry family members protected! We look forward to seeing all of your pets at Grace soon!

Dr. Cam Hornsby
Grace Animal Hospital


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